Eulogy for Sandy Anderson

by Tony Allen

At the Funeral of Alexander (Sandy) Anderson 16th August, 1995.

Sandy was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at the embryonic University of Newcastle at Tighes Hill in 1954 and retired from the autonomous University at Shortland in 1988. He was the foundation member of the philosophy department and, it appears, the foundation member of the Arts Faculty. He lectured in subjects including Logic and Scientific Method, Traditional Logic and Advanced Traditional Logic, Early Greek Philosophy and Ethics. Sandy developed and applied his fathers positive or anti-relativist ethics. For Sandy ethics was a science and its subject was a species of psychology, being a study of the ethical qualities of emotions and their interactions or relations. He studied Freud and his following for many years and critical principles of psychoanalysis were drawn on to develop the ethical theory. To some students the Ethics course was liberating and its effect on our way of life endures. In 1984 Sandy introduced a new course: Psychoanalysis and Philosophy.

My wife, Linda, and I met Sandy in 1980, took his courses and remained in contact until his death. Bruce Burdekin, Michelle Morgan and Robert Britts are also former students of Sandys who have remained in contact since their graduation & unfortunately Bob Britts cannot be here today. Sandy was our friend though his usual salutation when he phoned was "G'day you old bastard!". He was an educated man in the way people of my generation are unusually so and people currently being educated are unlikely to be so. He had a general knowledge of the main areas of learning such as history, literature, mathematics and the sciences and the sorts of issues he identified and questions he asked displayed an intellectual superiority by reason of this. His conversation was replete with critical observations and questions. When helping to sort through his papers at his alternative residence in Gateshead in Newcastle, a copy of a letter to Robyn Williams of the ABC was found. It is an example of the sort of discussion he would try to engage people in over the phone:

"Dear Robyn,

"Sandy Anderson speaking. I do not quite know what the British Listener was (my memory and understanding from 1938 being not what I would wish it to be!); but I suspect that as well as doing its own thing, it reproduced a transcript of the more notable things - e.g. The Science Show! Whether so or not, why could not the A.B.C. produce what I suggest? And try to get a few copies into the newspaper shops? I mean with transcripts of the better efforts of the A.B.C.?

"Now! I have two historical problems for the Science Show - one almost strictly scientific (but with political overtones - at least 19th century politics); and the other apparently political (but with scientific reasons!).

"(1) The Wreck of the Tay Bridge.

"I say wreck because I do not believe it collapsed due to underdesign (though I believe that to be true). It may have been underdesign that allowed it to be PULLED down by the last two carriages of the last train.

"It will take some investigation and some calculation to establish this - but I think the presumption of a 90 m.p.h gust of wind is sufficient! A long time ago (c. 30 years) I calculated that with a 4' 8 1/2" track, the recorded weight (for the carriage and the guards van), the presumed centre of gravity, the presumed area of the windward and leeward sides of the carriages, and the presumed calculated lift of a curved roof, stationary carriages (admitting the assumptions - which were NOT entirely arbitrary) would be in a state of unstable equilibrium. The couplings would tend to hold the carriages up - BUT a moving rocking train would be less stable than a stationary train. The question is: - can this instability in a 90 m.p.h. wind be proved? This depends on whether the weight and shape of the carriages can be established (& the righting effect of the pull of the couplings). The inherent strength of the bridge is a secondary matter."

Sandy then goes on to talk about the wreck of the Titanic.

Sandy had a keen interest in both psychoanalysis and chemistry. He was interested in Science and regularly drew upon his readings from Scientific American and other material in discussions. A room at Turramurra has been a laboratory since Sandy was a teenager. He started at Sydney University focusing on science and chemistry. I think he would have been a good chemist and happy in devoting himself to that subject. What I know of his transfer to philosophy and his unhappiness in life will not be related publicly. Friends of Sandy will understand.

In the last few years of his life Sandy considered setting up an educational trust for the purpose of studying and developing his father's work. He discussed the idea with the former students I have mentioned and Alvin Lawson. He was mostly concerned with the detail of how such a trust would be constituted and who the trustees would be. The family home at Turramurra was to be used to accommodate the beneficiaries of the trust and the Andersonian material. Janet Anderson said John suffered from a certain intellectual impatience: an unwillingness to retrace his steps and a drive to move on to new questions. John said Sandy had a tendency to bore into things rather than cut a broad swathe through them. Their characteristic strengths and weaknesses are in these attitudes. Unfortunately, Sandy did not put the general terms of the trust in a will and then proceed to consider finer details which might result in an amendment. He wanted all the details settled before he made the will.

Sandy sometimes criticised students for seeking solutions before they had clearly defined the question or issue. He would often suggest that a coherent attempt to classify or define the issue may cause the solution to unexpectedly fall into your lap. When he applied for his position as a lecturer at Newcastle his reference said he wrote good exam questions and John thought this an excellent recommendation. Sandy simply asked good questions and applied a logical method, e.g., definition and division or classification, to clarify the issues. He did not publish more than an article or two because of his tendency to bore into things. However, this tendency has produced an abundance of questions and criticisms written down on pieces of paper or tissue boxes or in margins of books and some work in progress. Much of this is aphoristic but a boon to anyone interested in the subject. I think there will be many important observations and criticisms present in this scattered form and do not think it significant, even if unfortunate, that they are not present in a thesis or book padded out in the usual scholarly way. There are many works you look to for one or two observations or arguments taking an insignificant space in the work. There are also many criticisms and developments of his father's philosophy in his lecture notes and other material even though this is unpublished.

Sandy made enquiry a way of life. There were always more questions to ask and issues to consider. For Sandy a work was never finished and he did not feel ready to be published.

Sandy's work should be preserved. I'm concerned that unless it is gathered and sorted it will be lost. It is not merely what remains of John's and is of philosophical importance that ought to be preserved.

Sandy visited friends by phone. Those people know that he thought a cheap phone service facilitated communication and cooperation among goods. I drank with him over the phone and discussed a wide range of matters. He would occasionally sing over the phone songs such as Samuel Hall, Sydney Blues, the Ballad of Joking Jesus and other songs from much earlier days. He had a pleasant singing voice. At his farewell in Cardiff in 1988 I remember him joining Bill Doniela in singing The Volga Boatman and wish I had been able to record it and the other songs I've heard by phone. Sandy's kindness and humanity is apparent to those who attended his ethics or psychoanalysis lectures and discussed practical application of Andersonian Ethics with him. I remember him reporting proudly that in one year of his Ethics course a student remarked that he'd actually been told something about life. Most ethics courses, including his fathers I'm informed, were dryly formal.

The quality of my life has been enriched by meeting Sandy and being taught philosophy by him. Unfortunately, I was unable to apply myself to being a philosopher. By virtue of the changes in my mind by this education I am one of many former pupils and supporters of the Andersonian tradition who contribute to the ethical feeling tone of their community even though their intellectual muscles have not been routinely exercised since graduation.

And so forever, dear friend, goodbye and farewell.