sometimes, i must say, you hit a little scholarly felicity. off abebooks i ordered a used copy of an extremely obscure book: "The Meaning of Words: Analysed into words and unverbal things, and unverbal things classified into intellections, sensations and emotions." this was a 1948 edition of a work from 1854, by the brilliant and prescient and entirely unknown philosopher/banker alexander bryan johnson. the book, which just arrived, is inscribed on the inside cover "max black," and it struck me that this might be the property of the famous (at least in his time) philosopher of language max black. this rather excellent piece of news was confirmed by the fact that the volume came from a store in ithaca; black spent his career at cornell.
anyway, i've now got a copy of johnson (an important influence on josiah warren) signed and more importantly underlined and annotated by max black.alexander bryan johnson is a freakish philosophical talent developing in the wilderness (utica, to be exact, early-to-mid nineteenth-century). roughly, no one ever read his books. but he more than strikingly, richly and in detail, anticipates twentieth-century analytic philosophy. he more or less just takes the position of the positivists: that a sentence means the conditions under which it could be verified. this is close to peirce, as well, though in some ways, believe it or not, johnson's formulations are superior to either in clarity and plausibility.
believe it or not, there is a full-blown truth-conditional semantics, and this was stated perfectly clearly in the 1820s. "the meaning of words" recapitualtes but clarifies and qualifies the "treatise on language" (1828/1836). it says that metaphysical disputes about soul, spirit, matter, etc, are merely verbal, that the terms are unmeaning and the key to "solving" these "problems" is to see that. and "the meaning of words" is pretty much organized like wittgenstein's tractatus. johnson is a radical and technical empiricist/scottish common sense person (moving the other way into his origins), but i'm going to develop him sideways into a radical particularist and realist.
you know, thoreau, emerson, garrison, warren - the great american individualists from the period of johnson's life - did not have a systematic metaphysics (or anti-metphysics). even coleridge or carlyle - who directly influenced thoreau and emerson's philosophy - are pretty sketchy with the fundamental onology and epistemology. they were poets or polemicists, not system-builders at a fundamental level. but as warren realized, johnson provides a beautiful way to start with a world of incomparable individuals, a world bristling only with particularities. this can connect what emerson was saying, for example, to contemporary science and the history of empiricism. then you can build your poetry or your politics on that.
meanwhile i'm working completely through the josiah warren project again, re-writing and correcting everything. fordham has accepted it as a book. there'll be more and more stuff on the warren website, too.