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  • Oppenheim’s Legacy
  • Dwayne A. Tunstall

Oppenheim as Intellectual Lighthouse Keeper of Josiah Royce’s Work

When thinking about Frank M. Oppenheim’s legacy, one cannot help but think, first and foremost, about his many contributions to Royce scholarship. Yet I personally have had some difficulty imagining how to characterize Oppenheim’s contributions to Royce scholarship until late 2013. Prior to that time, the more I thought about how to characterize his contributions to Royce scholarship, the less I became able to imagine an appropriate characterization of them. Then, on an autumn afternoon in 2013, I stumbled across a Tumblr post, written by Missy H. Dunaway, that caught my attention. The title of that post was “‘The Lonely’ Lighthouse Keeper.” Dunaway’s post was an entertaining yet sad account of her fascination with “[t]he lonely life of the [lighthouse] keeper” (Dunaway).1 She discussed her fascination with lighthouses in the context of her paintings, in which nautical themes had become ever more prominent. What fascinated me wasn’t her discussion of her paintings or the quirky references to the television series The Twilight Zone in that post; rather, I was fascinated by her description of the lonely life of a lighthouse keeper:

The most important duty of the lighthouse keeper was, obviously, to keep the flame lit from sunset to sunrise. The flame was encased in a Fresnal Lens (sic), a prism constructed from glass slats that focused 82% of the light into a single beam. Watching over the light sounds easy enough, but the wick had to be trimmed every four hours so that the flame did not release soot. Soot that collected in the lighthouse could easily catch fire, so the interior of the lighthouse was cleaned every day. . . . The most arduous task of the lighthouse keeper came with the [End Page 109] fog. In a thick fog, the keeper rang a bell twice every fifteen seconds for as long as the fog lasted. Some lighthouses were regularly steeped in fog for days. . . . Lighthouse keepers were occasionally visited by tenders that would drop off supplies and a “library,” or wooden box containing a new selection of books for the keeper to read and fight off boredom and madness.


I realize that Oppenheim isn’t quite a lonely lighthouse keeper. Nevertheless, even though he has participated in numerous communities over the years,2 and even though he has produced his writings with the help of “a large ‘community of the loyal’” (Oppenheim, Royce’s Mature Philosophy xiv), I still think how he resembles someone who is a lighthouse keeper. His intellectual circumstances between, say, 1975 and 1987 could be interpreted as being somewhat analogous with being a lighthouse keeper. To see how this is a plausible contention on my part, let us compare the intellectual climate with respect to Royce scholarship from 1961 to 1976, when Royce scholarship once again became marginal even in sympathetic philosophical circles in the United States.

Oppenheim appeared on the scene during the twenty-five-year period (1950–1975) when Royce scholarship appeared to be undergoing a renaissance. Just think about the publications related to Royce’s philosophy produced during the years between 1950 and 1975. Many of these publications remain relevant sources for Royce scholarship today. Here is a representative list of these publications:

  • • John E. Smith’s Royce’s Social Infinite (1950), the gold standard for studying Royce’s metaphysics until recently.

  • • Max H. Fisch included a chapter on Josiah Royce, written by Otto F. Kraushaar, in his influential anthology Classical American Philosophers (1950).

  • • Stuart Gerry Brown, a Royce scholar known for writing about Royce’s social and political philosophy, edited and wrote an introduction for The Social Philosophy of Josiah Royce in 1950. Two years later he edited The Religious Philosophy of Josiah Royce (1952).

  • • Daniel S. Robinson edited a collection of Royce’s logical writings, Royce’s Logical Essays in 1951.

  • • James Harry Cotton’s 1954 monograph, Royce on the Human Self.

  • • The English translation of Gabriel Marcel’s 1945 monograph La métaphysique de Royce (Royce’s Metaphysics) was published in 1956.

  • The Journal of Philosophy published an issue (vol. 53, no. 3) in memoriam of Josiah...


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pp. 109-128
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