I'm reading through Josiah Royce's view on the self and this is what I think he believes the tension to be between the individual and society:

"The tension between the individual and society is teaching men customs, equipping them with tools for expressing their own personalities. Society constantly engaged in training up children who may, and often do, rebel against their mother."

Is Royce arguing that the individual's best interest should align with society's best interest?

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    In the passage you quote he is not arguing for anything, he is just making an observation. Nor does it follow from this observation that individual's interests should align with the society's. Quite the contrary, society is constantly engaged in equipping children with tools to both adjust to its customs and rebel against them. That is how customs change, and societies evolve, by constantly realigning to ease the mounting tensions, which can never be fully resolved. At most, one can read him to suggest channeling the inevitable rebellions into a more constructive vein.
    – Conifold
    Oct 19, 2019 at 7:02
  • A highly pertinent comment on the (mis)use of 'arguing', 'argument', &c., when all that's going on is the making of a claim. Glad you brought this up.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Oct 20, 2019 at 18:24
  • well he is arguing that there is a "tension", just not - in that passage - saying it should not exist @GeoffreyThomas though he may well be implying it
    – user57343
    Jan 23, 2022 at 0:10
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    @anon. I tried to rewrite my answer yesterday but abandoned it. For one thing, the question posits a potentially negative relation of 'tension', between the individual and society. Well, tension can occur, but Royce also held that the individual self exists only in relation to society. As he put it: 'For a man's self has no contents, no plans, no purposes, except those which are, in one way or another, defined for him by his social relations' (The Social Philosophy of Josiah Royce , ed. Stuart Jerry Brown, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1950: 105). Too much to sort out.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 23, 2022 at 11:39
  • ok @GeoffreyThomas well I know I value your expertise, so thanks for the comment
    – user57343
    Jan 23, 2022 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


At least some of an individual's best interests, thought of as their own survival, significantly overlaps with their society's best interests.

That is, being a strong cog in the wheel does, in very many societies, predict greater survivability.

That might not be the most illuminating or satisfying path for that individual, but is one reason why that behavioural trait (conformity) is inculcated in young children. It is the case not just in secular society, but in religious practices as well.

The claim about 'rebellion' in your quote is also true. Inculcating these practices, especially in child's complex neurological learning processes, is not so straightforward. There is a relevant proverb "The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth."


Conformism is good for individuals because the person is more likely to survive. But promoting it in the young is difficult, if not downright foolish.

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    One member has queried whether this is a full or adequate answer. The matter was referred to me as a moderator. I am unwilling to delete your answer since I have myself answered the question, or tried to, and do not want to create any impression of eliminating a rival. However, you do need to rework your answer so that it focuses more on what Royce holds exactly.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Oct 19, 2019 at 10:53
  • I'm going to try and make this more readerly, hang on...
    – user57343
    Jan 23, 2022 at 12:20
  • my edit is still O.R / opinion based, but easier to read, right @GeoffreyThomas ?
    – user57343
    Jan 23, 2022 at 12:32
  • I think the answer needs to be linked more closely linked to Royce's text(s), of which it makes no mention. My problem with the question is that (1) Royce sees the individual as a social product in the sense of my quotation above and (2) he sees human flourishing as achievable only in a community, which is a society in its own right and also part of a larger society. Ideally, a 'great' community of humankind might emerge. Given these two considerations, talk of 'tension' between the individual & society doesn't seem the right angle as a first approach to Royce ...
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 23, 2022 at 19:14
  • ... The quote in the question simply indicates, so far as I can see, that the individual, for all her debt to society, does not inherit a perfect, and may inhabit a seriously imperfect, society which requires reform - this is what the metaphor of rebellion against mother is intended to convey. But others on the site may take a different view. I welcome their answers.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 23, 2022 at 19:19

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