Josiah Royce

Josiah Royce

Royce, Josiah, 1855-1916, American philosopher, b. California, grad. Univ. of California, 1873. After studying in Germany and at Johns Hopkins, he returned to California to teach (1878-82). From 1882 until his death he was at Harvard, becoming a professor in 1892. Among his works are The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (1892), The World and the Individual (1900-1901), The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908), and Lectures on Modern Idealism (1919). Royce, thoroughly grounded in history and cognizant of scientific thought, was the foremost American idealist. He held that reality is the life of an absolute mind. We know truth beyond ourselves because we are a part of the logos, or world-mind. Science successfully depends on description, but appreciation must precede description and consequently ideals must be deeper than the mechanism of science. The natural order of the world must be also a moral order. Our ethical obligation is to the moral order and takes the form of loyalty to the great community of all individuals.

See biography by B. Kuklick (1972, repr. 1985); studies by G. Marcel (tr. 1965), P. L. Fuss (1965), T. F. Powell (1967), B. B. Singh (1973), F. M. Oppenheim (1980), and J. Clendenning (1985).

(born Nov. 20, 1855, Grass Valley, Calif., U.S.—died Sept. 14, 1916, Cambridge, Mass.) U.S. philosopher. He studied under William James and Charles Sanders Peirce at Johns Hopkins University. After teaching English at the University of California for four years, he accepted a position at Harvard University (1882), where he remained until his death. An absolute idealist in the Hegelian tradition, he stressed the unity of human thought with the external world. His idealism also extended to religion, the basis of which he conceived to be human loyalty. In his words, the highest good would be achieved by “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.” A diverse thinker, he also made contributions to psychology, social ethics, literary criticism, history, and metaphysics. His many books include The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (1892), Studies of Good and Evil (1898), The World and the Individual (1900–01), and The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908). His emphasis on individuality and will over intellect strongly influenced 20th-century American philosophy.

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Josiah Royce (November 20, 1855, Grass Valley, California. – September 14, 1916, Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American objective idealist philosopher.


Clendenning (1999) is the standard biography. Autobiographical remarks by Royce can be found at Oppenheim (2001).

Royce grew up in pioneer California, very soon after the Gold Rush. He received the BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1875 where he also accepted an instructorship teaching English composition, literature, and rhetoric. After some time in Germany, where he came to admire Hermann Lotze, the new Johns Hopkins University awarded him in 1878 one of its first four doctorates, in philosophy. He taught a course on the history of German thought, which was “one of his chief interests” because he was able to give consideration to the philosophy of history (Pomeroy, 6). He then taught philosophy, first at the University of California, Berkeley, then at Harvard from 1882 until his death, thanks to the good offices of William James, who was at once Royce's friend and philosophical antagonist.

Royce stands out starkly in the philosophical crowd because he was the only major American philosopher who spent a significant period of his life studying and writing history, specifically the American West, “As one of the four giants in American philosophy of his time […] Royce overshadowed himself as historian, in both reputation and output” (Pomeroy, 2). During his first three years at Harvard, Royce taught many different subjects such as English composition, forensics, psychology and philosophy for other professors. He finally received a position as a professor in 1892. During this time he suffered a breakdown and took a semester off during which he did most of his historical writing (Pomeroy, 3).

In 1883 he was approached by a publishing company who asked him to write the state history of California, “In view of his precarious circumstances at Harvard and his desire to pursue the philosophical work for which he had come east, Royce found the prospect attractive […]. He wrote to a friend that he was ‘tempted by the money’” (Pomeroy 3). Royce viewed the task as a side project, which he could use to fill his free time. Royce spent a significant period of time writing histories of California, enjoying it so much that he began to write novels set in California in which he was able to include his philosophical ideas. The books were considered to be “the fictional counterpart to his history, in which he developed similar philosophical themes” (Pomeroy, 5). In 1891 his historical writing career came to an end, but not before he had published several novels, reviews of California’s historical volumes, and articles in journals.


Royce's key works include The World and the Individual (1899-1901) and The Problem of Christianity (1913), both based on lectures, given at the Gifford and Hibbert lectures series respectively. The heart of Royce's idealist philosophy was his contention that the apparently external world has real existence only as known by an ideal Knower, and that this Knower must be actual rather than merely hypothetical. He offered various arguments for this contention in both of his major works. He appears never to have repudiated this view, even though his later works are largely devoted to expositing his philosophy of community.

Two key influences on the thought of Royce were Charles Peirce and William James. In fact, it can be argued that a major way Peirce's ideas entered the American academy is through Royce's teaching and writing, and eventually that of his students. Peirce also reviewed Royce's The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885). Some have claimed that Peirce also supervised Royce's Ph.D., but that is impossible as Peirce arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1879.

Royce is also perhaps the founder of the Harvard school of logic, Boolean algebra, and foundation of mathematics. His logic, philosophy of logic, and philosophy of mathematics were influenced by Charles Peirce and Albert Bray Kempe. Students who in turn learned logic at Royce's feet include Clarence Irving Lewis, who went on to pioneer modal logic, Edward Vermilye Huntington, the first to axiomatize Boolean algebra, and Henry M. Sheffer, known for his eponymous stroke. Much of Royce's writings on logic and mathematics, reminiscent in some ways of Bertrand Russell's much better known Principia Mathematica, and on scientific method, are reproduced in Royce (1951, 1961).

In recent decades, Royce appears not to have attracted as much attention as other now-classic American philosophers, such as Peirce, John Dewey, and his Harvard colleagues William James, and George Santayana. Philosophers influenced by Royce include Brand Blanshard in the United States and Timothy L.S. Sprigge in the United Kingdom.



  • Primary
    • 1912. The Sources of Religious Insight. 2001 ed., Catholic Univ. of America Press. online edition
    • 1913. The Problem of Christianity. 2001 ed., Catholic Univ. of America Press. online edition (volume one)
    • 1914. War and Insurance. Macmillan.
    • 1916. The Hope of the Great Community. Macmillan.
    • 1919. Lectures on Modern Idealism. Ed. by J. Loewenberg. Yale University Press.
    • 1920. Fugitive Essays, ed. J. Loewenberg. Harvard University Press.
    • 1951. Royce's Logical Essays: Collected Logical Essays of Josiah Royce. Robinson, D.S., ed. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown Co.
    • 1961. Principles of Logic. Philosophical Library.
    • 1963. Josiah Royce's Seminar 1913-1914: As Recorded in the Notebooks of Harry T. Costello. Ed. by G. Smith. Rutgers University Press.
    • 2005 (1969). The Basic Writings of Josiah Royce, 2 vols. Ed. by J. J. McDermott. Fordham University Press.
    • 1970. The Letters of Josiah Royce. Ed. by J. Clendenning. University of Chicago Press.
    • 1998. Metaphysics / Josiah Royce: His Philosophy 9 Course of 1915-1916. Hocking, W. E., R. Hocking, and F. Oppenheim, eds. State University of New York Press.
    • 2001. Josiah Royce's Late Writings: A Collection of Unpublished and Scattered Works, 2 vols. Ed. by Oppenheim, F. Thoemmes Press.
  • Secondary
    • Auxier, R., ed., 2000. Critical Responses to Josiah Royce, 1885-1916, 3 vols. Thoemmes Press.
    • Clendenning, J., 1999. The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce, 2nd ed. Vanderbilt University Press.
    • Ivor Grattan-Guinness, 2000. The Search for Mathematical Roots 1870-1940. Princeton Uni. Press.
    • Kuklick, Bruce, 1985. Josiah Royce: An Intellectual Biography. Hackett.
    • Clarence Irving Lewis, 1916, "Types of Order and the System [Sigma]," Philosophical Review 25: 407-19.
    • Pomeroy, Earl. "Josiah Royce, Historian in Quest of Community." The Pacific Historical Review 40 (1971): 1-20. JSTOR. IUPUI University Library, Indianapolis. 15 Apr. 2008
    • Oppenheim, F. M., 1980. Royce's Voyage Down Under: A Journey of the Mind. University Press of Kentucky.
    • -----, 1987. Royce's Mature Philosophy of Religion. University of Notre Dame Press.
    • -----, 1993. Royce's Mature Ethics. University of Notre Dame Press.
    • Trotter, G., 2001. On Royce. Wadsworth.

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