Josiah Royce

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Josiah Royce

The American philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916) was the last and the greatest spokesperson for systematic philosophical idealism in the United States.

Josiah Royce was born on Nov. 20, 1855, at Grass Valley, Calif. His forceful mother gave him his early education. He attended school in San Francisco, where the family moved when he was 11 years old. At the University of California the precocious youth's interests shifted from mining engineering to literature and philosophy.

When Royce graduated in 1875, his burgeoning intellectual powers won him a year of graduate study in Germany, where he immersed himself in philosophical idealism. On his return to the United States in 1876, he accepted a fellowship to Johns Hopkins University and took his doctorate in 1878. After teaching literature and composition at the University of California for 4 years, Royce was invited to teach philosophy at Harvard in 1882. The rest of his life as teacher and philosopher centered at Harvard.

His mother had impressed on Royce a concern for basic religious issues; his youth in California and his own solitary disposition had posed the problem of the relationship between the individual and the community. All of his philosophical writings revolved around these issues. His first major work, significantly entitled The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), presented the central ideas that his later writings elaborated and refined. He developed this philosophy in a series of major works, the most important of which were The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (1892), The Conception of God (1897), Studies of Good and Evil (1898), The World and the Individual (2 vols., 1900-1902), and his summary statement, The Problem of Christianity (2 vols., 1913).

Royce's philosophy rested on the conviction that ultimate reality consisted of idea or spirit. "The world of dead facts is an illusion," he wrote. "The truth of it is a spiritual life." His central conception was the Absolute. The world exists in and for an all-embracing, all-knowing thought, Royce explained. This amounted to a philosophical conception of God, the Absolute which united all thought and all experience. Given this reality, the individual's task is to understand the meaning of the Absolute and to adopt its purposes freely.

Royce's ethical theory rested on his striking principle of loyalty, which he presented most effectively in The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908). He argued that loyalty was the cohesive principle of all ethical behavior and of all social practice. The moral law, he thought, could be reduced to the precept "Be loyal." Loyalty also linked the individual to the community. The loyal man was one who gave himself to a cause, but each individual must choose his cause so that it would advance the good of all. He should act to further loyalty to the very principle of loyalty.

In his later years Royce's increasing concern about the practical bearings of philosophy was reflected in his War and Insurance (1914) and The Hope of the Great Community (1916). By the time of his death on Sept. 14, 1916, Royce had become one of America's most important philosophers. His influence on his contemporaries was a tribute to his intellectual power and to his concern with fundamental religious issues.

Further Reading

The Letters of Josiah Royce, edited by John Glendenning (1970), is the companion volume of Royce's Basic Writings (2 vols., 1969). Stuart Gerry Brown edited two collections of Royce's writings and provided excellent introductory essays: The Social Philosophy of Josiah Royce (1950) and The Religious Philosophy of Josiah Royce (1952).

A fine presentation of Royce's complete ethical philosophy, using Royce's unpublished papers, is Peter Fuss, The Moral Philosophy of Josiah Royce (1965). Thomas F. Powell, in Josiah Royce (1967), argues that Royce's philosophy is relevant to contemporary religious thought. Vincent Buranelli, Josiah Royce (1964), gives considerable attention to Royce as a literary figure. For background see also Clifford Barrett, Contemporary Idealism in America (1932); and for a description of the rise of scientific methodology of inquiry during Royce's time at Harvard see Paul Buck, ed., Social Sciences at Harvard, 1860-1902: From Inculcation to the Open Mind (1965).

Additional Sources

Clendenning, John, The life and thought of Josiah Royce, Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Hine, Robert V., Josiah Royce: from Grass Valley to Harvard, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Kuklick, Bruce, Josiah Royce: an intellectual biography, Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Pub. Co., 1985. □

Royce, Josiah

views updated May 11 2018


One of the greatest American philosophers, leader of the idealist school; b. Grass Valley, Calif., Nov. 20, 1855;d. Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 14, 1916. His parents, Josiah and Sarah Royce, were English born, and went to California as "forty-niners." Sarah Royce, a deeply religious woman, was a school teacher, and the beginnings of Josiah's education were in her school. In 1866 the family moved to San Francisco, where Josiah attended grammar and high school, and in 1871 he started college at the University of California in Berkeley. He was influenced there by his teachers, the Darwinian geologist J. Le Conte and the poet E. R. Sill, and by the reading of J. S. mill and Herbert spencer. Through Mill, Royce made contact with the British empirical tradition, which was to determine the empirical base of his own philosophy and to set for him (as for Kant) the special problematic about induction, truth and falsity, and extension of knowledge beyond the present moment. Royce the empiricist was to reject any rationalistic appeal to intuited self-evident

principles. In 187576 Royce did graduate studies in Germany, first at Leipzig and then at Göttingen, studying under W. wundt, W. Windelband, and R. H. lotze and reading intensely in I. kant, J. G. fichte, and A. scho penhauer. He was impressed by Fichte's transformation of Kant's unity of apperception from an instrument of method into a metaphysical reality and by Fichte's notion of immediate intuition of the subject's act and of noumenal principles unifying the categories. Although more influenced by Kant than any other thinker, Royce increasingly sought to go beyond him, abandoning the unknowable noumena and seeking to ground Kant's forms in one absolute principle, some postulate of will.

In 1876 Royce accepted a two-year fellowship at the newly opened Johns Hopkins University, and it was there that his lifelong friendship with William james began. Royce later testified that his own variety of absolute idealism was heavily indebted to James's Will to Believe and to James's view of an idea as a "plan of action," a purpose seeking future realization. Royce's doctoral dissertation at Hopkins shows opposition to the sheer externality of realism (one of the four conceptions of being Royce was later to argue against powerfully in The World and the Individual ). Existence is identified with consciousness, but individual consciousness in this early phase is considered but "shadowy" in comparison with the reality of the world.

After a four-year period of teaching in Berkeley, Royce, through the influence of James, was called to Harvard in 1882, where he was to remain for 33 years until his death. Already by 1882 Royce maintained that to admit finite error implies absolute truth. The problem of error was to be as central for Royce as for plato in the Theaetetus. An idea cannot be true or false to itself, but only to another idea, ad infinitum. Hence, if any thought is an error, there must be an infinite judge, an inclusive infinite thought. This Absolute is not the God of the churches, but it is "the religious aspect of philosophy." The unification of individual lives is not to be found in the world of description but in that of appreciation, of love.

In Royce's later development, the influence of C. S. peirce became paramount, and the Absolute was transformed into a social community of interpretation. This constitutes Royce's final effort to surmount the limited empirical base from which he began.

See Also: idealism.

Bibliography: Principal writings. The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (New York 1885); The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (New York 1892); The Conception of God (Berkeley, Calif. 1897); The World and the Individual (New York 1901); The Philosophy of Loyalty (New York 1908); The Problem of Christianity (New York 1913). Studies. g. dykhuizen, The Conception of God in the Philosophy of Josiah Royce (Chicago 1936). j. e. smith, Royce's Social Infinite (New York 1950). j. h. cotton, Royce on the Human Self (Cambridge, Mass. 1954). w. e. hocking et al., "In memoriam: J. R.," Journal of Philosophy 53.3 (1956) 57139.

[l. j. eslick]

Royce, Josiah (1855-1916)

views updated May 14 2018

Royce, Josiah (1855-1916)

Philosopher and a founding member of the American Society for Psychical Research. He was born on November 20, 1855, at Grass Valley, California. He studied at University of California (B.A., 1875) and later did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D., 1878) and in Germany at the universities of Leipzig and Göttingen. In 1880 he married Katharine Head.

After his return from Germany he became an instructor in English literature and logic at the University of California. Then in 1882 he joined the Harvard faculty where in 1914 he was named Alford Professor of Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity. He authored a number of books and professional papers.

As a prominent modern American philosopher, Royce investigated the problem of the individual self as part of the world mind. In part due to his friendship with William James, he became a founding member of the ASPR in 1884 and served as chairman and vice president of the Committee on Apparitions and Haunting Houses. The committee's name was changed later to Committee on Phantasms and Presentiments; it classified cases sent in from individuals all over the United States and published his report in the first volume of the Proceedings of the ASPR. Royce died September 14, 1916, at Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Royce, Josiah. "Report of the Committee on Phantasm and Presentiments." Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research 1, 3 (December 1877); 1, 4 (March 1889).

. William James and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Life. N.p., 1911. Reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969.

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