Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Idealism: Idealism is the philosophical view that the mind or spirit constitutes the fundamental reality. It has taken several distinct but related forms. Objective idealism accepts common sense realism (the view that material objects exist) but rejects naturalism (according to which the mind and spiritual values have emerged from material things), whereas subjective idealism denies that material objects exist independently of human perception and thus stands opposed to both realism and naturalism. Plato is often considered the first idealist philosopher, chiefly because of his metaphysical doctrine of Forms. The 18th-century philosopher George Berkeley was one of the major exponents of idealism. He held that the object of knowledge is an idea and that ideas can exist only in the mind; therefore, objects can exist only as objects of consciousness.
Other well-known idealists are Immanuel Kant who held that it is impossible to gain knowledge of the world by either reason or sense experience alone, his successor Johann Gottlieb Fichte who postulated a creative Ego as the ultimate source of reality, which generates all change and all knowledge, Georg Hegel for whom reality is absolute Spirit or Reason, which manifests its development toward total self-consciousness in every aspect of experience from nature to human history, and the English Hegelian F. H. Bradley who argued that ordinary experience is fragmentary and contradictory and therefore appearance; reality, the Absolute, is a unified totality, which can be known only through a unique and absolute, perhaps mystical, experience. Idealism has never really been a popular philosophical position among American philosophers, the best known idealist perhaps being Josiah Royce.
Personalism: Personalism is a fairly loose term used to describe nearly any philosophy that emphasizes the person as the basic concept in the explanation of reality (metaphysical personalism) as well as the basic unit of value (ethical personalism). Although personalism did not develop as an explicit philosophy until the early 20th century, it has many historical antecedents in the views of philosophers who stressed the primacy of personal experience. Nearly all metaphysical personalists have some form of a God or godlike reality at the center of their philosophy. The ethical aspect of personalism stresses human rights and respect for persons and holds that wrongdoing is destructive of the personality of the wrongdoer. Explicit personalism has been developed in France by Charles Renouvier, in Germany by William Stern, and in the United States by Borden Parker Bowne.
Critical EssayThe Fallacy of Epistemological Idealism
Josiah Royce (1855-1916)
Josiah Royce (picture) was born in Grass Valley, California, on November 20, 1855. Grass Valley was a mining town which was about five years older than he was. Living among rough-handed pioneer people, the sensitive, timid boy who lacked physical strength and skill very early became aware of the value of an established social order because his environment was devoid of it.
When his sixtieth birthday was celebrated, Royce, reviewing his mental development, expressed his strong feeling that his deepest motives and problems had centered about the idea of a community, although this idea had come only gradually to his clear consciousness. A platonist vein in his mind caused him to base the idea of human community upon a theory of life and upon a conception of the nature of truth and reality.
Royce was the leader of the idealistic school in the United States. His idealism differed profoundly from Green and Bradley. The influence of evolution (Le Conte and Spencer), the utilitarianism of Mill, and close association with William James enabled Royce to maintain an empirical and naturalistic temper. He was predisposed to individualism and religion. He acquired a strong interest in symbolic logic and mathematics which became factors in his methodology. His studies of Lotze, Schopenhauer, Kant, and Schelling fed his idealistic interests. And Romanticism supported his interest in literature and music.
Royce became a leading proponent of philosophical idealism whose thought dominated American philosophy until World War I. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley where he began to attract his teachers' attention because of his seriousness, intelligence and abilities. It was at this time that Royce's interest turned from religion to which he always felt sincere devotion to a search of understanding, which resulted in the discovery of philosophy. Though the university curriculum included no instruction in philosophy whatsoever, Royce succeeded in getting some sympathetic help from his instructors in geology and literature. He received his B.A. degree in 1875 and the university was able to arrange for him an additional year of study in Goettingen, Germany, where he specialized in philosophy under Lotze, Wundt, and Windelband.
On his return from Germany, the president of John Hopkins University, who had previously been president of the University of California, offered Royce a fellowship to continue his graduate work. Two years later he was granted his doctor's degree. After receiving his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University (1878), he returned to the University of California as an instructor of English. But his heart was set on philosophy. While he was at John Hopkins, Royce had met William James who promised the young philosopher help in his ambition. A vacancy eventually occurred at Harvard and he was invited to teach at Harvard on a temporary basis. In 1885 he became a regular member of the philosophy department at Harvard, where he taught until his death on September 14, 1916.
During all these years Royce's life may have appeared monotonous to the outsiders, but actually it was characterized by an intense if not exciting development of his system of idealistic philosophy and by a long series of publications, among which The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), his Gifford Lectures on The World and the Individual (1900-01), and The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908) are the most outstanding. Royce's idealism combined the rationalism of system building and proof of the Absolute with traits of American philosophy: the appeal to experience, voluntarism, and the focus on ideas as plans of action, not as purely cognitive entities. This combination led to the characterization of his position as a voluntaristic idealism. According to Royce, God is not just all-knower but is also cosmic purpose. To be an individual, then, is to embody purpose.
The infinity of mutually interpreting and intercommunicating selves constitutes the absolute self, the absolute community, which is, as the whole, a conscious unity of all the parts. Royce's idealism gave rise to important ideas for the philosophy of religion and ethics. He also exhibited a profound interest in logic, and his work in this area greatly influenced his overall philosophical position. Idealistic metaphysics was to him the guarantee not only for absolute certainty, but also for a rule over the whole life by right judgment, directed by the sense of absolute truth. Royce's theoretical thinking, however, was always connected with and supported by his experience of religious life. His mother had been his first teacher in philosophy and the Bible his first textbook. Although he could claim to be born nonconformist and to be without connection with "any visible religious body," it was religious problems that drove him as the foundation of human solidarity and social loyalty, as the binding element of a community.
While in Royce's Religious Aspects of Philosophy the influence of Hegel is prevalent, Royce later, in The World and the Individual came closer to Fichte and Schopenhauer, and shifted his emphasis from thought, which in the earlier work designates the processus of the Absolute, to will, calling himself "a voluntarist and empiricist who yet believes in the Absolute." To Royce, will, as the manifestation of the Absolute, seems fit to reconcile idealist metaphysics and human experience; to corroborate in man the cardinal virtues of courage, industry, loyalty, and solidarity; and above all to unite the religious conception of God with the philosophical idea of the Absolute.
While the Absolute had been conceived at first as the universal knower, as the unity of infinite thought, in Royce's later development the God of the idealist is presented as "no merely indifferent onlooker upon this our temporal world of warfare and dust and blood and sin and glory." Absolute reason is not abandoned by Royce but, according to him, does not exclude but rather implies absolute choice, and the divine unity of reason and will implies freedom of the individual which, in accordance with Kant, belongs not to the phenomenal and temporal world but to a higher order of which man is a part.
In his last years, Royce studied the works of Charles Sanders Peirce and, in The Problem of Christianity (1913), exposed a triple logic of perception, conception, and interpretation. Voluntarism became an integral factor in Royce's theory of knowledge. Knowing is characterized as an act. An idea, to become cognitive, must be part of a judgment or itself is a judgment. This change, however, confirms Royce's early conviction that all reality is reality because true judgments can be made about it. The decision as to which judgments are true and which are false is up to the infinite thought of the Absolute, Supreme Being.
For about thirty years, Royce and William James were intimate friends and staunch adversaries. James secured Royce's appointment as professor at Harvard University. While criticizing one another, they inevitably also influenced one another, be it by provoking contrasting ideas or by agreeing on certain views. Royce sometimes expressed his sadness about being forced to attack the philosophy of James to whom he felt himself obliged for practically everything he had written. James, whose criticism of Royce's books sometimes could be devastating, once exclaimed, "Two hundred and fifty years from now, Harvard will be known as the place where Josiah Royce once taught."
Royce starts with finite ideas and finds that they possess "internal" and "external" meaning. Reality is knowable as an intimate and all-inclusive consciousness or self, into which human selves enter to supply the content. Thought can know an object only in so far as idea and object have come within a single unity of consciousness where they can be compared. Royce bases his philosophy upon a theory of the relation of our ideas to reality. Our ideas are essentially purposes, or plans of action (internal meaning). All plans must materialize into action.
The ideal's fulfillment, plans that have met the requirements of action, represent external meaning. Thus purposes are incomplete without an external world in which purposes are realized. The external is therefore meaningless unless it is the fulfillment of some (internal) purpose. But whose purpose does the world fulfill? Royce answers -- the Absolute's. But what is the Absolute? Royce replies, unlike the English Neo-Hegelians, the Absolute is a kind of collection of persons. But how can a collection of persons entertain purposes? Royce finds an answer in the psychological analysis of the individual.
A person is an organization of activities about a central purpose. Life's problem is to harmonize desires and integrate them into a self, which is an achievement. The integration of individual purposes into a self creates a little Absolute. The integration of little Absolutes forms a larger self, the "beloved" community, whose purposes would stabilize the world.
Royce's ethics is presented in The Philosophy of Loyalty. He deduces the idealistic world-view from the basic moral principle: loyalty to loyalty, loyalty to a cause. Causes must form a system making universal loyalty possible. Loyalty implies faith in a universal cause which is the highest good (spiritual value). This principle implies a spiritual meaning, a unity of values revealing the eternal spiritual life upholding truth and goodness.
In The Radical Academy
Books by and about Josiah Royce
Essay: Immortality, by Josiah Royce
Essay: Metaphysical Idealism, by Josiah Royce
Elsewhere On the Internet
The Spirit of Modern Philosophy, by Josiah Royce

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