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Royce grew up in pioneer California, very soon after the Gold Rush. He received the BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1875. After some time in Germany, where he came to admire Hermann Lotze, the new Johns Hopkins University awarded him in 1878 one of its first four doctorates, in philosophy. He then taught philosophy, first at the University of California, Berkeley, then at Harvard from 1882 until his death, thanks to the good offices of William James, who was at once Royce's friend and philosophical antagonist.
Royce's key works include The World and the Individual (1900-01) and The Problem of Christianity (1913), both based on previous lectures. The heart of Royce's idealist philosophy was his contention that the apparently external world has real existence only as known by an ideal Knower, and that this Knower must be actual rather than merely hypothetical. He offered various arguments for this contention in both of his key works. He appears never to have repudiated this view, even though his later works are largely devoted to expositing his philosophy of community.
Two key influences on the thought of Royce were Charles Peirce and William James. In fact, it can be argued that a major way Peirce's ideas entered the American academy is through Royce's teaching and writing, and eventually that of his students. Peirce also reviewed Royce's The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885). Some have claimed that Peirce also supervised Royce's Ph.D., but that is impossible as Peirce arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1879.
Royce is also perhaps the founder of the Harvard school of logic, Boolean algebra, and foundation of mathematics. His logic, philosophy of logic, and philosophy of mathematics were influenced by Charles Peirce and Albert Bray Kempe. Students who in turn learned logic at Royce's feet include Clarence Irving Lewis, who went on to pioneer modal logic, Edward Vermilye Huntington, the first to axiomatize Boolean algebra, and Henry M. Sheffer, known for his eponymous stroke. Much of Royce's writings on logic and mathematics, reminiscent in some ways of Bertrand Russell's much better known Principles of Mathematics, and on scientific method, are reproduced in Royce (1951, 1961).
In recent decades, Royce appears not to have attracted as much attention as other now-classic American philosophers, such as Peirce, John Dewey, and his Harvard colleagues William James, and George Santayana. Philosophers influenced by Royce include Brand Blanshard in the United States and Timothy L.S. Sprigge in the United Kingdom.
He was elected APA President in 1901
- 2001 (1912). The Sources of Religious Insight. Catholic Univ. of America Press.
- 2001 (1913). The Problem of Christianity. Catholic Univ. of America Press.
- 1914. War and Insurance. Macmillan.
- 1916. The Hope of the Great Community. Macmillan.
- 1919. Lectures on Modern Idealism. Ed. by J. Loewenberg. Yale University Press.
- 1920. Fugitive Essays, ed. J. Loewenberg. Harvard University Press.
- 1951. Royce's Logical Essays: Collected Logical Essays of Josiah Royce. Robinson, D.S., ed. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown Co.
- 1961. Principles of Logic. Philosophical Library.
- 1963. Josiah Royce's Seminar 1913-1914: As Recorded in the Notebooks of Harry T. Costello. Ed. by G. Smith. Rutgers University Press.
- 2005 (1969). The Basic Writings of Josiah Royce, 2 vols. Ed. by J. J. McDermott. Fordham University Press.
- 1970. The Letters of Josiah Royce. Ed. by J. Clendenning. University of Chicago Press.
- 1998. Metaphysics / Josiah Royce: His Philosophy 9 Course of 1915-1916. Hocking, W. E., R. Hocking, and F. Oppenheim, eds. State University of New York Press.
- 2001. Josiah Royce's Late Writings: A Collection of Unpublished and Scattered Works, 2 vols. Ed. by Oppenheim, F. Thoemmes Press. Online.
- Auxier, R., ed., 2000. Critical Responses to Josiah Royce, 1885-1916, 3 vols. Thoemmes Press.
- Clendenning, J., 1999. The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce, 2nd ed. Vanderbilt University Press.
- Ivor Grattan-Guinness, 2000. The Search for Mathematical Roots 1870-1940. Princeton Uni. Press.
- Kuklick, Bruce, 1985. Josiah Royce: An Intellectual Biography. Hackett.
- Clarence Irving Lewis, 1916, "Types of Order and the System [Sigma]," Philosophical Review 25: 407-19.
- Oppenheim, F. M., 1980. Royce's Voyage Down Under: A Journey of the Mind. University Press of Kentucky.
- -----, 1987. Royce's Mature Philosophy of Religion. University of Notre Dame Press.
- -----, 1993. Royce's Mature Ethics. University of Notre Dame Press.
- Trotter, G., 2001. On Royce. Wadsworth.
- The Royce School, which later merged with Anna Head's School for Girls to become the Head-Royce School, was named after Josiah Royce. Anna Head, founder of the School for Girls, was Josiah's sister-in-law.
- Royce Hall, one of the original four buildings at UCLA, is named for Josiah Royce.