Introduction by D. M. Armstrong

Anderson was the most important philosopher who has worked in Australia. A great educator, he was a profound influence on the intellectual formation of those who were his pupils. These included, but were far from being exhausted by, a number of students who went on to become philosophers themselves. An interesting biography of Anderson which, however, is more concerned to give a portrait of the man and his activities rather than consider the detail of his philosophical views, is A Passion to Oppose by the historian Brian Kennedy (Melbourne University Press, 1995). It contains a very full bibliography.

Anderson never wrote the books that he hoped to write, and of the material he published in his life-time only the collection Studies in Empirical Philosophy is easily available. But many of those who have heard of the profound intellectual indebtedness to Anderson that so many of his students have expressed, and have wished to follow the matter up, have found these papers heavy going. Some have even been led to wonder what the fuss was all about.

To such people, one has in the past been able to recommend two excellent books by A.J. Baker: Anderson's Social Philosophy (1979, Angus and Robertson) and Australian Realism: The Systematic Philosophy of John Anderson (1986, Cambridge University Press). One eminent Australian philosopher, Professor Jack Smart, whose philosophical education was in Britain, told me in 2000 that he had just read the second Baker book, how illuminating and interesting he had found it, and that it had given him a new appreciation of Anderson. Baker has for many years brought out a broadsheet Heraclitus (a philosopher who Anderson took a particular interest in) which, among other matters, contains a wealth of material about Anderson.

But now there is a new resource for those who wish to get to grips with Anderson's extraordinarily wide-ranging yet systematic thought: this web-site. What are so valuable here are many texts, gradually becoming electronic texts, of Anderson's lectures. Anderson dictated his lectures, but although he often used earlier material in their composition he shaped that material anew as he went. What one got in the lectures, therefore, was Anderson thinking about the particular topic in hand. And arguably it is in these informal writings that the form and pressure of Anderson's thought is best exhibited. To take down dictation was to endure pedagogical passivity that runs completely against all current ideas of education. But I do not think that we begrudged it in any way. By this means we were being inducted into a system of thought.

David Armstrong
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy
Sydney University
January 2001