Alexander Bryan Johnson

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Alexander Bryan Johnson (May 29, 1786 – September 9, 1867) was an American philosopher and banker.


Of Netherlandic and Jewish ancestry,[1] he was born in Gosport, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom and at age 16 he emigrated to the United States, and settled at Utica, where he was a banker for many years, he was admitted to the bar, but never practised.


He married Abigail Louisa Smith Adams (1798-1836), daughter of Charles Adams (1770-1800) and Sally Smith, niece of William Stephens Smith, and granddaughter of John Adams and Abigail Adams, she died of uterine cancer.[2]

His son, Alexander Smith Johnson, was born in Utica in 1817, served as a judge, and died in Nassau, Bahamas in 1878.[3]


From his youth he had given all his leisure to the study of problems in intellectual philosophy, and especially of the relations between knowledge and language, he attempted to show the ultimate meaning of words, apart from their meaning as related to each other in ordinary definition, and thus to ascertain the nature of human knowledge as it exists independent of the words in which it is expressed.

His 1836 work, A Treatise on Language, was little recognised in his own time, and this remained the case for nearly a century after his death, it can now be seen to have anticipated the thrust of logical positivism, at least in arguing that misunderstandings of how language operates bedevil philosophical questions, and theories of modern linguistics.


  • Philosophy of Human Knowledge, or a Treatise on Language (New York, 1828)
  • Treatise on Language, or the Relation which Words bear to Things (1836)
  • Religion in its Relation to the Present Life (1840), in which he aims to establish the congruity of Christian precepts with man's physical, intellectual, and emotional nature
  • The Meaning of Words Analyzed into Words and Unverbal Things, and Unverbal Things Classified into Intellections, Sensations, and Emotions (1854), in which he confesses that he had been 50 years in arriving at a clear comprehension of the object of his search
  • Physiology of the Senses, or How and What we See, Hear, Taste, Feel, and Smell (1856)
  • Encyclopaedia of Instruction, or Apologues and Breviates on Men and Manners (1857)
  • The Philosophical Emperor: A Political Experiment; or The Progress of a False Proposition (New York, 1841), attributed to him

He wrote several works on financial and political topics.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Johnson, Alexander Bryan", in Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1990), Edinburgh: Chambers.
  2. ^ Adams Genealogy [1][permanent dead link] .
  3. ^ "Johnson, Alexander Smith", in Concise Dictionary of American Biography (1964), New York: Scribner's.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert Sonkin, (1977). Alexander Bryan Johnson: Philosophical Banker.


  • Edward Craig (1998), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, article on Johnson pp. 120–2.
  • Wikisource This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainRipley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Johnson, Alexander Bryan" . The American Cyclopædia.