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Symposia. Pragmatism and Phenomenology. A Metaphilosophical Reconsideration

Josiah Royce: A Neglected Figure and a Valuable Resource in Mining the Pragmatism/Phenomenology Interactions for Current Philosophical Inquiry

Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley


In asking to what extent the interaction between pragmatism and phenomenology offers a valuable resource for re-imaging the limits and potentialities of philosophical inquiry, one needs to acknowledge, first, that pragmatist philosophers, beginning with Josiah Royce, actively contributed to the re-elaboration of the issues and strategies of phenomenology in the American context. Secondly, it will be argued that the philosophies of the classical pragmatists, Peirce, Royce, James, and Dewey, contain important resources for creating a new understanding of the human self and of the role of philosophy. We will discuss contributing elements from each of the Classical Pragmatists but focus on the neglected contributions of Josiah Royce. We argue that Royce posits important theses that are valuable to our inquiry: his view of self as “expressive,” i.e. through facial and bodily gestures, through cooperative activities such as art, language, custom, religion, understood via a study of the “expressive signs of mental life”; his idea of science as a thoroughly human enterprise; his belief that habits are common to both physical and mental phenomena; his views on knowledge of other minds and how two minds can know the same thing; and his belief in the social grounding of physical knowledge.

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  • 1 I am including in the term pragmatism Royce’s proclaimed, “Absolute Pragmatism.”

1In asking to what extent the interaction between pragmatism and phenomenology offers a valuable resource for re-imaging the limits and potentialities of philosophical inquiry, one needs to acknowledge, first, that pragmatist philosophers,1 beginning with Josiah Royce, actively contributed to the re-elaboration of the issues and strategies of phenomenology in the American context. Secondly, it will be argued that the philosophies of the classical pragmatists, Peirce, Royce, James, and Dewey, contain important resources for creating a new understanding of the human self and of the role of philosophy. We will discuss contributing elements from each of the Classical Pragmatists but focus on the neglected contributions of Josiah Royce, with special stress on the crisis in the sciences identified by Husserl.

2Steven Crowell, in his overview of phenomenology in America, writes:

The initial reception of Husserl’s phenomenology took place at a time when American universities were dominated by versions of pragmatism and German and British Idealism. The fundamental intellectual challenge was to understand the place of value in a world increasingly conceived in natural-scientific terms. (Crowell 2014: 186)

Crowell references William Ernest Hocking, who met Husserl in 1902 and who was interested in integrating the idealism of Josiah Royce with naturalism as well as Hocking’s colleague at Harvard, Winthrop Bell, who taught phenomenological value theory and who sent Dorion Cairns and Marvin Farber to study with Husserl in Freiburg. Bell, as we now know, played a key role in establishing Royce as the first American phenomenologist and as a philosopher for whom Husserl had profound respect.

3Crowell also sets the stage for our argument that it is this original pragmatism-idealism in the American context that sets the stage for a continued influence of pragmatism, including Royce’s Absolute Pragmatism. Crowell (ibid.: 185) argues:

The broader field of philosophy in the United States today is actually quite hospitable to phenomenology. In philosophy of language (for instance, the work of Robert Brandom and John McDowell, which goes back to ideas of Wilfrid Sellars), moral psychology (one thinks here of Christine Korsgaard, Stephen Darwall, and Bernard Williams, among many others), philosophy of mind (for instance, David Chalmers’s work on consciousness, and the immense literature this has generated), philosophy of science (Kuhn and the “postpositivists”), and in several other areas, there exists something like the situation that obtained prior to the militant analytic revolution and the Continental reaction it inspired, when phenomenology found resonance with American pragmatic idealism and value theory.

4He continues:

Because an interest in nature, life, embodiment, and environmental ethics is shared by phenomenologists working in cognitive science, consciousness studies, philosophy of biology, and practical and moral philosophy, the potential for a confluence of “Continental” and non-Continental phenomenology is beginning to take shape. Indeed, the questions that occupy both camps – questions concerning nature, meaning, and normativity – are the ones that brought phenomenologists together with other philosophical directions during its initial American reception in the early decades of the twentieth century. “Phenomenology” is once more becoming a term around which a diverse group of philosophers can find a common basis for communication. (Ibid: 196)

5In concert with Crowell’s observations, I will highlight aspects of the philosophies of Royce, Peirce, James, and Dewey that bring together pragmatic and phenomenological insights and provide valuable resources for setting out productive philosophical investigations of how mind and world, science and common sense, nature and culture can work together in producing knowledge and philosophical insight. I will briefly outline these resources but will concentrate on the work of Josiah Royce.

1. Josiah Royce: First American Phenomenologist

  • 2 See Kegley 1978.
  • 3 See Bell 2014 and 2019.

6Although Josiah Royce has often been denied the label of pragmatist and his contribution in the phenomenology discussion has been neglected, I will reiterate my argument in my 1978 paper2 that Royce proposed a phenomenological approach to philosophy as early as April 1879 when in his “Thought Diary” he recorded his contemplation of a new phenomenology in which the opening contention would be: “Every man lives in the present, and contemplates a past and future […] In this consists his whole life. The future and past are shadows both, the present is the only real” (Royce 1920). In the 1978 paper I hinted at similarities between the thought and work of Husserl and Royce and implied a possible close connection between the two philosophers. This close connection became elaborated by Jason Bell in a series of essays establishing the connection between Winthrop Bell, Husserl, and Royce.3 The evidence is that Royce was well acquainted with Husserl’s work and Husserl, in turn, knew and deeply respected Royce’s work and urged Bell to do a dissertation on Royce.

  • 4 See Royce 1916.

7Contrary to the standard histories of the phenomenological movement in America, there is ample evidence that Royce should be credited as the first American Phenomenologist. For example, from 1898 to 1900, Royce presented the prestigious Gifford Lectures in Scotland, which focused on the “phenomenal Self of the inner life,”4 and in 1908 at the World Congress of Philosophy in Heidelberg Royce was the only English language philosopher to present a plenary lecture. At the Congress there was an intense argument between the emerging American pragmatism and the established Kantian Idealism. In his Heidelberg address, “The Problem of Truth in Light of Recent Discussion,” Royce offered phenomenology as a reconciliatory position between the two contending views, arguing that the “individual phenomena” is linked, by the creative activities of the individual consciousness, in a world of intersubjective experience, subject to absolute conditions. As Bell (2014: 64) observes, “here Royce used phenomenology to make place for both pragmatism’s a posteriori and idealism’s a priori, for both the will to truth and the universal intellectual conditions of truth: The meaningful conscious phenomenon contains at once both aspects.” Bell argues that Royce’s argument in his 1908 Heidelberg lecture was thus a further development of what he had termed, in 1879, the “New Phenomenology,” as the phenomenon moved from being a subservient means to some other end or in a strictly conscribed position, a place it had long held in the philosophical tradition, to a central place of honor.

8It is also important to note that Royce followed developments in German philosophy closely and, indeed, being fluent in German, was able to read and comprehend the works. Further. Royce referred to Husserl in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1902. Another factor explaining Royce’s early interest in Husserl, suggested by Bell, is that Royce and Husserl had significant educational influences in common, including Fichte, Kant, Windelband, Lotze, Peirce, and James – and they were both students of the founding psychologist Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig. This group of thinkers, especially Lotze, pioneered research on the practical bearings of knowledge and shared an appreciation of psychology that forbade the psychologizing of logic. Royce personally studied with Lotze as a graduate student in the 1870s; and Husserl lectured on Lotze in 1912. At Harvard, Royce convinced Santayana to change his dissertation topic from Schopenhauer to Lotze; and both Royce and Husserl make important references to Lotze in their published and unpublished work. Again, it is evident that Royce and Husserl were clearly in contact with each other’s philosophies and had deep respect for each other.

9In an unpublished paper that he recently shared with me, Randal Auxier (2022) offers more evidence to see Royce as the first American phenomenologist. In this paper, Auxier argues that what is overlooked, in the story of the origins of phenomenology in America, and in the narrative that credits James as the source of key ideas Husserl’s thought, “is that the theory of the stream of consciousness, and the distinction between attention and intentionality, was articulated in print by Royce in chapters nine and ten of The Religious Aspect of Philosophy, five years before James published The Principles of Psychology.” In my 1978 article on Royce and Husserl, I noted Royce’s emphasis on “selective attention” in both his 1885 Religious Aspects of Philosophy and in The Spirit of Modern Philosophy published in 1896. I quote as follows:

In The Spirit of Modern Philosophy, published in 1896, he (Royce) outlined what he called “three basic activities of thought.” Here, as in The Religious Aspect of Philosophy of 1885, he discussed the role of selective attention in all acts of consciousness, how attention selects only a few from the numerous impressions impinging on our sensibilities, letting many slip through our consciousness without being retained or having an effect. (Kegley 1978: 187)

10Thus, there is ample reason to see Royce as the first American phenomenologist and to probe his philosophical ideas to provide valuable insights concerning the current interest in the relationships between mind and world, science and common sense, and the importance of both culture and nature in developing the self. I will pursue this after a brief overview of the insights of the other classical American philosophers in this regard.

2. The Phenomenological Insights of Classical American Philosophy

11Each of the Classical American philosophers, Peirce, James, Royce, and Dewey, in numerous ways and with different emphases, argued for relevant key ideas expressed by Husserl in his phenomenology, namely, that intentionality is a central feature of consciousness, that consciousness is necessarily and essentially temporal, and that philosophy should be concerned with self-awareness and ethical concern. Philosophy must seek to give a foundation not merely for cognitive activities, but for all human activities, ethical, aesthetic, cultural. It must deal with questions of the meaning or meaningless of the whole of this human existence. Further, philosophy must deal with the crisis in modern science, namely, that it has lost its sense of Idea, of foundation, that it is a human activity in the service of humanity. Royce and Peirce particularly deal with this crisis in science.

  • 5 See Atkins 2018.

12Turning to Charles Sanders Peirce, we note that he argued that phenomenology was “first philosophy.” However, he re-named this concern “Phaeneroscopy,” and spoke of the ultimate analysis of all experiences, of whatever presents itself to mind. He developed the categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness as central to all human experience.5 Atkins 2018 is most significant in connecting Peirce with contemporary mind sciences. There he claims that Peirce provides a groundwork for an objective phenomenological vocabulary whereby we can describe how seeing a scarlet red and hearing a trumpet blare are alike.

13Sami Pihlström, in his work on Peirce’s phenomenology, provides further evidence of the importance of Peirce as well as Royce in mining phenomenology and pragmatism for reflection about philosophical inquiry today. He notes that Peirce endorsed idealism in the sense that he thought that the laws of matter emerged from the laws of mind; Peirce, he argues, “believed objective idealism to be the one intelligible theory of the universe” – maintaining that matter is effete mind, invertebrate habits becoming physical laws. Peirce further argues that “reality is thoroughly cognizable and therefore must be of the nature of an idea, and he rejects the Kantian ‘things-in themselves’” (Pihlström 2019: 521). Pihlström also notes that for Peirce all inquiry begins in media res, already in the thick of language. For those concerned with bringing semiosis and language into the cognition picture, Peirce, and Royce, who both argued for interpretation as a third form of knowledge, become central figures.

  • 6 Little scholarly attention has been paid to the centrality of the philosophical ramifications of mo (...)

14Royce and Peirce also wrote on the nature and role of science, arguing that it is a thoroughly human enterprise.6 Both Peirce and Royce advocated for the significance of general ideas in science. Like Peirce, Royce differentiates between mechanical processes and non-mechanical processes in Nature and he, like Peirce, holds that “laws of nature” should be interpreted as habits – they are approximate rhythms: “Nature, as actually observed, shows us rhythms that tend within limits, to be pretty constant” (WI II: 222) – it is “certain that physical Nature is full of approximate rhythms […] that tend to repeat over and over” (ibid.). These laws of nature are not nomological necessities and unlike mechanical laws, these “[h]abits and natural rhythms, contrawise, are by their very nature asymmetrical and time-reversible” (ibid.). Further, these laws of nature are subject to the evolutionary process and thus are only temporary – “Take them in a long period, and these rhythms tend to pass and to be lost in revocable decay”; they come into existence and pass away in the course of cosmic history (ibid.: 221, 222, 223). As general ideas, the laws of science must be seen as idealizations. Mechanical laws, Royce argues, are abstractions from concrete reality; they have heuristic value, serving as “inference tickets,” enabling us to predict what, given antecedent conditions, the subsequent conditions will be. They are tools, “only extremely ideal ways in which science finds it convenient to conceive facts for the purposes of a brief theoretical description of vast ranges of experience […] They help us compute, to predict, to describe, and to classify phenomena” (ibid.: 214, 224).

15Both Peirce and Royce took on the so-called “Doctrine of Necessity,” arguing that it is commonly accepted in the absence of any empirical warrant and that it is basically a metaphysical doctrine. Royce, acknowledging his debt to Peirce, writes:

  • 7 In a later work, Royce says that one of the salutary effects of the statistical approach to scienti (...)

Hence, the so-called axiom of the unvarying character of the laws of nature is no self-evident truth, is not even at once an empirically established and a universal generalization and possesses its present authority because of the emphasis our social interest gives to the discovery of uniform laws where we can discover them. That we do discover and verify them over a very wide range of our experience of Nature is an unquestionable fact, and one of which every Philosophy of Nature must take account. But it is much to know that this discovery is not due to any innate idea, or to any first principle of reason, but is an empirical, although by no means a universal generalization, which we have been led by social motives to emphasize and to extend as far as possible, and so to conceive as if it were universally characteristic of Objective Nature. (Ibid.: 195)7

16Royce’s second argument against mechanical notions of scientific law is a version of the “under-determination of scientific theories” argument posited by Duhem and Quine and recent philosophers of science. Royce writes: “Nobody can doubt that they [scientific theories] are ‘ideal constructions’ since science may enter its accounts by other methods of bookkeeping […] We know that Nature, as it were tolerates our mathematical formulas. We do not know that she would not equally well tolerate many other such formulas instead of these” (WI II: 216 and 225). Here, Royce shows significant insight into the processes of modern science.

17Returning to Pihlström’s discussion of Peirce’s Phenomenology, we find Pihlström raising the problem of solipsism, which is a problem for both Peirce and James. He writes: “It seems to me that neither Peirce not Atkins takes the other minds problem seriously. The Peircean phenomenologist seems to assume that we can unproblematically generalize from our own case to the general possibilities of consciousness just because there is no genuine doubt about this” (Pihlström 2019: 521). James also relies on the analogy between self and others and thus has a similar problem with “other minds.” Royce criticizes this move, arguing that we come to know other minds through our encounters with them, through the process of interpretation: “We come to know that there are in the world minds not our own by interpreting the signs that these minds give us of their presence” (Royce 1951 [1916]: 153).

  • 8 See Gobar 1970.
  • 9 See James 1890.
  • 10 See Taylor (2010: 119-30).
  • 11 Randal Auxier (2022) also argues for this point. He also claims that an examination of Royce’s actu (...)

18William James also engaged in phenomenological analyses, and his work, like that of Royce, was known to Husserl. In his Principles, James (1890: 185) writes: “Introspective observation is what we rely on first and foremost. The psychologist must not only have his mental states in their absolute veritableness, but he must also report them, write about them, name them, classify and compare them and trace their relations to other things.” James also rejected reductionism; the biological science could not be reduced to the natural sciences and sensation does not equal perception.8 James (1904) argues that consciousness is not an entity but a process. And, of course, there is James’ famous analysis of the “Stream of Consciousness.”9 James argues that Consciousness is what occupies the center of the rational waking state. The Stream of Consciousness is an always changing state of both thought and feeling and has 5 characteristics: (1) Every thought tends to be part of a personal consciousness; (2) Within each consciousness the thought is always changing; (3) Within each consciousness thought is sensibly continuous; (4) It always appears to deal with an object independent of self; and (5) There is Interest in some parts of these objects to exclusion of others; it welcome or rejects, and chooses among them.10 As already argued, both Royce and James focused on the importance of selective attention in the life of the human consciousness and there is good evidence that Royce published his thoughts on stream of consciousness, selective attention, and intentionality in his The Religious Aspects of Philosophy five years before James’ The Principles of Psychology.11

19John Dewey is another of the Classical Pragmatists who developed ideas in concert with those of Husserl and who is now seen as a key figure in current discussions of 4E Cognition. Dewey’s naturalism and Husserl’s Phenomenology appear in conflict since Husserl, in the Crisis, sees Naturalism as an enemy to be vanquished. Husserl believes that Naturalism betrays the very essence of science; it misunderstands the world because it misunderstands the subject’s necessary role in the process of knowledge. Gregory Trotter (2016) has argued that Dewey’s naturalism is compatible with Husserl’s Phenomenology. I am not convinced of this and believe this raises serious questions moving forward. Dewey also did not deal with the nature of science and the Crisis that Husserl was concerned about. This is a topic for another paper. However, it seems appropriate here to briefly discuss Royce’s view of nature.

20Royce, like Peirce and Dewey, argued strongly against the false dichotomy between the physical and mental and for continuity in nature. In his writings on science Royce argues that non-mechanical laws, habits, are common to both physical and mental phenomena. Indeed, in good pragmatic fashion, Royce argues that this fact serves to “efface the contrast between matter and mind” (WI II: 219). In The World and the Individual, Royce offers three hypotheses about nature: (1) “the vast contrast which we have been taught to make between material and conscious processes really depends upon the accidents of the human point of view”; (2) “we have no right whatever to speak of really unconscious Nature, but only of uncommunicative Nature”; and (3) “in the case of Nature in general […] we are dealing with phenomenal signs of a vast conscious process, whose relation to Time varies vastly” (ibid.: 224-6). He goes on: “[…] we can never know how much of Nature constitutes the life of a finite conscious individual, unless we are in intelligent communication with that individual’s inner life” (ibid.: 232-3). I believe this view of nature and of naturalism to be a truly fruitful one and one which should be further explored.

21Indeed, there is a clearer common ground between Dewey and Husserl and other pragmatists, namely, their strong objection to Cartesian dualism. The Crisis clearly questions the Cartesian view. Uljana Feest (2012: 495) writes:

Husserl, by contrast, asked instead “how does the dualism between mind and physical world come to acquire the self-evident status it appears to possess?” His answer, very briefly, was that Descartes’s dualism resulted from abstracting away from experience to arrive at the notion of a physical world, which was to be described rationally by means of the language of pure mathematics. Such a process of abstraction, Husserl argued, took place in the mode of the natural scientist, which Descartes adopted from Galileo. In other words, Descartes failed to extend his methodological doubt to the scientific mode and therefore he failed to suspend it. As a result, Descartes’s rational ego, rather than transcending his worldly prejudices, turned out to be simply his worldly ego. Husserl proclaimed that the goal of his phenomenology was to conduct the “epoché” (the bracketing of beliefs) in a way that would not fall into the Cartesian trap of presupposing the naturalistic attitude. Instead, Husserl wanted to replace it with the natural attitude of the “life world.”

22Peirce, Royce, and Dewey all attacked dualisms in their work and both Royce and Dewey argue as does Husserl, that the current crisis in philosophy is that is has lost touch with human concerns. John Dewey complained that philosophy had relegated the practical problems of contemporary life to a place subordinate to an “alleged problem of knowledge.” For him, philosophy was a search for wisdom and “wisdom differs from knowledge in being the application of what is known to intelligent conduct of the affairs of human life” (Dewey 1945: 289). Royce (1891: 377) wrote: “You philosophize when you reflect critically upon what you are actually doing in your world […] The critical inquiry into what all these things mean and imply is philosophy.”

  • 12 Thus, Royce claims “conscious general ideas are simply conscious habits of conduct in the presence (...)

23In addition to the opposition to Cartesian dualism and other dualisms, Dewey’s work on “habit” has been a focus in current concerns with E cognition. This seems appropriate given individualist approaches that have dominated the social sciences as well as the cognitive science, which have focused on explanations of mental phenomena understood as internal units pertaining to the mind/brain of human individuals and its subcomponents. Today embodied cognition approaches are questioning internalist explanations of mindedness understood in terms of the causal effect of mental processes situated in the central nervous system (Varela, Thompson & Rosch 1991; Clark 1997; Chemero 2009; Noë 2009; Hutto & Myin 2013). Italo Testa (2020: 270) argues that a reconstruction of Dewey’s thought could provide a “habit ontology” that “is not only compatible with the so called ‘embodied cognition approach’ (Clark 1999; Chemero 2009; Shapiro 2007 and 2011) and its criticism of the internalist, mentalist and representational presuppositions of classical cognitive science, but can also provide for it a metatheoretical, foundational framework.” He argues that “the notion of habit allows us to distinguish between three senses of embodiment (neural, functional, and phenomenological)” (ibid.). He seeks to provide a “habit based unified account of the so called ‘4E cognition paradigm’ […] that takes cognition as an embodied, enactive, embedded, and extended phenomenon […]” (ibid.: 271). I strongly agree that the notion of “habit” should play a key role in spelling out how cognition is an embodied, enactive, embedded, and extended phenomenon. I would also point out that Royce also stressed the key role of habit in human cognition and behavior.12 We turn now to Royce’s thought and the contributions it can make to current discussions of phenomenology and to how philosophy might deal with how mind, science and common sense, and nature and culture stay together.

24As already noted, I believe Peirce and Royce address more clearly than other Classical American pragmatists Husserl’s second major concern in addition to explicating the essential structures of consciousness, namely the crisis of modern science which is an existential crisis for humanity as such because “[m]erely fact-minded sciences make merely fact-minded people” (Husserl 1970: 195).

25James, Royce, and Dewey were all practicing psychologists and all three served as Presidents of the American Psychological Association. Both James and Royce wrote Introductions to Psychology and Dewey’s much discussed article on the “reflex arc” has been pivotal in recent developments of radical embodied cognition and neuropragmatism (Dewey 1896; James 1890; Royce 1903; Chemero 2009; and Solymosi 2011). James expounded ideas in his work that Royce had earlier explored and continued to develop, e.g., attention, and the stream of consciousness. Although they shared many ideas in common, Royce found James too individualistic and prone to nominalism. Further, James struggled with two central problems that Royce was able to address: (1) how we can know the reality of other minds, and (2) how two human minds can know the same thing. Royce believed that one could not develop an adequate theory of self or of mind maintaining the traditional division of types of knowledge, namely, conceptual knowledge and perceptual knowledge. Expanding on the ideas of Peirce, Royce advocated a third type of knowledge called “interpretation” to understand the ideas, feelings, and intentions of our fellow beings as well as for self-understanding. In his essay “Mind,” Royce cites the example of someone crying “Fire.” He says that in this case I am called upon to regard my fellow’s cry as a sign or expression of the fact either that he himself sees a fire or that he believes there is a fire. Or that, at the very least, he intends me to understand him as asserting there is a fire. Of course, says Royce, I cannot understand my friend’s cry unless I hear it, unless I have at least some perceptual knowledge. Further, I need some conceptual knowledge of fire, of his object. But even more, argues Royce, my knowledge of my fellow’s meaning, my “grasping of his idea,” consists neither in the percept of the sign nor in a concept of its object which the sign arouses, but in my interpretation of the sign as an indication of an idea which is distinct from any idea of mine, and which I refer to a mind not my own, or in some wise, distinct from mine.

26Royce emphatically rejects the hypothesis that we can assert the existence of our neighbor’s mind upon the argument from analogy. Royce argues that an argument from analogy is not its own verification; it is unverifiable in the normally required terms, i.e., in terms of immediate perceptions. My neighbor’s states of mind can never become for me objects of immediate acquaintance unless they become my states of mind and not his, precisely as far as he and I are distinct selves. And we all know in analogical reasoning, differences can be as telling as similarities. What if my own case of mental states may be unique, atypical, or abnormal? Indeed, how well do I know my own mental states at all? Royce asserts that despite well-known assertions to the contrary nobody has any adequate intuitive knowledge or acquaintance with himself. Royce also observes that the argument by analogy for knowledge of other minds has limited application, again because of the significance of dissimilarities. Does it apply equally to children, the mentally ill, even women, if drawn on analogy with a man? The third type of knowledge, “interpretation,” is never verified through immediate data, or through the analysis of conceptions, but through conversation. In conversation our neighbor expresses ideas which contrast with our own present ideas, but we view them as intelligible but requiring us to probe their meaning. We give back to our neighbor our interpretation of his meaning, to see if this interpretation elicits a new expression which agrees with the expression, we expected from him. Our method is “conversation.”

27Royce also argues that self-knowledge is a process of interpretive knowledge. The present self interprets the past self to the future self. I am always engaged in an interpretive act, interpreting the past self to the future self. “In brief,” says Royce, “my idea of myself is an interpretation of my past- linked also with an interpretation of my hopes and intentions as to my future” (WI II: 42). For Royce, the “self” is a series of interpretations, we achieve the unification of separate ideas and experiences through interpretation. The self is a temporal, ongoing process, unified by continual reflection and communication. The self also continually confers meaning on itself. It is engaged in creating a meaningful narrative. In answering James’ second question, “how can two human minds know one and the same thing?” Royce highlights the communal and temporal nature of all consciousness; again, interpretative awareness of others is fundamental. He pointed to the kind of shared knowledge had by two oarsmen rowing the same boat. Each man views the boat and the oars and the water as objects which he experiences for himself. At the same time, each of the two men believes that both are experiencing, while they row together, the same external fact, the same boat, the same oars, the same water (Royce 1913: 317-8). The oarsmen are engaged in a process of interpretation that is fully triadic – other rower, physical object, and oneself, all are sending and receiving signs – and in their teamwork the oarsmen rely on these processes as if they had achieved their goal of knowing the same realities together. Royce says: “Our social consciousness is, psychologically speaking, the most deeply rooted foundation of our whole view of ourselves and of the world […]” (ibid.: 330). Royce has, in my judgment, an interactionist view of experience and of knowledge not too different from that of Dewey.

28As mentioned earlier, unlike Peirce and James, Royce avoids the solipsistic problem of other minds. He writes:

Our fellows are known to be real and to have their own inner life, because they are for each of us the endless treasury of more ideas. They answer our questions; they tell us news they make comments; they pass judgments; they express novel combinations of feelings; they relate to us stories; they argue with us, and take counsel with us […] Our fellows furnish us the constantly needed supplement to our own fragmentary meanings. Hence, since Reality is through and through what completes our incompleteness, our fellows are indeed real. (WI II: 171-2)

29Not only does Royce see self-consciousness as fundamentally grounded in being-with-others, but he sees all knowledge of external reality as so grounded. For Royce, community experience is that which distinguishes inner from outer, the outer world being the world whose presence can only be indicated to you by your definable, communicable experience. Further, social communication accounts for the importance of spatial definiteness to externality:

Therefore, as only the definably localizable in space can be independently verified and agreed upon by a number of socially communicating beings, and as only what all can agree upon can stand the social test of externality, the principle that what is for all must, if in space at all, occupy a definite place of size and boundaries, becomes a relatively a priori principle for all the things of the verifiable worlds. (Royce 1894: 520)

30The social grounding of physical knowledge is also verified in the fact that more reliability is granted to the data of sight and touch than to the data of the other senses. These data and these qualities are those most open to social confirmation. I can see you touching an object. I can even, in the ordinary social sense, be said, by virtue of familiar interpretations, to see you looking at an object. And, just so, if we grasp a pole or a rope together, or lift a weight together, I feel your grasp of the object, just as truly as I feel the object. But in no corresponding sense can I taste your tasting of an object, nor can I smell your smelling of an object; while I can both see and touch processes which I interpret as your seeing and touching of the object.

31Being-with-others is, for Royce, fundamentally bound up and in-separable from being-with-Nature. Our belief in the reality of Nature, when Nature is taken to mean the realm of physical phenomena known to common sense and to science, is inseparably bound up with our belief in the existence of our fellow human beings. The one belief cannot be understood apart from the other. Whatever the deeper reality behind Nature may turn out to be, our Nature, the realm of matter and of laws with which our science and our popular opinions have to do, is a realm which we conceive as known or knowable to various individuals in precisely the general sense in which we regard it as known or knowable to our private selves. “Take away the social factor in our present view of Nature, and you would alter the most essential of the characters possessed for us, by that physical realm in which we all believe” (Royce 1894: 519).

32With his sense of the fundamental relation between being-with-others and knowledge of the external, it is not surprising that Royce, throughout his philosophical writing, recognized and pointed to the social, historical nature of science itself.

Thus, in all stages of science, the social need of exact and quantitative agreement about commercially important matters has led men to look, amongst natural processes, for phenomena capable of exact description, subject to rigid law, and suitable for meeting the social need for exact definition of commercially valuable objects […] In terms of this standard, man henceforth conceives reality, so that in the end, after a long process of this discipline, he at last today believes it a priori necessary that real natural objects, in so far as they are real, should be subject to quantitatively exact laws. (Royce 1897: 18-9)

  • 13 In his introduction to the Outlines, Royce asserts that psychology as a field is related to our hum (...)

33Turning to the questions of how mind and world interact, Royce also provides us with a rich view of the self, based on a psychology that is very modern. He allows us to view the human self in at least five very important ways: (1) the idea of a human self as object of biological, anatomical, and neurophysiologic understanding; (2) the idea of self as a social-behavioral object of understanding, viewed by science, and by others via interpretation; (3) the idea of self as a subject of consciousness, understood via introspection and through phenomenological description; (4) the idea of self as “expressive,” e.g. through facial and bodily gestures, through cooperative activities such as art, language, custom, religion, understood via a study of the “expressive signs of mental life” and (5) the idea of self as “person,” as the locus of moral attributes and as the source of ethical action and values, studied via an empirical-phenomenological-historical method. Finally, Royce argues for the affinity of human conscious life with nature.13

34In the meta-philosophical concern for the origins and articulations of knowledge and thought, there has been a tension between semiotics, which assumes the primacy of language and culture in determining the ways and content of thought, and cognitivism, which has assumed the primacy of universal mechanisms internal to the individual. However, there now seems to be a convergence happening fostered by the embodied, extended, distributed, and enacted epistemological turn. Royce’s emphasis on cooperative activities such as art, language, custom, religion, understood as the “expressive signs of mental life, and his philosophical insights will be valuable in undertaking this important turn in the philosophical study of the relationship between social practices and epistemology.

35Our goal is this paper has been to explore the question: to what extent can the encounter of pragmatism and phenomenology offer the opportunity to reflect upon the genesis, nature, limits, and potentialities of philosophical inquiry, with a special focus on how mind and world, science and common sense, and nature and culture stay together. I have argued that the philosophies of the classical pragmatists, Peirce, James, and Dewey and especially the work of the neglected pragmatist and first American phenomenologist, Josiah Royce, have much to offer in this inquiry.

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1 I am including in the term pragmatism Royce’s proclaimed, “Absolute Pragmatism.”

2 See Kegley 1978.

3 See Bell 2014 and 2019.

4 See Royce 1916.

5 See Atkins 2018.

6 Little scholarly attention has been paid to the centrality of the philosophical ramifications of modern science (physical, biological, and formal and mathematical) in Royce’s philosophy, so I fully applaud the assessment of Michael Futch (2012: 54) when he writes: “Even the most cursory glances at his [Royce’s] corpus reveals a systematic and deep engagement with many of the leading developments in nineteenth century science, from the nebular hypothesis, or evolution in both its Darwinian and Spenserian form, to the work of Cantor and Dedekind. It would perhaps not be going too far to suggest that, from his first to last writings, the development of Royce’s philosophy is in no small measure driven by an attempt to come to terms with these developments.” Dewey, of course, valued science and wanted to harness its power constructively, but I believe that Peirce and Royce were more conscious than Dewey of the limitations of science (see Kegley 2010).

7 In a later work, Royce says that one of the salutary effects of the statistical approach to scientific law which he and Peirce advocate will be “to relieve us of a certain unnecessary reverence for the mechanical form of scientific theory, a reverence whose motives are neither rationally nor empirically well founded” (Royce 1951: 55).

8 See Gobar 1970.

9 See James 1890.

10 See Taylor (2010: 119-30).

11 Randal Auxier (2022) also argues for this point. He also claims that an examination of Royce’s actual contribution and getting the narrative about the origins of phenomenology right changes the way we do phenomenology. He believes it allows a better approach to both nature and how one does metaphysics. I agree and look forward to the publication of Auxier’s piece.

12 Thus, Royce claims “conscious general ideas are simply conscious habits of conduct in the presence of the objects to which these ideas apply” (Royce 1893: 54). There is clearly a behavior-pragmatic element in this analysis. He writes: “the whole general idea involves what one may as well call ‘a plan of action,’ that is, a way of behavior [sic] which is fitting to characterize [sic] and portray an object of the class in question” (Royce 1903: 290). In addition to the action plan there is also in a general idea, an element of individual interest and attention, as well as a social element. Again, Royce writes: “A rational general idea is just habit of response to the general aspects of things, accompanied by a consciousness of what you do as you make this response, and consequently accompanied by awareness that there is, in the object of your general idea, that character which guides your interest and your attention to make this response (Royce 1893: 63-4).

13 In his introduction to the Outlines, Royce asserts that psychology as a field is related to our human experience of constantly judging “the ideas, moods and intents of [our] fellows, by watching not only their faces, but also their whole range of voluntary and involuntary expressive movements.” Psychology merely extends the range of its applications and renders more “minute,” the scrutiny. Included in this range, for Royce is the “cooperative work of many intelligent beings.” Among these are works of art, languages, customs, faiths, institutions, national life. See Royce (1903: 14). For more on Royce’s views on self, see: Royce 1895 and Royce (1959: 226ff.); Kegley 1980, 1994, and 1997.

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Electronic reference

Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley, “Josiah Royce: A Neglected Figure and a Valuable Resource in Mining the Pragmatism/Phenomenology Interactions for Current Philosophical Inquiry”European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], XIV-2 | 2022, Online since 17 October 2022, connection on 27 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley

California State University, Bakersfield

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