Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Jerry Brown and Josiah Royce

Josiah Royce (1855-1916)

I was intrigued by the Josiah Royce quotation Jerry Brown used in his inaugural address yesterday. Here is the excerpt from Jerry's prepared text:

One of our native sons, Josiah Royce, became for a time one of the most famous of American philosophers. He was born in 1855, in a mining camp that later became the town of Grass Valley. I mention him because his "Philosophy of Loyalty" is exactly what is called for. Loyalty to the community, to what is larger than our individual needs.

We can overcome the sharp divisions that leave our politics in perpetual gridlock, but only if we reach into our hearts and find that loyalty, that devotion to California above and beyond our narrow perspectives.

I also mention Josiah Royce because long ago my father spoke to me about his philosophy of loyalty. I didn't really grasp its importance, but as I look back now, I understand how this loyalty to California was my father’s philosophy as well. It drove him to build our freeways, our universities, our public schools and our state water plan.
Kelly Parker authored the 2004 article on Josiah Royce in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. She writes:

Josiah Royce (1855-1916) was the leading American proponent of absolute idealism, the metaphysical view (also maintained by G. W. F. Hegel and F. H. Bradley) that all aspects of reality, including those we experience as disconnected or contradictory, are ultimately unified in the thought of a single all-encompassing consciousness.
But he didn't stick with that position forever:

Royce's friendly but longstanding dispute with William James, known as "The Battle of the Absolute," deeply influenced both philosophers' thought. In his later works, Royce reconceived his metaphysics as an "absolute pragmatism" grounded in semiotics. This view dispenses with the Absolute Mind of previous idealism and instead characterizes reality as a universe of ideas or signs which occur in a process of being interpreted by an infinite community of minds. These minds, and the community they constitute, may themselves be understood as signs. Royce's ethics, philosophy of community, philosophy of religion, and logic reflect this metaphysical position. [my emphasis]
She also discusses in more detail Royce's book The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908), to which Jerry specifically referred. I can easily imagine this view, as explained by Parker, would be appealing to Jerry:

Royce's ethics is rooted in his analysis of the conditions necessary for an individual life to be meaningful. It is not enough that one's actions merely conform to the strictures of conventional morality — a trained animal might well fulfill such minimal conditions of morality. To lead a morally significant life, one's actions must express a self-consciously asserted will. They must contribute toward realizing a plan of life, a plan that is itself unified by some freely chosen aim. Such an aim and its corresponding plan of life could not easily be created by an individual out of the chaos of conflicting personal desires and impulses that we all encounter. Rather, such aims and plans are found already largely formed in social experience: we come to consciousness in a world that proffers countless well-defined causes and programs for their accomplishment. These programs extend through time and require the contributions of many individuals for their advancement. When one judges a cause to be worthwhile and freely embraces such a program, several momentous things happen. The individual's will is focused and defined in terms of the shared cause. The individual becomes allied with a community of others who are also committed to the same cause. Finally, a morally significant commitment to the cause and to the community develops. This commitment is what Royce calls "loyalty."
And, yes, Jerry does understand stuff like this.

What Royce called "loyalty" is more like what we would call "solidarity".

And this would also appeal to Jerry, as well:

While every community hopes for the accomplishment of its central cause, and sees that cause's fulfillment as its highest achievement, Royce places particularly high emphasis on the phenomenon of loyalty to a lost cause. A lost cause is not in Royce's view a hopeless cause, but rather one that cannot be fulfilled within the actual lifetime of the community or any of its members. Many lost causes are rightly lost, of course: Royce would have recognized the Confederate States' defense of slavery during the U.S. Civil War as such a case. Besides such misguided causes, though, there are a number of legitimate causes that are, by this definition, "lost" simply in virtue of their scope and magnitude. Such causes are not hopeless, however. It is precisely these causes that establish ideals capable of evoking our highest hope and moral commitment. [my emphasis]
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"It is the logic of our times
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