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The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 14.1 (2000) 24-35

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Practically "Saved": An Inquiry into the Foundations of Royce's Development 1

Michael Forest

Traditionally interpreted as an absolute idealist and therefore as an anomaly in his own milieu, Josiah Royce has been often mischaracterized over the course of this century. Attention has been overly focused on Royce's commitment to the epistemological Absolute of his middle writings. 2 Royce's dialectically adversarial relationship with his best friend William James has had a tendency to exaggerate the differences between the two of them and to obscure the many deep philosophical commitments they both shared.

The purpose of this paper is to show that Royce's theology is mainly a consequence of his commitment to the Kantian project in philosophy and that he thus had more in common with the Harvard pragmatists than is commonly ascribed to him. 3 While neo-Kantianism is usually interpreted as idealism (and for good reasons), there is a more practical side to the Kantian project. This strain runs from Immanuel Kant through nearly the entire pragmatic tradition and includes Royce as easily as it does James and Charles Sanders Peirce. Thus, as a by-product, this paper will be a resource for a more inclusive and tightly knit view of the classical American philosophers. Primarily, however, this paper eventuates in a focus on the concept of salvation to illustrate that the primacy of Royce's thinking as a whole was based more deeply on his commitment to practical reason than on a commitment to any absolutes. The progression of Royce's thought, as well as its theological culmination in his two-volume The Problem of Christianity, it will be argued, can be best explained by uncovering Royce's commitment to the priority of practical reason over speculative reason. This position [End Page 24] helps to explain Royce's evolution toward a voluntaristic theology that explicated the conditions for the possibility of a religious way of life.

The paper will begin with a discussion of the intellectual background into which Royce developed. It proceeds to Royce's early work, with considerations of the practical bearing expressed in that work and the problems generated by it. Next, the paper presents analyses of several of Royce's middle works to show how practical reason undergirds his project and endures throughout his intellectual life. Finally, the paper ends with the final fruits of Royce's practical bearing and its shift in emphasis through the new stage of salvation in his major theological work. Of course, there is much more to Royce's practical philosophy than need be considered for this thesis. Because I am examining the role of practical reason as a foundation for Royce's speculative work, the reader may excuse my omissions of some of Royce's very practical themes, such as loyalty, transformation, and the interpretive Spirit.

Like Royce, the American pragmatists accepted influences from a variety of different places and traditions. Certainly, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, the British empiricists, and the German idealists all played their parts in the story of the development of pragmatism. But a special place must be accorded to Immanuel Kant. Several particular doctrines originating with Kant had an indelible impact, primarily, two specific aspects of the same teaching. First, the passivity of the mind was abolished in favor of a mind that actively constructs the world. While this notion differs in theoretical function for Kant and the Americans, it always expresses the belief that the content of phenomenal experience under-determines any adequate theoretical interpretation of it. Hence, extraphenomenal concepts and categories are necessary to elucidate the structure and content of experience. Second, and related to this, Kant stressed the importance of the role of practical reason in understanding the real. Indeed, the function of Kant's famous Critique of Pure Reason is a demonstration that reason is primarily practical. Both in the realm of the moral world and in scientific inquiry, the guidepost toward truth is practical reason. 4 Thus, taking his cue...


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