Royce’s Idealism as a Philosophy of Education

Updated: Sep 12

Horne, H. H. “Royce's Idealism as a Philosophy of Education.” The Philosophical Review 25, no. 3 (1916): 473.

IS some apology necessary for discussing philosophy in relation to education? He who thinks there is no vital connection between them has an inadequate idea of each, for philosophy should not be detached from practical interests, and a great practical interest like education should not go on its way empirically without the guidance of reflection. Philosophy provides the general theory of life which education should seek to realize. Their problems are the same, viewed theoretically by philosophy and handled practically by education. It is the bane of philosophy to regard it as something by itself, and, as Herbart showed, whether a philosophy works well in education is one test of its truth. We might recall that it was educational questions raised by the Sophists which started western speculation about man on its course. The world's greatest philosophers have been teachers, such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Kant. He whom we honor today is a philosopher and teacher.

Education is a human interest large enough to have a philosophy. There is a philosophy of the state, of religion, of art, of truth, of morality. Education involves the use of all of these related interests in perfecting human life; then why not a philosophy of education? In fact, any philosophy worthy the name forms the background of educational practice. As Dewey says: "Education is such an important interest of life that in any case we should expect to find a philosophy of education, just as there is a philosophy of art and religion. We should expect, that is, such a treatment of the subject as would show that the nature of existence renders education an integral and indispensable function of life."

But the philosophers of our day have not supplied us with a general theory of education in their philosophical thinking, as did Plato, Aristotle, and Herbart in their day. And the educators have seemed not to need it. Philosophers have viewed education as too practical a matter to engage their attention, and educators have regarded philosophy as too theoretical for them. Both philosophy and education have thereby suffered; philosophy remaining aloof from one great interest of life and education proceeding unscrutinized.

What is education? It is the endeavor society makes consciously to realize its ideals, such as health, happiness, social effectiveness, and the public weal. Narrowly, this is done through the school with the young; broadly, by all the agencies of life with young and old alike. Education needs to know its ideals, which are the ideals of the complete life in a properly ordered society, and it is a part of the business of philosophy to formulate and inter-relate those ideals.

What then is a philosophy of education? It is a program of human achievement. It is a systematic setting forth of those essential ideals of individual and social human living. It is the theory of the proper relations between the more permanent elements of the total educational situation. It is an interpretation of education in terms of the whole of experience. With those philosophers who have more than the process of social experience in mind, it may even be an interpretation of education in terms of the ultimate world-ground. So, it was to Plato. So, it would probably be to Royce. I say, 'probably be,' because Royce has not himself given us a philosophy of education. In 1891 in two articles in the first volume of the Educational Review on, "Is There a Science of Education?", Royce answered in the negative; and in 1903 in his Outlines of Psychology, which appears in a "Teachers' Professional Library," he defined some of the problems of teaching in psychological terms. It is to be hoped that Professor Royce may similarly relate his philosophy to education. The term 'education' does not appear in the index to the two volumes of The World and The Individual.

There are two ways of arriving at a philosophy of education; one, from an accepted ready-made philosophy to educational theory by deduction, a rather external mode of procedure; the other, by an analysis of the educational situation as a part of human experience to determine its essential features in relation to the goal of living. The latter method is more in keeping with our times; the psychology of education has made the same shift; but the former is perforce the only method available under the title of this paper. My task is to interpret education in terms of Royce’s Idealism as Royce himself might do.

There is no occasion, I think, for summarizing Royce's system of Idealism. It is expressed particularly in The World and the Individual, covering the problems of ontology, epistemology, and cosmology. The terms most used by Royce are Being, Knowledge, Nature, Man, and the Moral Order. The motives animating Royce's idealism seem to be the three following: (I) No radical reconstruction of the actual, as illustrated by Fichte, but the conservative interpretation of the actual in large terms of rationality by means of dialectic, as illustrated by Hegel, though Royce's interpretation of experience, will, and nature differ from Hegel's. (2) No concession to naturalistic or realistic types of philosophy, apotheosizing scientific method and conclusions, but by supplementing the category of 'Description ‘with that of 'Appreciation,' the preservation of the interests of morality and religion. (This motive provokes the new realists, but they have yet to launch a defensible interpretation of religion.) (3) As opposed to dualism and pluralism, the unity of the world. "The whole of experience, “which Royce presents is not an aggregate of interrelated centres of finite experience but an integrated total unity, embracing time, in which finite centers have their place.

What does Royce's system of idealism, so motivated, yield in the way of a philosophy of education? The large field of theory provided by this world-view, in which education works, might be briefly stated in this wise: the subject of education, the educand, is man; he is really a citizen of an ideal world, but he doesn’t realize it; his naturalistic beginnings are consistent with his ethical goal; his progress in development is a process of deepening his consciousness; he is both a self and a socius; his fellows are not only other beings like himself, but possibly animal types as well; even nature is a larger self between him and his goal; the maladjustments between selves which we call evil are the conditions of winning the highest good through their conquest; in this struggle with evil man has freedom through union with the whole; as a unique expression of the infinite will, he has immortality; the metaempirical nature of his knowledge, the inclusive character of his time-span, though short, his victory over evil, his essential selfhood as ethical, all betoken already the infinity of his nature; his progress is unending; his goal is the Organic Being, comprehending both the static and dynamic viewpoints, a Life of lives, a Self of selves, an Individual of individuals. Reality is a self-representative experience, sentient and rational, embodying ideas, fulfilling purposes.

One perceives the similarity of this general theory to be realized by educational practice to that of Froebel, especially in the primary place assigned the feelings and will in contrast with the descriptive role of ideas.

The main problems of education have a possible solution in accordance with these principles. What is the real nature of education? The realization of self-hood. What is the real aim of education? The union in acting and thinking of the finite with the infinite. What is the means of education, the curriculum? The natural and social order, the sciences describing the regularities in the activities of the Self of nature, the humanities acquainting us with the Self of man. What is the right attitude toward the body in physical education? As a part of the material world really expressive of purpose, it requires cultivation in the interest of the whole man it serves. What is moral education? It is, ultimately, bringing the will of man into harmony with his own best self, which is the absolute will for him. What is aesthetic education? It is bringing man into appreciation of the perfect, which characterizes the whole of experience as well as certain selected portions of it. What is social education? It is bringing the individual into the sense of the unity and mutuality of the different centers of experience. What is intellectual education? It is the acquaintance of man with those mechanisms and necessities of the world which enable him to survive, to keep his engagements, and to progress. What is vocational education? It is the equipment of life with skill akin to that displayed in the activity of the world-will. What is religious education? It is the recognition that all phases of education are abstractions until they find their unity with each other unconscious relationship to the life of the All or God. The ultimate solvent is the conscious unity of all reality. There is an education of the individual and of the race; each is a process of realizing ideals and fulfilling purposes expressed in temporal succession. There is an education of the body and of the mind; each is a phase of the one process of making man. There is cultural and vocational education, the theoretical and practical phases of the process of growth. There is an education of the school and an education of life, two phases of the one process of living. There is an education under authority and an education under freedom, but the two are limiting terms. Each individual, being a unique embodiment of the absolute will, has priceless worth and requires complete development, which is democracy in education, limited, however, by the conception of good citizenship. Naturally we do not look to any philosophy for details of educational procedure, such as, how to correlate the work of the kindergarten and the grades, or whether we should have a junior high school.

In sum, Royce's idealism puts infinite and partly accessible meaning into educational processes. Man, as individual and society, is cooperating, now blindly, now knowingly, with the absolute purpose in bringing himself nearer the goal of his being. This process is evolutional and without ceasing. The curriculum studied is really the activity of the selves of man and nature. The temporal, the knowing, and the moral elements of the process suggest the presence of the infinite in the finite. The ground of it all is an actualized Ideal, like the energeia of Aristotle.

How shall we estimate Royce's idealism as a basis for a philosophy of education? There is no time for comparing its conclusions with those of naturalism, pragmatism, and realism. It is difficult to agree on a standard by which to judge its truth. Its strong and weak points are just those of idealism itself as a philosophy. These educational interpretations to idealists are doubtless intellectually convincing as well as emotionally satisfying and morally stimulating; to others, they leave something to be desired. The educational facts themselves are not distorted by this philosophy, and their meaning is deepened and extended. An inductive study of the educational fact as part of the social situation in order to find an educational philosophy by the other method would doubtless lead some thinkers to similar conclusions. For myself, I feel the difficulty of rejecting it without implying its truth, and I do not see that this dialectic difficulty is met by voluntarily refusing to be caught by it. Royce has developed his idealistic system on the moral, religious, scientific, and epistemological sides; he has not developed it particularly on the institutional, aesthetic, governmental and vocational sides. And these latter are mooted points in educational theory today. One cannot be sure that on some of the questions raised above, Royce would answer as I have done.

It is also proper to ask whether education could hope to realize the idealistic philosophy. We may answer yes; for some at least, if this philosophy is itself the culmination of educational training, as Plato made it. The rank and file of teachers, in their present relative lack of training, are like the prisoners sitting chained in Plato's cave watching the shadows reflected by a fire at its opening without having ever once seen the sun of light, truth, and being. The idealistic philosophy of education may be accepted or rejected, but, if accepted, it is a mighty challenge to society to re-constitute its education more in accord with the high ends of living.

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