Josiah Royce (1855-1916) was an American philosopher who taught at Harvard University (1882-1916), where he was a friend and colleague of the philosopher William James (1842-1916). Royce's major works included The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (1892), The World and the Individual (1899-1900), and The Sources of Religious Insight (1912).
The World and the Individual is based on the Gifford Lectures that Royce delivered at the University of Aberdeen in 1899 and 1900. The lectures are collected in two volumes, as the "first series" and "second series." The first series is entitled “The Four Historical Conceptions of Being,” and is based on the lectures that were delivered between January 11 and February 1, 1899. The second series is entitled “Nature, Man, and the Moral Order,” and is based on the lectures that were delivered in January, 1900.
The first series of lectures is concerned with defining a consistent theory of the nature of being, and with defining the reality belonging to the world and the individual. The second series is concerned with applying the theory of being to the understanding of physical and social reality, and with defining the place of the self in being.
The first series includes ten lectures: Lecture I: “Introduction: The Religious Problems and the Theory of Being,” Lecture II: “Realism and Mysticism in the History of Thought,” Lecture III: “The Independent Beings: A Critical Examination of Realism,” Lecture IV: “The Unity of Being, and the Mystical Interpretation,” Lecture V: “The Outcome of Mysticism, and the World of Modern Critical Rationalism,” Lecture VI: “Validity and Experience,” Lecture VII: “The Internal and External Meaning of Ideas,” Lecture VIII: “The Fourth Conception of Being,” Lecture IX: “Universality and Unity,” Lecture X: Individuality and Freedom.”
The first series also includes a supplementary essay: “The One, the Many, and the Infinite,” which describes the theory of being in F.H. Bradley’s philosophy of absolute idealism.
The second series consists of ten lectures: Lecture I: “The Recognition of Facts,” Lecture II: “The Linkage of Facts,” Lecture III: “The Temporal and the Eternal,” Lecture IV: “Physical and Social Reality,” Lecture V: “The Interpretation of Nature,” Lecture VI: “The Human Self,” Lecture VII: “The Place of the Self in Nature,” Lecture VIII: “The Moral Order,” Lecture IX: “The Struggle with Evil,” Lecture X: “The Union of God and Man.”
Royce defines an idea as an act of will. An idea is an expression of a purpose in the mind of the subject. The purpose expressed by an idea is the internal meaning of the idea.
The way in which an idea refers to an outer fact or object is its external meaning. The external meaning of an idea is true if the idea successfully corresponds to the world of facts. The external meaning of an idea is false if the idea does not successfully correspond to the world of facts.
The nature of being is defined by how the internal meaning of ideas is related to their external meaning. If an idea is to have some external meaning, then there must be some unity between its internal and external meaning. The external meaning is determined by the internal meaning of the idea.
Thought as a mode of being includes the world of inner meanings, the acts of will that produce ideas and that develop ideas according to facts. Thought involves an activity of modifying ideas in order to adjust them to facts.
According to Royce, there are four historical conceptions of being: realism, mysticism, critical rationalism, and idealism.
Realism affirms that the reality of an external object is independent of any idea or experience by which the object may be known. The reality of an external object does not depend on the reality of any idea that may refer to the object. Moreover, the reality of an idea does not depend on the reality of any object to which the idea may refer. Thus, even if we assume that an idea is caused by an object, this assumption does not imply that the idea or the object are real, because their reality is not established by their causal connection. The reality of an idea or object is independent of any relation that the idea or object may have to other ideas or objects.
Realism, according to Royce, has traditionally been concerned with the question of whether reality consists of only one independently real being or whether it consists of many independently real beings. If the idea of an object and the object itself may each have their own independent reality, then there may be more than one independent reality. However, if the idea of an object and the object itself are independently real, then the idea of the object may change independently of any change in the object. Realism is therefore contradictory. If changes may occur in the real world without any changes in our ideas of reality, then the theory of realism, which is itself an idea of reality, may not reflect reality.
Because of its self-contradictory nature, realism cannot empirically verify the reality of any form of being. Because realism affirms that the reality of any object is independent of our experience of that object, it cannot verify that any object is real.
Mysticism is the second "historical conception of being." In mysticism, the knower of a known object may experience a unity of being with that object. If a unity of being is established with a known object, then the knower may become one with absolute being. In the act of knowledge, the knower is no longer separated from the known.
Mysticism may be self-contradictory in its concept of independent being, says Royce. It may assert that the reality of an idea is determined by the degree of adequacy with which the idea refers to absolute being. The more adequately that an idea refers to absolute being, the greater the reality that may be attained by the idea. However, if the knower becomes one with a known object, then any idea that the knower may have of the known object will refer back again to the knower. This inability to attain any independent knowledge of a known object may reduce being to nothing, and thus mysticism may define nothing.
Critical rationalism is the third "historical conception of being." This conception of being is the source of the theory that validity is the same as reality.1 According to critical rationalism, an idea is real insofar as it is true or valid. The truth or validity of an idea is determined by whether it refers to a real object. An idea is not true or valid if it does not refer to an actually existing object.
However, truth or validity may be merely one aspect of being, and may not represent the whole nature of being.2 The truth of an idea may be determined by the idea's external meaning (by the way in which the idea refers to its object). Truth may be defined by a correspondence between an idea and the object to which the idea refers, and error may be defined by a lack of correspondence between an idea and the object to which the idea refers.
If the truth of an idea is determined by whether the idea corresponds to the object to which it refers, then the object of that idea is already assumed to exist. The reality of an object cannot therefore be proved by the truth or validity of the idea that refers to the object. This inability to confirm the reality of any object exposes the self-contradictory nature of critical rationalism, and it reveals that this theory of being cannot prove the truth or validity of its own conclusions. An individual does not merely accept the world as an object of perception. Every idea that an individual has of the world is an act of will. Ideas that are vague or indeterminate are incompletely developed acts of will. Ideas that are more clearly defined or individualized are more fully developed acts of will.
Reality is the object of true ideas. Reality expresses in a form that is ultimately individual the meaning of every true idea.3 To be real is to be individual. Idealism is therefore the only conception of being that does not contradict itself. Idealism is the fourth "historical conception of being," and it is a system of knowledge which affirms that reality is the complete and final objectification of individual ideas.
The truth of an idea, according to Royce, is determined not only by the idea’s external meaning (by the way in which the idea corresponds to its object), but also by the idea’s internal meaning (by the way in which the idea selects its object, and by the mode of correspondence that the idea selects for its relation to the object). Thus, the truth of an idea reflects the idea as an act of will.
Being cannot be independent of meaning. Everything that has being expresses the meaning of a true idea. Being is a fulfillment of an act of will.
The world of facts is an expression of the will. Facts may be perceived as limiting the freedom of the will, but they may also be perceived as enabling the will to fulfill itself better than if their reality were unknown by the individual self. They are the individual objects of true ideas. They have external meaning, but they are also objects of individual ideas that have internal meaning. Thus, idealism directs philosophical inquiry from a study of the world as fact to a reflection upon the world as idea.4
Consciousness of facts may be appreciative (volitional) or descriptive (theoretical). These two modes of consciousness are important for our understanding of the physical and social world. Thus, the realm of being includes a world of appreciation and a world of description. The world of appreciation is a world of values and self-expression. The world of description is a world of objects of possible attention. The physical world may be perceived as a world of description. The social world may be perceived as a world of appreciation.
The physical world may be regarded as an objective order or a system of discoverable phenomena. The social world may be regarded as a world where individuals may express themselves, and where they may express ideas (and values) similarly or differently. The facts of the physical world may be regarded as objects of possible attention. The facts of the social world may be regarded as forms of self-expression.
According to Royce, the ultimate facts are the facts of the world of appreciation.5 The facts of the world of appreciation form a well-ordered series in which every fact is logically followed by another fact. This logical ordering of facts may not be found in the world of description, where sequences of facts may not be well-ordered.
Time is both perceptual and conceptual, says Royce. Time has meaning only in terms of the will. Indeed, it is a form of the will, because it is an idea of the real world.6 It is a property of the real world, because it is a process of change by which internal meaning is unified with external meaning.
The self is like any other fact insofar as it has meaning within the Absolute. The Absolute is a unity of ideas that define being. However, the self is also more than a fact insofar as it is an ideal. The self is the fulfillment of an ethical idea.
The self cannot be an object that exists independently of any ideas that refer to it. This concept of the self is a contradictory aspect of realism, says Royce, and it must be revised if it is to be consistent with idealism and become an ethical concept. The individual self may find its meaning within the absolute self, and if the individual self finds unity with the absolute self, then the individual self may also find unity with God.
Every self may attain fulfillment in the absolute self, says Royce, but every self has an individual meaning. Thus, the recognition of the true individuality of the self is an important principle of Royce’s idealism.
This idealism affirms that both the internal and external meaning of any idea are expressed by the whole meaning of the idea. The whole meaning of every idea is identified with the universe, with the Absolute, and with God.7 The whole meaning of every idea reveals the unity of absolute being.
This absolute idealism also affirms that the world is an expression of absolute will. Thus, the realm of being is a unity of the one and the many, of the universal and the particular, of the world and the individual.8
Royce’s theory of the world as an expression of the will is similar in some aspects to Schopenhauer's theory of the world as a representation of the will. However, Royce sees the will as rational, while Schopenhauer views the will as irrational. Royce also differs from Schopenhauer in his view of ultimate reality. For Royce, the world in its reality is the ultimate expression of the will, but for Schopenhauer the will itself is ultimate reality. Royce's ethical theory also differs from Schopenhauer's in being optimistic rather than pessimistic. For Schopenhauer, the individual can overcome suffering only by denial of the will, but for Royce, the individual can find fulfillment in the unity of absolute will.
While Schopenhauer views the will as ultimate reality and the individual as a limited appearance of the will, Royce views reality as a fulfillment in individual form of the purpose expressed by the will.
Royce’s absolute idealism also has important differences from that of F.H. Bradley. For Bradley, the self is appearance and not reality. The Absolute is not a self, and it is without selfhood. For Royce, the self is an individual within the absolute self, and the Absolute must have selfhood. Royce explains that Bradley’s Absolute cannot be aware of itself, because if this were the case, then the Absolute would be aware of itself as merely appearance and not as reality. Thus, the denial of the selfhood of the Absolute is a contradictory aspect of Bradley’s absolute idealism.
Royce also describes Bradley’s Absolute as a self-representative system. A self-representative system is a system that represents itself along with other elements. Royce says that in Bradley’s Absolute, the world of appearance is included in the unity of absolute reality. Thus, Bradley’s Absolute must be an absolute self and must have selfhood.
1Josiah Royce, The World and the Individual, First Series: “The Four Historical Conceptions of Being” (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1900), p. 204.
2 Ibid., p. 251.
3 Ibid., p. 386.
4 Ibid., p. 17.
5 Josiah Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series: “Nature, Man, and the Moral Order” (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1901), p. 464.
6 Ibid., p. 133.
7 Ibid., p. 271.
8 Ibid., p. 187.
Royce, Josiah. The World and the Individual. First Series: “The Four Historical Conceptions of Being.” New York: The MacMillan Company, 1900.
Royce, Josiah. The World and the Individual. Second Series: “Nature, Man, and the Moral Order.” New York: The MacMillan Company, 1901.