The World and the Individual  

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"let us suppose, if you please, that a portion of the surface of England is very perfectly levelled and smoothed, and is then devoted to the production of our precise map of England. That in general, then, should be found upon the surface of England, map constructions which more or less roughly represent the whole of England, — all this has nothing puzzling about it. Any ordinary map of England spread out upon English ground would illustrate, in a way, such possession, by a part of the surface of England, of a resemblance to the whole. But now suppose that this our resemblance is to be made absolutely exact, in the sense previously defined. A map of England, contained within England, is to represent, down to the minutest detail, every contour and marking, natural or artificial, that occurs upon the surface of England. At once our imaginary case involves a new problem. This is now no longer the general problem of map making, but the nature of the internal meaning of our new purpose.

Absolute exactness of the representation of one object by another, with respect to contour, this, indeed, involves, as Mr. Bradley would say to us, the problem of identity in diversity; but it involves that problem only in a general way. Our map of England, contained in a portion of the surface of England, involves, however, a peculiar and infinite development of a special type of diversity within our map. For the map, in order to be complete, according to the rule given, will have to contain, as a part of itself, a representation of its own contour and contents. In order that this representation should be constructed, the representation itself will have to contain once more, as a part of itself, a representation of its own contour and contents; and this representation, in order to be exact, will have once more to contain an image of itself; and so on without limit. We should now, indeed, have to suppose the space occupied by our perfect map to be infinitely divisible, even if not a continuum."[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The World and the Individual (1899) is a book by Josiah Royce.

The First Series of Gifford Lectures made the case against three historical conceptions of being, called “realism”, “mysticism”, and “critical rationalism”, by Royce, and defended a “Fourth Conception of Being”. Realism, according to Royce, held that to be is to be independent, which mysticism and critical rationalism advanced other criteria, that to be way to, immediacy in the case of mysticism and objective validity in critical rationalism. As hypotheses about the fundamental character of being, Royce shows each of these falls into contradiction. In contrast Royce offers as his hypothesis that “to be is to be uniquely related to a whole”. This formulation preserves all three crucial aspects of being, namely the Whole, the individual, and the relation that constitutes them. Where previously Royce’s hypotheses about ontology had taken for granted that relations are discovered in the analysis of terms, here he moves to the recognition that terms are constituted by their relations, and insofar as terms are taken to refer to entities, as we must assume, we are obliged to think about individuals as uniquely constituted by a totality of relations to other individuals and to the Whole that are theirs alone. In the Second Series of Gifford Lectures Royce temporalizes these relations, showing that we learn to think about ideas like succession and space by noting differences and directionality within unified and variable “time’spans”, or qualitative, durational episodes of the “specious present”. Royce explains, “our temporal form of experience is thus peculiarly the form of the Will as such”. (The World and the Individual, Second Series, p. 124)

Hence, for Royce, the will is the inner dynamism that reaches beyond itself into a possible future and acts upon an acknowledged past. Space and the abstract descriptions that are appropriate to it are a falsification of this dynamism, and metaphysical error, especially “realism”, proceeds from taking these abstractions literally. Philosophy itself proceeds along descriptive lines and therefore must offer its ontology as a kind of fiction. But ideas, considered dynamically, temporally instead of spatially, in light of what they do in the world of practice and qualities, do have temporal forms and are activities. The narrative presentation of ideas, such as belongs to the World of Appreciation, is “more easily effective than description...for space furnishes indeed the stage and the scenery of the universe, but the world’s play occurs in time”. (WI2, pp. 124–125). Time conceived abstractly in the World of Description, although it can never be wholly spatialized, provides us with an idea of eternity, while time lived and experienced grounds this description (and every other), historically, ethically, and aesthetically. Since philosophy proceeds descriptively rather than narratively, “the real world of our Idealism has to be viewed by us men as a temporal order”, in which “purposes are fulfilled, or where finite internal meanings reach their final expression and attain unity with external meanings”.

Hence, for Royce, it is a limitation of conceptual thought that obliges us to philosophize according to logic rather than integrating our psychological and appreciated experience into our philosophical doctrines. There is ample evidence for supposing a parallelism between our conceptual and perceptual experiences, and for using the former as a guide to the latter, according to Royce, particularly with regard to the way that the idealization of our inner purposes enables us to connect them with the purposes of others in a larger whole of which we have no immediate experience. We can appreciate the sense of fulfillment we find in serving a larger whole and form our characters progressively upon the ways in which those experiences of fulfillment point us outwards, beyond the finite self, but we are not so constitute as to experience the greater Whole to which our experiences belong. We cannot help supposing that there is some experiencer within whose inner life the Whole exists, but only the inevitability of the assumption and not any experiential content assures us of the reality of such an experiencer.




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