Randy Auxier’s long awaited book is a major milestone in Royce studies—a systematic tour de force engaging the entire course of Royce’s thought. Auxier’s goal is to achieve an all-round reappraisal of Royce, setting the record straight about major misconceptions accrued throughout the course of Royce scholarship over the past 65 years—if not longer.
One of the most significant events in Royce scholarship during the 20th Century was the appearance of John E. Smith’s Royce’s Social Infinite: The Community of Interpretation.1 As Auxier notes: “For the purposes for which it was intended, Smith’s book will never be surpassed in its excellence. Smith’s book is outstanding in numerous ways … but its clarity and brevity are high among its chief virtues” (13). The problem with Smith’s book, for Auxier, is that readers have used it for a purpose it was never intended to serve—that of a crutch or “shortcut to a full understanding of Royce” (13). This tendency has had a compounding effect: “[N]ot only scholarship, but scholarly consciousness about Royce is formed by Smith’s book” (14). [End Page 166]
The shortcomings of Smith’s book are partly due lack of available historical information concerning the Peirce-Royce relationship at the time it was written: “The inferences about Peirce and Royce that Smith drew from the available resources were mostly warranted at the time, but they turned out to be only a drop in the pond, if not the ocean, of what was the case” (15–16). But the most damning consequence of Smith’s book is its claim that Royce’s thought underwent a decisive shift in its later stages: “[T]he all-important change in Royce’s conception of the Absolute consists in the shift from the idea that the Infinite thought is an all-embracing consciousness apprehending at a glance all truth … to the idea that the Infinite is actual as a well-ordered system … having a generally triadic form and involving a type of cognition called interpretation” (19).2 Once a bifurcation between the “early” and the “later” Royce is introduced, the tendency is to identify Royce’s “Peircean moment” of 1912 as the decisive point of rupture between the “two Royces”—an incorrect view stemming from the inability to take a longer view of the Peirce-Royce relationship:
But our recognition of the intense, constant and long term character of their exchange also eliminates the supposition that that Royce took a sudden turn in 1912. It is not a “Peircean turn” due to some late discovery, it was an insight about how to use Peirce’s theory of signs (which Royce had known for years) as a tool for the application of his (long held) triadic theory of community. … Peirce did not save Royce from absolutism or turn him in any fundamentally new direction.(17)
Failure to grasp the integral unity of Royce’s thought results in a tendency to miss the ethical basis of his philosophy—“ethics as first philosophy.” Unlike Smith, and others, who err toward the side of viewing Royce’s philosophical project as an epistemological attempt at a conception of knowledge warranted in terms of ability to provide truth and certainty, “Royce’s method is a hypothetical ontology … not aimed primarily at securing certainty or knowledge, but rather at maintaining intellectual norms … that govern clear thinking and facilitate intelligent practice and action” (23). Royce’s hypothetical ontology underscores the religious dimension of experience because practical, faith-based postulates are recognized as unavoidably intertwined in the process of knowing. Living in a universe of postulates requires formulating ideals as if they were ontologically constitutive; and acting in accordance with these ideals in a way that validates their existence—while recognizing the fallibility and risk of the entire enterprise. Royce’s argument amounts to saying “[W]ell no, we don’t get more than postulates, but don’t underestimate postulates, that’s how all our knowledge comes to us” (64...