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  • Grace, the Moral Gap, and Royce’s Beloved Community
  • Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley

It has recently been suggested that our contemporary technological culture needs receptivity to grace and a way to make Christianity relevant to contemporary persons (Borgmann 2003). Josiah Royce did address religion's relevance to modern man and he has a unique doctrine of grace (Royce 1968 [1913]). In addressing religious experience Royce also successfully analyzed two related, important philosophical problems in ethical theory: the "moral gap," i.e., the presumed radical distance between the normative moral demand and the abilities of human persons to adequately meet that demand, and the question "why be moral?"1 Religious experience is understood by Royce in terms of a triad of objects: the ideal, the need, and the Deliverer (Royce 1968 [1913], 1912). In explicating Royce's understanding of this triad, I will argue that he, unlike other philosophers, neither reduces the moral demand nor exalts human capacity; and that he uses a doctrine of grace rather than seeking a naturalistic means to bridge the moral gap.

The Moral Demand

The doctrine of grace addresses the question of how seemingly flawed human beings can meet the moral and/or spiritual demand placed upon them. In the Christian tradition the demand is that persons live a life worthy of their status as children of God; in other words, the demand is linked with the essential nature of human persons, namely, that they are children of God. This status gives them intrinsic value. But it also characterizes the nature of evil or sin, namely, to act against God's will, which is to act in a manner that negates one's status as a child of God. Thus to act in an immoral or nonspiritual manner is to negate or act against one's essential nature. The sinful act in Christianity also arises from the creature's free will. Indeed, part of one's essential nature as a child of God is [End Page 171] the ability to act freely and to freely choose to obey or disobey God's will in order to gain the praise of others.

What, then, does Royce say about the moral demand? The ultimate moral demand, for him, is the principle of "loyalty to loyalty." Royce declares: "In loyalty, when loyalty is properly defined, is the fulfillment of the whole moral law" (Royce 1995 [1908], 16-17). The proper definition of loyalty, in Royce's view, is "The willing and practical and thorough going devotion of a person to a cause" (17). He identifies some key characteristics of authentic loyalty that distinguish it from some common misconceptions. First, it is a matter of free choice: "The loyal man's cause is his cause by virtue of the assent of his own will" (17) Royce also is clear that choosing a cause involves personal reflection and evaluation.

Indeed, loyalty, for Royce, plays a key role in self-identity and unity. To achieve a sense of genuine selfhood one must have a life plan. A person is one who is engaged in developing a meaningful self-narrative, who has a remembered past and an intended future; goals have been pursued or will be pursued and value judgments are made about what has been done or thought and what is worth seeking, doing, thinking. Part of my uniqueness as a person, for Royce, and the most valuable part, is my life plan, my set of values and ideals that distinguish me from all my fellows. Royce emphatically asserts: "By this meaning of my life plan, by this intent always to remain other than my fellows despite my planned unity with them—by this and not by the possession of any soul-substance, I am defined and created a self" (Royce 1959, 2: 276). For Royce, the human quest for selfhood and unity is a profound psychological fact; humans hunger for and need a life plan. In Royce's view, being loyal to a cause helps unify a life; it brings one's own will to self-consciousness; it helps one become morally aware and autonomous. He writes: "My duty is simply my own will brought to my clear self-consciousness...


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