Anderson attempted to develop a systematic philosophy of naturalism and realism, grounded in the view that there is only one realm of being, that of events and processes in space and time. There are no Platonic forms or universals, no souls distinct from bodies, and no God. A healthy-minded philosophy should remorselessly criticize such illusions.
Knowledge, for Anderson, is always based on descriptions of matters of fact (events in space and time). Concering a priori knowledge, he took a strongly empiricist position, denying any sharp distinction between the 'rational sciences' (logic and mathematics) and the natural sciences, and insisting that the former are merely extremely general forms of scientific enquiry. Philosophy is conceived as continuous with science rather than distinct from it, a claim that provoked a critical response from Gilbert Ryle.
In ethics Anderson adopted a somewhat idiosyncratic position, dismissing the concepts of 'right', 'ought' and 'duty' as empty and outmoded relics from the Age of Faith. (What is a command without a commander?) 'Good', by contrast, names a straightforwardly descriptive property of certain human activities-those that are free, creative, productive, enterprising, intelligent and risky. Like Nietzsche, Anderson regarded Christian ethics as the morality of slaves.
In his social and political philosophy, Anderson opposed atomistic individualism, arguing for the reality of irreducibly social forces and movements. He nevertheless opposed 'solidarism', the view that there is such a thing as the common good. Every society, he argues, is made up of conflicting and opposed forces, with no prospect of reconciliation. In his influential writings on education he develops these ideas further, urging that the aim of education should not be 'socialization' but the development of the child's critical intelligence.
In both ethics and aesthetics Anderson's naturalism led him to reject all forms of relativism. Just as 'good' names a natural property of certain human activities (a property just as objective as temperature), so 'beautiful' names a natural property found in art and nature. It cannot be reduced to 'pleasing', which clearly denotes a relation rather than quality. Although he wrote little, and few of his papers were read outside Australia, Anderson was an enormously influential teacher. He was largely responsible for creating, at Sydney in particular, a distinctive new style of Australian philosophy, based on a no-nonsense realism, tending towards materialism, a thoroughgoing naturalism, and a moderate empiricism closer to Locke than to Berkeley and Hume. Although he did not anticipate the identity theory of Place, Smart and Armstrong, his teaching helped to create a philosophical climate sympathetic to that development. His students at Sydney included such figures as David Stove, John Mackie, David Armstrong and John Passmore.
Sources: Passmore 1957; Passmore's introduction to Anderson's Studies 1962; Anthony Quinton's introduction to Baker 1986.
Russian, b: 12 February 1861, St Petersburg, d: 5 February 1937, Göttingen, Germany. Cat: Nietzschean; philosopher of love, sexuality and woman; psychoanalytic writer; philosopher of religion. Educ: Philosophy and the History of Religion, with Pastor Hendrik Gillot, in St Petersburg, 1879-80; attended university lectures in Philosophy, Theology and Art History in Zurich, 1880-81; attended Freud's classes in Vienna, 1912-13. Infls: Nietzsche, Freud, Rainer Maria Rilke and Spinoza.