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 the 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 '19 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 '19 at 18:24

Society and community

Royce talks of 'society' in your quotations but his key idea is that of 'community'. It is on the relation between the individual and the community that his social and political theory turns. 'The Philosophy of Loyalty' (1908) concerns loyalty of the individual to the communuity' and the theme of community as the central social and political concept is set out in 'The Sources of Religious Insight', chap. 5, and promoted in 'The Problem of Christianity' (1913) - hereafter 'PC'.

Someone might say that in framing my answer in terms of 'community' I am failing to answer your question. But I really am not. Royce's focal interest is in the form of society that he terms 'community'. This is apparent when one moves beyond isolated quotations.


In his own attempt to explicate the general term "community," Royce considers three conditions requisite for its existence. The first is an integrated individuality, or rather two or more such integrated individualities. Community is founded upon "the power of an individual self to extend his life, in ideal fashion, so as to regard it as including past and future events which lie far away in time, and which he does not now personally remember." [PC 11 (New York, 1913.] Each self is the present reality of a particular past and a particular future, the interpreter of what has been and will be in his own unique regard. It is from his own unrepeatable individuality that a man contributes to the greater wealth that is community.

The second condition for ... community is communication among the various selves. This is not something that happens automatically, for "a community does not become one ... by virtue of any reduction or melting of these various selves into a single merely present self, or into a mass of passing experience." [PC: 67.] Rather the existence of community depends upon the fact that there are in the social world a number of distinct selves who are not only capable of social communication, but also generally engaged in such communication.

The last requisite is a principle of unity through which the individuals involved share a common past and/or a common future. In regard to their past, the group constitutes a community of memory; in regard to the future, a community of hope. To Royce,

[t]his third condition is the one which furnishes both [sic] the most exact, the most widely variable, and the most important of the motives which warrant us in calling a community a real unit. [PC: 68, 69.]

Insofar as they are conscious of their unity, the members are empowered to act as a community as well as individuals. In so acting they achieve a personal reality over and above their isolated individualities. Collecting the conditions stipulated for genuine community we can formulate the following general Roycean definition: community is a reality constituted by unique individual selves who share a common history and/or aim. All the instances of community which Royce describes in some way fit this definition. None fits it so well, however, as the Universal or Beloved Community, the ideal to which all other communities can only approximate. (M. L. Briody, 'Community in Royce: An Interpretation', Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Fall, 1969), pp. 224-242: 225-6.)


"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."

'Rebel' is somewhat vague and imprecise. One reading is that each member's 'unrepeatable individuality' introduces novelty into the community. One individual never assimilates a custom in exactly the same way as others do - and may, and often does, modify and amend it. This idea needs elaboration if it is to do much work, however.

On your main point, concerning the alignment of individual best interest with communal best interest, my only comment is that a community's 'best interest' appears to Royce to be that of becoming a Universal or Beloved Community; and that the individual's 'best interest' is to be a member of such a community. This requires fulfilment of the three conditions listed at the start.

Note on 'argument'

Conifold very rightly points out that in the passage you quote, Royce 'is not arguing for anything, he is just making an observation'. There is an increasing usage in which, when a philosopher makes a claim that p, s/he is said to 'argue that p'. To argue is to draw a conclusion from premises. This usage collapses all depth out of 'argument' and 'arguing'.


Individual's best interest with regards to survival significantly overlaps with the society's best interests as a whole. It might not be the most illuminating or a satiating path for the individual's mind always but being a strong cog in the wheel does in many a situation predict greater survivability. Which is one of the reasons that "desirable" behavioural traits are inculcated to children at an impressionable age so as to enable them to conform better. This can be observed in religious practices as well.
As far as the rebelling aspect that is true too. Succeeding at inculcating these practices is not so straightforward considering the complexities of a child's brain. Remember the proverb " The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth."

  • 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 '19 at 10:53

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