In 1908, American philosopher Josiah Royce foresaw the future. Race questions and prejudices, he said, "promise to become, in the near future, still more important than they have ever been before." Like his student W. E. B. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk (1903), Royce recognized that the problem of the next century would be, as Du Bois put it, "the problem of the color line." The twentieth century saw vast changes in race relations, but even after the election of the first African-American U.S. president, questions of race ...
In 1908, American philosopher Josiah Royce foresaw the future. Race questions and prejudices, he said, "promise to become, in the near future, still more important than they have ever been before." Like his student W. E. B. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk (1903), Royce recognized that the problem of the next century would be, as Du Bois put it, "the problem of the color line." The twentieth century saw vast changes in race relations, but even after the election of the first African-American U.S. president, questions of race and the nature of community persist. Though left out of the mainstream of academic philosophy, Royce's conception of community nevertheless influenced generations of leaders who sought to end racial, religious, and national prejudice. Royce's work provided the conceptual starting place for the Cultural Pluralism movement of the 1920s and 1930s, and his notion of the Beloved Community influenced the work and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. Communities, whether they are understood as racial or geographic, religious or scientific, Royce argued, are formed by the commitments of individuals to causes or shared ideals. This starting point-the philosophy of loyalty-provides a means to understand the nature of communities, their conflicts, and their potential for growth and coexistence. Just as this work had relevance in the twentieth century in the face of anti-Black and anti-immigrant prejudice, Royce's philosophy of loyalty and conception of community has new relevance in the twenty-first century. This new edition of Royce's Race Questions, Provincialism, and Other American Questions includes a new introduction to Royce's philosophy of loyalty and the essays included in the volume, and a second introduction connecting Royce's work with contemporary discussions of race. The volume also includes six supplementary essays by Royce (unavailable since their initial publication before 1916) that provide background for the original essays, raise questions about his views, and show the potential of those views to inform other discussions about religious pluralism, the philosophy of science, the role of history, and the future of the American community.
The early 20th Century is sometimes characterized as a "golden age of American philosophy" with thinkers such as William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey setting forth different approaches to what would become a distinctly American philosophy of pragmatism. Deeply influenced by pragmatism, the philosopher Josiah Royce (1855 -- 1916) has sometimes been overlooked among his colleagues. Royce taught a form of philosophical idealism which has long been out of fashion. A philosophical idealist, such as Royce, tends to see the nature of all reality as spiritual or mental. Born in a California mining camp, Royce spent most of his career at Harvard. His thought has received increased attention in recent years, especially his writings on ethics and his later philosophy which may qualify his earlier metaphysical idealism. In 2007, I had the good fortune to attend a seminar at the Harvard Divinity School, "William James and Josiah Royce a century later: Pragmatism and Idealism in Dialogue" which taught me a great deal about these two thinkers. I am pleased to be able to continue to read and think about Royce and James.
In 1908, Royce gathered together five earlier lectures and published them in a short book called "Race Questions, Provincialism and other American Problems." In these essays, Royce stated that he wanted to apply "to some of our American problems" the "general doctrine about life" which Royce had set forth in an earlier book he called "The Philosophy of Loyalty." In that book, Royce argued that loyalty to a good cause, freely chosen by each individual, which, while local in focus, worked ultimately to the service of humanity was the basis of ethics and a good life. For Royce, "Loyalty is the practical expression of an idealistic philosophy. Such a philosophy, in relation to theoretical and practical problems I have long tried to teach." And in this book, Royce emphasizes concrete applications of his teachings rather than speculations. This is a philosophical role that many current practitioners of the discipline have forgotten.
This valuable reprint of Royce's 1908 book published by Fordham University Press includes, in addition to the five original essays, a collection of six additional essays by Royce added by the editors which complement and expand upon the thought of the initial volume. The book also includes two lengthy essays by the editors of the volume: Scott Pratt, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon, and Shannon Sullivan, Professor of Philosophy, Women's Studies, and African and African American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. Pratt's introduction offers a summary of each essay and an assessment of it's place in Royce's thought while Sullivan's introduction focuses on Royce's essay on race.
Royce's opening essay, "Race Questions and Prejudices" is indeed the most famous and controversial work in this volume. Royce recognized the importance of the essay by naming the entire collection after it. As Sullivan's introduction points out, it was rare for an early 20th Century American philosopher to devote sustained attention to race in the United States and the American South. The only parallels are in the works of W.E.B. DuBois, a student of Royce's, and of Jane Addams. Royce's essay examines Southern Jim Crow in light of English experiences in Jamaica and Trinidad with a racially-mixed society. Some of what Royce has to say will give modern readers pause, as Royce clearly shared some of the biases of his time. But much of this essay, particularly in the opening and the concluding sections, is an attack on the very concept of race and on the claim that race plays any significant role in assessing the human mind or heart of individuals. Near the end of the essay, Royce describes racial distinctions as based upon "human illusions" (p. 68). He relocates the source of racial discrimination by arguing that that "our so-called race problems are merely the problems caused by our antipathies." (p.65) Royce concludes his essay on race with the following observation (p.68):
"For my part, then, I am a member of the human race, and this is a race which is, as a whole, considerably lower than the angels, so that the whole of it very badly needs race-elevation. In this need of my race I personally and very deeply share. And it is in this spirit that I am able to approach our problem."
I think there is a good deal to be learned from reading this essay, both historically and contemporaneously.
Besides the essay on race and prejudice, I found particularly worthwhile the third essay in the collection titled, "On Certain Limitations of the Thoughtful Public in America." Royce rejects emphatically a frequently-voiced criticism of the United States, during Royce's time and today, that it is predominantly materialistic, crass, and philistine. Royce writes instead that "we are largely a nation of idealists" (p. 93)(in a nontechnical sense of "idealism") and qualifies and defends this view in the course of the essay. The essay proceeds to criticize some of the efforts of American intellectuals in trying to understand the United States through overly-broad abstractions and theories. Royce ties in his critique -- rationalistic philosopher though he is -- to what Royce finds as a degree of over-intellectualism in the United States where educated individuals especially are all-too-ready to pass beyond their areas of knowledge and pass unilateral judgment on every political, social, or economic issue faced in the United States. Royce writes "remember, life is vast, and your little clearing is very small. In the rest of life, cultivate naivete, accept authority, dread fads, follow as faithfully as your instinct permits other lovers of the ideal who are here wiser than you, and be sure that though your head splits you will never think out all your problems, or formulate all your ideals so long as you are in this life. .. Be childlike in much of life in order to become maturely wise in some things." (p.115)
The remaining essays in the 1908 volume and this expanded edition describe the nature of American localism, and its importance to Royce as a source of individual commitment, pluralism, and opposition to conformity and the "mob". Two of the essays describe the history of the early California in which Royce grew up and its continuing importance to his life. Royce was interested in sports as a builder of American character. The expanded essays include a perceptive study of the American obsession with football and its good and its (mostly) negative consequences. There is a good essay on religion in American life, and in Royce's understanding of the role of the teacher of philosophy in studying religion.
This book encouraged me to think about how the discipline of philosophy may still play a role in public life in the United States. Readers will find much to question in these essays by Royce but much to learn as well. This is a valuable book for those with a strong interest in American thought.
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