The Oxford Biblical Studies Online and Oxford Islamic Studies Online have retired. Content you previously purchased on Oxford Biblical Studies Online or Oxford Islamic Studies Online has now moved to Oxford Reference, Oxford Handbooks Online, Oxford Scholarship Online, or What Everyone Needs to Know®. For information on how to continue to view articles visit the subscriber services page.

Related Content

Related Overviews

George Berkeley (1685—1753) Church of Ireland bishop of Cloyne and philosopher

logical positivism

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889—1951) philosopher


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Philosophy


Show Summary Details


Alexander Bryan Johnson


Quick Reference


American philosopher of language. Born in England, Johnson emigrated to America in 1801 and had a successful career as a banker. His philosophical interests centred upon language, whose misunderstanding he regarded as responsible for endless confusion and error. In a manner reminiscent of Berkeley he distinguished the ‘sensible’ meaning of terms, tied closely to the experiences to which they refer, from merely ‘verbal’ meaning. The sensible meaning of a sentence is given by what would now be thought of as the verification conditions or assertibility conditions of a sentence. Johnson's conviction that we erroneously attribute extra significance to sentences is a forerunner of the logical positivists' polemic on the same point. Johnson's principal work was the Treatise on Language (1836). His remark that ‘we can no more exemplify with words that there is a limit to their applicability, than a painter can demonstrate with colours, that there are phenomena that colours cannot delineate’, is a striking anticipation of Wittgenstein's more famous distinction between what can be shown and what can be said.

Subjects: Philosophy

Reference entries