A major focus in recent studies of Josiah Royce has been on his relevance to applied ethics—to ethics in the public sphere. These accounts have shown, in numerous ways, the historical and ongoing relevance of Royce’s ethics. But each glimpse of a part has revealed the pressing need for a sustained treatment of the whole. Believing that such an account would also serve as a bridge of communication between Roycean ethics and the broader community of ethicists, my dissertation seeks to fill this gap.
My central argument is that Royce provides a successful model of an ethics that is publicly forceful in its occasional criticism of ethical violation while respectful of plurality and difference, and rational and consistent in making the distinction.
In this study, I work to advance the literature on Royce, by showing the major but underappreciated influence of his contributions to the field of applied ethics, and by showing the centrality of applied ethics to the development of his philosophical system. These efforts appear to have been original and enduring, as Royce gives what I argue is the first systematic environmental ethics in the American philosophical tradition, and he pioneered the use of the case study method in business ethics.
Second, I explore the connection of Royce’s ethics to his systematic philosophy. While scholarship has tended to focus on either Royce’s ethics and social/political thinking or his metaphysics, epistemology, and logic, I seek to show how these various aspects of his thinking are mutually supporting. Third, I show the sustained presence of applied ethics throughout his philosophy, from his first books to his last writings. This contrasts with a common belief that Royce turned to questions of ethics only in the last decade of his life. Fourth, I show how interdisciplinary studies deeply informed his ethics, and gave him a remarkable ability to understand the complexity and nuance of ethical dilemmas, while making his thought useful to addressing contemporary efforts to increase interdisciplinary participation in applied ethics.