Outstanding American philosophers 1892 series of lectures on Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, et al. Marked by verve, precision, unusual readability.
I also wanted to read this book for Royce's consideration of Spinoza, a philosopher he discusses at some length in the volume. Royce aimed to describe in a non-technical way the nature and origins of different important strands of philosophical thinking. The book is both an admittedly selective history of modern philosophy and a development of a philosophical position. In the first part, "Studies of Thinkers and Problems", Royce examines the history of modern philosophy. In the second part, "Suggestions of Doctrine", Royce uses what he takes to be the best lessons of the philosophical history to develop his own position. In the introduction, Royce offers his views on the nature and importance of philosophical, critical and reflective thinking. Royce finds this naturalistic strand, with it combined religious form best expressed in the philosophy of Spinoza. As I read through the book, I thought Spinoza's own double aspect theory had many similarities, and perhaps some advantages over, the "double-aspect" theory of philosophical idealism that Royce himself develops in the second part of his work. In the second part of the book, Royce, deeply influenced by Kant, argues for a form of philosophical idealism that avoids the romantic excesses of Kant's successors. The book brought me back to Spinoza's formulation of issues and the way it agrees with and differs from Royce. Royce and this book are not often studied today but there has been some recent resurgence of interest in the great American idealist thinker. The book is worth reading for its history, for its issues, and as an introduction to Royce.
I have been reading Royce for some years and recently returned to read his 1892 book, "The Spirit of Modern Philosophy: An Essay in the Form of Lectures" because I will be speaking about the book at an upcoming conference. Most importantly, he stressed that philosophy was not a mere dry academic subject for specialist but was instead a reflective discipline which individuals of all backgrounds could use to deepen their understanding of their lives and of what they found important. In the Preface and first lecture, Royce explains his conception of philosophy, a matter to which he returns repeatedly in the remainder of the book. Part I of the book, "Studies of Thinkers and Problems" offers an overview of the history of modern philosophy beginning, surprisingly enough, with Spinoza rather than Descartes. He argues that the position of naïve realism is internally inconsistent and develops instead, based on a purportedly logical argument, a philosophy of absolute idealism, centering on the existence of what Royce calls at various places the all-inclusive Absolute, the Deep Self, or the Logos. He argues that the descriptive world of scientific necessity and of everyday life is based on a broader appreciative world of feeling and subjectivity. In the final section of his book, Royce discusses how an idealistic philosophy can bring meaning and purpose to life, and he considers and assesses different approaches to the problem of evil that need to be addressed by all idealistic or theological philosophies.
At Johns Hopkins he taught a course on the history of German thought, which was one of his chief interests because he was able to give consideration to the philosophy of history.1 After four years at the University of California, Berkeley, he went to Harvard in 1882 as a sabbatical replacement for William James, who was at once Royce's friend and philosophical antagonist. During his first three years at Harvard, Royce taught many different subjects such as English composition, forensics, psychology and philosophy for other professors.