When I first became acquainted with the thought of the American philoso- pher Josiah Royce, two factors particularly intrigued me. The first was Royce's claim that the notion of community was his main metaphysical tenet; the second was his close association with the two American pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Regarding the first factor, I was struck by the fact that a philosopher who died in 1916 should emphasize a topic of such contemporary significance not only in philosophy but in so many other ...
When I first became acquainted with the thought of the American philoso- pher Josiah Royce, two factors particularly intrigued me. The first was Royce's claim that the notion of community was his main metaphysical tenet; the second was his close association with the two American pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Regarding the first factor, I was struck by the fact that a philosopher who died in 1916 should emphasize a topic of such contemporary significance not only in philosophy but in so many other vital fields as well (sociology, psychology, politics, theology - to name only a few). Regarding the second, I was curious as to whether the pragmatism of Peirce and James might have influenced Royce during the course of their professional and personal contacts. Similarly, I wondered whether the idealism of Royce might have affected the thought of Peirce and James. To have appeased my curiosity in regard to all three thinkers, however, would have required (at least) three books. As a start I have now appeased it in regard to one. In researching the writings of Royce I found my way to the Houghton Library and to the Archives of Harvard University at Cambridge, Massa- chusetts, where the unpublished manuscripts of Royce are preserved. (No editing job has yet been done on this bulk of material, though such would certainly be a welcome contribution to American philosophy.
Josiah Royce (1855 -- 1916) was an American idealistic philosopher whose works are being studied again with the revival of interest in American pragmatism. Pragmatism is often considered a hard-headed philosophy with its idealistic, religious components overlooked. Mary Briody Mahowald's scholarly study, "An Idealistic Pragmatism: The Development of the Pragmatic Element in the Philosophy of Josiah Royce" (1972) examines the relationship between idealism and pragmatism in what she describes as Royce's philosophy of "idealistic pragmatism". Mahowald herself is a thinker worth getting to know. She received her PhD from Marquette University in 1969 and spent her early teaching career at Villanova University. She became known for her work in feminist philosophy and bioethics and spent most of her career teaching at the University of Chicago Medical School where she is currently Professor Emeritus of Bioethics. She has also continued her interest in the philosophy of Royce.
Mahowald's later interests in feminism and bioethics are not apparent in "An Idealistic Pragmatism" . The book is an excellent and careful study of Royce and his philosophical development. As Mahowald shows, Royce was heavily influenced throughout his career by German post-Kantian idealism. He came under the influence of his friend and colleague William James and even more so of the American philosopher Charles Peirce. Mahowald argues that Royce's thought became increasingly pragmatic in character while not losing its idealist, absolutist nature.
Mahowald describes the apparent tension between an absolutist, monistic philosophy such as idealism on the one hand and a pluralistic based philosophical approach such as pragmatism on the other hand. She argues that Royce gradually combined the insights of pragmatism and idealism by distinguishing between "short term" and "long term" pragmatic goals. Non-idealistic pragmatism tended to see the future-oriented character of pragmatism only in the short term as a means for solving immediate problems. Royce tried to take a more inclusive view and saw pragmatism under an eternalist view as a means for filling mankind's ultimate needs for truth, community, and religion in addition to shorter term goals.
Mahowald's study makes ample use of Royce's voluminous writings. including unpublished lectures and essays. She divides Royce's work into the categories of early, middle, and late and shows how Royce gradually moved from an intellectualized, undifferentiated concept of the absolute to an understanding that stressed community and interpretation and that tried to find more of a place for individuality. Thus she offers expositions of Royce's theory of knowledge, conception of the absolute, and understanding of the individual in all three stages of Royce's career. In early Royce, she focuses on his book, "The Religious Aspect of Philosophy". In middle Royce, Mahowald studies Royce's large book, "The World and the Individual" together with his debate with the philosopher George Howison in "The Conception of God". In studying the "mature" Royce, Mahowald focuses on "The Problem of Christianity" with some reference as well to "The Sources of Religious Insight". Mahowald also makes important use of Royce's posthumously published "Lectures on Modern Idealism" for Royce's own explicit discussion of the relationship between idealism and pragmatism.
Most of her book consists of careful, patient exposition. In the final section, Mahowald offers a short critical discussion of what is valuable and what may be dated in Royce's idealistic pragmatism. She distinguishes between a philosophical concept of idealism which holds that all reality is spiritual in character and a more popular understanding of idealism that Royce himself recognized and frequently used. Mahowald writes:
"Were we to use the term in a less technical sense, however, the fact that Royce is an American idealist would make him a rather lone representative of an aspect of American experience which is largely neglected by the classical American pragmatists. This aspect might properly be called American idealism. For Americans are on the whole a people with an amazingly idealistic bent. all through their history a practical orientation and appreciation for immediate experience has been joined with a hopeful thrust towards high ideals and expectation of the realization of those ideals. In other words Americans seem to stress both relative and absolute future experience. Through that dual emphasis the American spirit appears to combine -- now as truly as at the turn of the century -- a pragmatism and an idealism."
Mahowald's book taught me a great deal about Royce, about his "pragmatic idealism" and about American philosophy. Her book will be of interest to serious students of American philosophy who believe that philosophy needs to concern itself with identifying and discussing fundamental issues.
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