Thursday, December 3, 2015

God, the All-Enfolder: Josiah Royce's Idealism

I've been reading the great American Idealist Josiah Royce (1855-1916) this week and enjoying it immensely. I've read a good amount of Hegel, the most important philosophical Idealist, but Royce offers a clarity that one does not find in the former. What interests me at the moment about Royce is his early argument for the Infinite Thought or Spirit as that which grounds the reality of error - and therefore truth and goodness. Royce then went on to argue that religion is not primarily about the individual, but about communal "loyalty", which becomes his defining theme and ultimate virtue: "Loyalty to loyalty," he wrote. While Royce's idealistic panentheism evolves over time - in ways that anticipate both Tillich and Whitehead, interestingly - I cannot resist sharing this quote from an early essay, "The Possibility of Error":

"Everything finite we can doubt, but not the Infinite. That eludes even skepticism. The world-builders, and the theodicies that were to justify them, we could well doubt. The apologetic devices wearied us. All the ontologies of the realistic schools were just pictures, that we could accept or reject as we chose by means of postulates. We tried to escape them all. We forsook all those gods; but here we have found something that abides...No power it is to be resisted, no plan-maker to be foiled by fallen angels, nothing finite, nothing striving, seeking, losing, altering, growing weary; the All-Enfolder it is, and we know its name. Not Heart, nor Love, though these also are in it and of it; Thought it is, and all things are for Thought, and in it we live and move."

Josiah Royce (right) with William James
In particular, I am intrigued to find Royce's theological metaphor of the "All-Enfolder", which resonates with Catherine Keller's recent work that synthesizes Cusa, Deleuze, and Whitehead to think of God in similar terms: the divine enfolding-unfolding, or the "Ultimate Entanglement."

One final quote that I'd like to share from Royce's later writings anticipates Whitehead's emphasis on the God who suffers, along with Moltmann's distinctly Christian image of the crucified God:

"But now, as it is, if we have the true insight of deeper idealism, we can turn from our chaos to him...the suffering God...who actually and in our flesh bears the sins of the world, and whose natural body is pierced by the capricious wounds that hateful fools inflict upon him - it is this thought, I say, that traditional Christianity has in its deep symbolism first taught the world, but that, in its fullness only an idealistic interpretation can really and rationally express...What in time is hopelessly lost, is attained for him in his eternity." (quoted in Cornel West Reader, 181-182)