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  • Absolute Suffering, Loyalty, and Morality: On the Development of Royce’s Religious Philosophy1
  • Aaron Pratt Shepherd (bio)

I. Introduction

The philosophical career of Josiah Royce is defined in part by his relationship with G. H. Howison. Biographically speaking, this assertion recalls the mythic tale of how Royce received his appointment at Harvard after James “forgot” about Howison.2 Philosophically speaking, however, Howison’s interchange with Royce concerning his philosophical conception of God in the 1895 debate held at Berkeley was a crucial intersection of these two philosophers that set the directions for their future work. It was a chance for Howison to “get it on,” in the words of John McDermott,3 with Royce, in a philosophical bout for the championship title of American Idealism. Royce welcomed the opportunity to return to his alma mater and speak on a panel with two of his mentors, Sidney Mezes and Joseph LeConte, in addition to Howison, describing it as a “great treat to me” in a letter written just before his departure to California.4 In the debate, Royce brought out his “argument from error” for the necessity of God, which formed the crux of his theoretical work of the time; Howison, in turn, came prepared with a scathing critique that Royce would even admit cut his conception of God to the quick. [End Page 33]

This interchange, in which Royce’s notion of the Absolute was dealt a heavy blow by Howison, is widely acknowledged as the impetus behind many of the innovations in Royce’s subsequent work, particularly his 1899–1901 Gifford Lecture Series, The World and the Individual.5 Royce himself affirmed that the disputation of 1895 that would later be published as The Conception of God (1898) was ultimately unfulfilling and suggested to Howison in a letter that he was content to simply let his words lay.6

However, this story of Royce’s intellectual development from The Conception of God to The World and the Individual has been complicated thanks to John Kaag’s archival work in bringing to light the unpublished manuscripts of Royce’s Augustus Graham Lecture Series.7 As Kaag points out in “The Place of ‘The Problem of Job’ in the Philosophy of Josiah Royce,”8 the Howison debate was still fresh and weighing heavily on Royce’s mind when he sat down to write out these five lectures for presentation at the Brooklynn Institute in the winter of 1896. In fact, I would argue (in a fashion tangentially related to Kaag’s thesis concerning the place of “The Problem of Job” in Royce’s corpus) that these lectures represent Royce’s first attempt at a robust thinking through of Howison’s critiques, and that Royce would later draw upon concepts already present in these lectures for some of the ideas found in his supplementary essay to “The Conception of God” (1898); “The Problem of Job,” published in 1897 in The New World and in Royce’s 1898 Studies in Good and Evil; the Gifford [End Page 34] Lectures on The World and the Individual (1900–1901); Philosophy of Loyalty (1908); and even Sources of Religious Insight (1912).

Royce scholars have debated whether or not Royce’s intellectual development was one of a continuous, pragmatic reinterpretation of the same ideas, or one characterized by novelty.9 In this article, I will argue for the former interpretation by highlighting two elements of Royce’s Graham Lectures that I see as direct responses to the most damning critiques Howison leveled in the 1895 Berkeley debate, and that recur in Royce’s later works: first, the notion of the suffering of the Absolute found in lecture five and in “The Problem of Job;” and second, the notion of loyalty present in the third Graham Lecture that becomes the central ethical concept for Royce’s work. In tracing these ideas from the Berkeley debate through the Graham Lectures and into subsequent writings, I hope to further clarify and strengthen the claim that much of Royce’s later thought can be traced back to Howison’s critiques.

II. G. H. Howison’s Criticisms of Royce’s “Conception of God”

Let me begin, then, with Howison’s address...


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