The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

26
JOSIAH ROYCE

David P. Schweikard

Josiah Royce’s prominence in the history of philosophy is based on two facts about his life and thought. First, he was a part of the first Golden Age of philosophy at Harvard University, where he taught from 1882 until his death in 1916. Having arrived, with the help of William James, as a promising young scholar from Berkeley, he helped to shape what became the department of philosophy and to professionalize the discipline in the United States (see Kuklick 1977 and 2001). Second, he is known to have been the leading proponent of so-called American Idealism at the turn of the twentieth century (see Randall 1966). This is interesting in at least the following two respects: one regards the geography of the subject, for at that time especially Great Britain, Germany and Italy witnessed lively discussions about the tenability of idealism; the other regards the topology of philosophy as a subject influenced by the rise of such diverse movements and paradigms as pragmatism, phenomenology, existentialism and analytic philosophy. Royce’s idealism relates to these movements in manifold and somewhat complex ways and, by seeking to incorporate insights gained from those other perspectives, constitutes a rich and multifaceted view.

However, while defining Royce’s prominence in terms of his institutional role and in terms of a vague label for his position might be useful for historiographic purposes, this strategy alone would be insufficient for grounding an assessment of Royce’s systematic contributions to the philosophical debates in which he was involved. But there is an alternative to such a primarily historical approach to Royce’s thought, one which can perhaps be called more empathetic and that is itself Roycean. It consists in taking the stance towards Royce’s thought that he himself took towards the masters of modern philosophy whose work he studied extensively and on whom he lectured throughout his career, and involves examining the academic setting in which he worked, the systematic philosophical problems he sought to solve and the shape and plausibility of the solutions he proposed. Royce’s exceptional studiousness and breadth of reading made him an expert on the history of philosophy, but it is characteristic of his historical work that he treated thinkers such as Spinoza, Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer not just as historical figures, but as partners in a dialogue about philosophical problems and as inspiration for his own thinking. Royce would have agreed with the claim that the greatness of a past thinker depends largely on the extent to which both the way he conceived of a philosophical problem and his solution thereto

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