[MD] Julian Baggini: This is what the clash of civilisations is really about

John Carl ridgecoyote at gmail.com
Sun May 31 12:11:02 PDT 2015


I disagree with your conclusion about Royce, of course, but I'm glad to see
you taking him on somewhat rationally.

On Wed, May 27, 2015 at 12:16 PM, david <dmbuchanan at hotmail.com> wrote:

> Charlene Seigfried, paraphrasing William James,
> says intellectualism “became vicious already with Socrates and Plato, who
> deified conceptualization and denigrated the ever-changing flow of
> experience, thus forgetting and falsifying the origin of concepts as
> humanly constructed extracts from the temporal flux.”

Jc:  Royce agrees.

"the modern assault upon mere intellectualism is well founded. The truth of
our assertions is indeed definable only by taking account of the meaning of
our own individual attitudes of will, and the truth, whatever else it is,
is at least instrumental in helping us towards the goal of all human
volition. The only question is whether the will I really mean, aims at
doing something that • has a final and eternal meaning."

I believe this is somewhat akin to the quandry Pirsig expressed in his
"defining Quality" soliloquy - that is, a metaphysics of Quality is
essentially a definition of Quality and since Quality is indefinable, a
"degenerate activity" that somehow we are drawn into by our impulse to
define metaphysically.

But Royce states quite clearly that  "all logic is the logic of the will.
There is no pure intellect. Thought is a mode of action, a mode of action
distinguished from other modes mainly by its internal clearness of
self-consciousness, by its relatively free control of its own procedure,
and by the universality, the impersonal fairness and obviousness of its
aims and of its motives.

An idea in the consciousness of a thinker is simply a present consciousness
of some expression of purpose, — a plan of action. A judgment is an act of
a reflective and self-conscious character, an act whereby one accepts or
rejects an idea as a sufficient expression of the very purpose that is each
time in question. Our whole objective world is meanwhile defined for each
of us in terms of our ideas.

General assertions about the meaning of our ideas are reflective acts
whereby we acknowledge and accept certain ruling principles of action. And
in respect of all these aspects of doctrine I find myself at one with
recent voluntarism, whether the latter takes the form of instrumentalism,
or insists upon some more individualistic theory of truth.

But for my part, in spite, or in fact because of this my voluntarism, I
cannot rest in any mere relativism. Individualism is right in saying, "I
will to credit this or that opinion." But individualism is wrong in
supposing that I can ever be content with my own will in as far as it is
merely an individual will. The will to my mind is to all of us nothing but
a thirst for complete and conscious self-possession, for fullness of life.
And in terms of this its central motive, the will defines the truth that it
endlessly seeks as a truth that possesses completeness, totality,
self-possession, and therefore absoluteness."

> dmb says: "Royce is defending himself against James' criticism of what the
> latter called "vicious abstractionism" or "vicious intellectualism". Royce
> is trying to deny the contrast between intellectualism and pragmatism by
> reframeing it as "a contrast between the will that is loyal to truth as an
> universal ideal, and the will that is concerned with its own passing
> caprices". "The only question is whether the will really means to aim at
> doing something that has a final and eternal meaning," Royce says.   Please
> notice two things here. Royce has construed pragmatism as concerned with
> passing caprices, which is incorrect if not slanderous. The second thing to
> notice is that Royce wants to distance himself from intellectualism but the
> claims he makes are exactly what James meant by "vicious abstractionism".
> Truth that is "loyal to a universal ideal" and truth that has a "final and
> eternal meaning" is also a pretty good way to describe the views that
> Pirsig rejects in Plato and Hegel.
Jc:  Royce's point above  is that we aim at (thirst for) final and eternal
meanings, even while our grasping of that truth is relative.


> It's also interesting to see that Royce's view is centrally motivated by
> his personal wishes and yet his personal wish is that reality was far more
> than just personal wishes. He says, "individualism is wrong in supposing
> that I can ever be content with my own will in as far as it is merely an
> individual will." Royce is contrasting that with a different will, one that
> "defines the truth that it endlessly seeks as a truth that possesses
> completeness, totality, self-possession, and therefore absoluteness."
> (Sounds like Schopenhauer.)

Jc:  It is true that Royce admits he was heavily influenced by
Schopenhauer.   He was also heavily influenced by James, but the main
thrust of his thought was toward synthesis -

"The result appears in our ethical search for absolute standards, and in
our metaphysical thirst for an absolute interpretation of the universe, — a
thirst as unquenchable as the over-individual will that expresses itself
through all our individual activities is itself world-wide, active, and in
its essence absolute.

In recognizing that all truth is relative to the will, the three motives of
the modern theories of truth are at one. To my mind they, therefore, need
not remain opposed motives. Let us observe their deeper harmony, and  bring
them into synthesis. And then what I have called the trivialities of mere
instrumentalism will appear' as what they are, — fragmentary hints, and
transient expressions, of that will whose life is universal, whose form is
absolute, and whose laws are at once those of logic, of ethics, of the
unity of experience, and of whatever gives sense to life."


It's very seductive language and just about anyone can understand, at least
> to some extent, Royce's desire for complete, total, and absolute truth. But
> there are two major problems here. 1) Epistemologically speaking, we just
> cannot have that kind of truth and so Royce is literally asking for the
> impossible.

Jc:  I reiterate, isn't that much the same as Pirsig's "metaphysics,
drinking and bar ladies"?  A metaphysics of Quality is impossible, but we
do it anyway, no?


> 2) Holding beliefs contrary to the relevant evidence or unsupported by the
> relevant evidence is unethical. It's dishonest. It's intellectually sleazy,
> so to speak. (And endorsing that basic ethical standard is one more reason
> to reject the notion that pragmatic truth is just about individual caprice.)

Royce's notion is truth is so highly idealized and elevated that it might
> as well be god. That's the essence of vicious intellectualism, the
> denigration of actual experience and the deification of abstract concepts.
> Reification is the error of granting existential status to the products of
> human reflection, of mistaking thoughts for ontological realities.
> Idealists and theists aren't the only ones who commit this error, of
> course, but they're far more obvious about it.
> Thanks,
> dmb

while the fragment of actual experience we call the present seems concrete,
while the act of thought by which it is apprehended seems abstract, the
situation is in truth the reverse.  The fragmentary experience is abstract
and the generalization about it is the genuine act.  If this sounds like
Hegel to you,  it should.  Royce was not a follower of Hegel, but the
lesson of concrete universals was not lost on him; it became in Royce’s
hands the reality of concrete generals.  Royce avoided nominalism without
giving way to Hegelian or Bradleyan Absolutism, but gave the Hegelians
their due by allowing that philosophy does and must trade in these kinds
of  universals.  But contrary to Hegel and Bradley, Royce does not accord
to philosophy any kind of overall authority when it comes to acts of

In a letter written to William James at the same times he was writing these
articles he said:

The sum of them all is that ontology, what I mean any positive theory of an
external reality as such, is of necessity myth-making; that however, such
ontology may have enough moral worth to make it a proper object of effort
so long as people know what they mean by it. … the ideal of the
truth-seeker is not the attainment of any agreement with an external
reality  but the attainment of a perfect agreement among all truth-seeking
beings;  that the ethical philosophy is the highest philosophy.


John C

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