- Introduction to the Symposium
in early 2019, the josiah royce society arranged two Author Meets Critics sessions on Tommy J. Curry’s Another white Man’s Burden: Josiah Royce’s Quest for a Philosophy of white Racial Empire. The first was held in New York City, at the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting. The second was at the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, in Columbus, Ohio. The sessions were vibrant and well-attended. With the exception of a few tendentious questions at the close of the second meeting, however, our sessions lacked the element of controversy that is customary in discussions of racism in the history of philosophy. The panelists and the audience alike rather accepted Curry’s historical theses about the racial underpinnings of Royce’s social philosophy. Our responses were mainly elaborations on his work, rather than fundamental challenges to it. In this introduction, I hope to explain something of how this circumstance has come about. How, namely, have historians of philosophy in general, and Americanists or Royceans in particular, altered our orientation toward the racial ideologies that underlie our field of study?
Josiah Royce’s vast philosophical corpus includes a number of essays about race, some of which appeared in his 1908 collection Race Questions, Provincialism, and Other American Problems. These works, however, played a fairly marginal role in the revival of Royce scholarship that began in the 1980s and 1990s. The late Frank Oppenheim published four books on Royce between 1980 and 2005, which were overlapped by Jackie Kegley’s first book (in 1997) and a new biography by John Clendenning (first in 1985, expanded in 1999). The scholars in this cluster emphasized Royce’s pragmatism, his philosophy of religion, his ethical theory, and his emphasis on community. They also practiced a style of scholarship that borrowed much from Royce’s notions of community and loyalty: they were interpreting Royce’s philosophy, to be [End Page 1] sure, but they were also advancing it and defending its place in the American canon. Oppenheim’s argument laid the groundwork. He emphasized a strong distinction between the early idealist Royce and the mature pragmatist Royce, and he placed his hero in explicit conversation with Peirce, James, and Dewey. While Clendenning (see “Two Royces”) disagreed with Oppenheim’s chronology, these scholars held in common with Kegley a certain spirit of advocacy. They hoped to promote—and to some extent they succeeded in this—Royce as the fourth great pragmatist.
Mention of Race Questions was by no means absent in this earlier scholarship, but Royce’s racial philosophy did not receive focused treatment until 2005. In that year, Kegley published an article in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy in which she extended the interpretive framework of her book to address questions about racial identity. She made a fairly straightforward argument regarding Royce’s position on race: since that philosopher rejected biological essentialism about race concepts, he thus had “a nonracialist understanding of race” (“Is a Coherent Racial Identity” 216). Whether Royce’s rejection of biologism entails a progressive position on race later became a key point of contention among Royceans, and it is one that we take up throughout the symposium.
A few years later, Shannon Sullivan joined Kegley in the vanguard of the Royce-as-anti-racist scholarship. Her trio of articles on the topic appeared between 2008 and 2012, whereas Kegley released a second piece in the Fall 2009 issue of The Pluralist. Kegley summarized the agreement between her and Sullivan:
Shannon Sullivan and I agree that Royce stands out in the history of classical American philosophy in taking an antiracist focus on race questions when very few philosophers—especially white male philosophers—took scholarly time to think about these issues.(Kegley, “Josiah Royce on Race” 1)
At the time, Tommy Curry and Dwayne Tunstall were fresh PhDs from Carbondale. They were versed in Royce, of course, but they were also Black philosophers and experts in the philosophy of race. The Pluralist printed essays in the Fall 2009 issue by each of them, alongside Kegley’s “Josiah Royce on Race,” with Tunstall in the role of mediator between...