Alexander John Anderson 1923-1995


The John Anderson archive and website have benefited extensively from the Alexander John Anderson bequest to the University of Sydney in 1997. Following his death in 1995 at the age of seventy-two, and chiefly through the sale of the Anderson family home, the estate of the late Alexander John Anderson realised some 1.3 million dollars which it bestowed upon the University of Sydney.

Alexander, or as he was universally known, Sandy, Anderson was the only child of John and Janet Anderson and had no children of his own. He was born in Scotland in 1923 and migrated to Australia with his parents when his father took up the Challis Chair of Philosophy in 1927. Poor health and his parents low opinion of educational standards in Australia ensured that he was educated at home until he reached secondary-school age, whereupon he attended Knox Grammar in the Sydney suburb of Wahroonga. After matriculating from that private school in 1942 Sandy began a science degree at the University of Sydney. Ill-health, especially chronic bronchitis, prevented him from completing his second year of that degree. After a few years he resumed study but this time he elected to study for an Arts degree. He graduated in 1952 with First Class Honours in Philosophy and Third Class Honours in English. His father once confided to D. M. Armstrong that Sandy was the best student to have done philosophy at Sydney while he was Challis Professor of Philosophy. This is a remarkable ranking when the achievements in philosophy of many other former students are taken into account.

In 1952 also Sandy was a temporary assistant lecturer at the Canterbury University College in New Zealand. While there he gave papers on Induction and Aesthetics and participated in a symposium on The Ethical Bearing of a Belief in God. In the previous year he had given a paper on Co-extension to Sydney Philosophy Club. It was at a meeting of this club that he gave his best-known public lecture: the 1970 John Anderson Memorial Lecture Following John Anderson. This title sums up the main thrust of Sandy's work as a philosopher. He was preoccupied with exploring and developing the ideas of his father but unfortunately he published virtually nothing of this research.

Sandy Anderson took up a lectureship in philosophy at the then Newcastle University College in 1954. Twelve years later it was to become the University of Newcastle. He served in the Department of Philosophy under two professors, A. M. Ritchie, whom he had known as a boy, and Clifford Hooker until he retired in 1988.

As a lecturer he was very much a simulacrum of his father. He delivered his lectures typically at dictation speed, walking to and fro across the front of the lecture room, occasionally pausing to ponder a point and only rarely consulting his notes. Like his father he too spoke with a marked Scottish accent. In content his lectures were confined to just a few topics, the most popular with students being those he gave on Pre-Socratic Philosophy, Ethics, Psychoanalysis, Logic and Scientific Method. These courses created genuine excitement in students. Sandy put forward a systematic, coherent theory of his subjects. There was a sense of intellectual adventure and discovery in his lectures which derived largely from what he said and Sandy's qualities as a philosopher. He was a rigorous thinker, a good listener and a searching questioner.

His greatest achievement though may be his bequest, for it should ensure that his father's life and philosophy and his own and his mother's contributions continue to be explored.

"Following John Anderson" by A. J. (Sandy) Anderson

Eulogy for Sandy Anderson by Bruce Burdekin

Eulogy for Sandy Anderson by Tony Allen

A Personal Memoir by Peter Harris

Bequest Documents provided by Peter Harris

Anderson Bequest

Photograph of the Anderson Family Home

Floor Plan of the Anderson Family Home