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Roots, shoots, fruits: William Blake and J M Robertson: two key influences on George Spencer-Brown's work and the latter's relationship to Niklas Luhmann's work

Leon Conrad (The Traditional Tutor, London, UK) (The Academy of Oratory, London, UK)

Kybernetes

ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 20 January 2022

Issue publication date: 29 March 2022

48

Abstract

Purpose

Blake is relatively well-known, but who was J M Robertson? What's his connection with George Spencer-Brown? And how exactly did J M Robertson influence George Spencer-Brown?

Design/methodology/approach

George Spencer-Brown (1923–2016) is the author (among other works) of the undeservedly little-known book, Laws of Form (1969/2011), which was a key inspiration for Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998). But what inspired George Spencer-Brown? This paper explores two key influences on George Spencer-Brown and his work: the English poet and artist, William Blake (1757–1827) and the Scottish rationalist, politician and author, J M Robertson (1856–1933).

Findings

The paper points to a broken link between George Spencer-Brown's work and Niklas Luhmann's.

Originality/value

These questions are explored from two perspectives: first, George Spencer-Brown's works and their debt to (1) Blake's work, from which he quotes in a number of instances and to (2) J M Robertson's (in particular, the latter's Letters on Reasoning (1905) and Rationalism (1912)); second, my personal connection to Spencer-Brown, who mentored me through Laws of Form and with whom I developed a close friendship involving regular weekly telephone conversations for the greater part of the last four years of Spencer-Brown's life. I share anecdotes and stories that connect George Spencer-Brown and J M Robertson that span George Spencer-Brown's lifetime – from his school days to his dying days. Both Blake's and Robertson's influences are relevant to Spencer-Brown's view of morality. The paper looks at specific connections between Blake's work and J M Robertson's on the one hand and George Spencer-Brown's on the other.

Keywords

Citation

Conrad, L. (2022), "Roots, shoots, fruits: William Blake and J M Robertson: two key influences on George Spencer-Brown's work and the latter's relationship to Niklas Luhmann's work", Kybernetes, Vol. 51 No. 5, pp. 1879-1895. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-11-2020-0726

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Leon Conrad

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