Remembering Grass Valley native son philosopher Josiah Royce |

Remembering Grass Valley native son philosopher Josiah Royce

From left, William James chats with Josiah Royce.
Josiah Royce Society Website/courtesy photo |

When outlining an education focus as a tenet of his gubernatorial tenure, Gov. Jerry Brown invoked Josiah Royce to highlight the importance of community in his inaugural 2011 address.

“One of our native sons, Josiah Royce, became for a time one of the most famous of American philosophers,” Brown said that January day.

“He was born in 1855 in a mining camp that later became the town of Grass Valley. I mention him because his ‘Philosophy of Loyalty’ is exactly what is called for. Loyalty to the community, to what is larger than our individual needs.”

Brown, who went on to highlight his father’s appreciation of Royce, isn’t the only one to draw attention to the philosopher recently.

“(H)is ‘Philosophy of Loyalty’ is exactly what is called for. Loyalty to the community, to what is larger than our individual needs.”
Gov. Jerry Brown on Grass Valley native son Josiah Royce

“There has been an upsurge of interest in his work,” said Robin Wallace, who has concocted a theatrical dramatization of Royce’s formative years in Grass Valley to be performed at the international Josiah Royce Society’s “Royce, California, and the World” conference, sponsored by Empirical Magazine and scheduled for Aug. 16-18 in Grass Valley. The conference commemorates the centennial anniversary of the publication of one of this world-famous philosopher’s most important works, “The Problem of Christianity.”

“A lot of Royce scholars, especially young scholars such as myself, haven’t had a chance to visit his birthplace,” said Dwayne Tunstall, 34, president of the Josiah Royce Society and assistant professor of philosophy and African American Studies at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

“These professors are very excited to have their conference here in Grass Valley and wish to have an ongoing relationship with Grass Valley,” said Iven Lourie, a Penn Valley resident helping to organize the conference locally.

In a Tuesday proclamation, the Grass Valley City Council honored Royce and welcomed the society for its upcoming conference. The last time the city paid tribute to the renowned philosopher was in 1956, the centennial of his birth. The only active evidence of Royce’s existence in the town is a plaque near the entrance of the Grass Valley Library’s Royce Branch, named in his honor.

“Whatever Grass Valley does, it shouldn’t let another 56 or 57 years go by without recognizing a thinker that during his time period, was one of the most prominent thinkers in the United States,” Tunstall said.

Royce was born Nov. 20, 1855, to Josiah and Sarah Eleanor Bayliss Royce, according to Kelly Parker’s writings in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

At 11 years old, he entered school in San Francisco and went on to graduate from University of California in Oakland, according to Parker.

After travels in Germany to study philosophy, Royce entered Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1878.

In the 1880s, Royce asserted himself in philosophy and earned a permanent appointment as assistant professor at Harvard, where he taught for three decades until his death.

During his tenure, he instructed such notables as Franklin D. Roosevelt, T.S. Eliot, George Santayana, W.E.B. Du Bois and Helen Keller, Tunstall said, and his ideas about community dynamics and ideals influenced the American Civil Rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“King’s understanding of the ‘Beloved Community’ (concept) comes from Royce’s use of the term,” Tunstall said.

Along with William James and Santayana, Royce was one of the most influential philosophers of the American Gilded Age, the Royce Society attests.

Years ahead of his time, Royce’s writing and discourse was critical of imperialism and advocated pragmatism, idealism and other progressive views of numerous social issues.

“Most people who are not students of California history or philosophy are not so aware of Royce or who he was,” Lourie said.

Royce is considered the leading American proponent of absolute idealism — the metaphysical view that all aspects of reality are ultimately unified in the thought of a single all-encompassing consciousness, according to Parker.

His thinking and writings on how to build lasting world peace included a prototype to the League of Nations and were studied all over the world, according to the Royce Society.

“In his speeches, throughout his life, he always gave credit to his formative years, growing up here in Grass Valley,” Wallace said.

The four days of the Royce conference will include public events, such as a talk by keynote speaker, Kevin O. Starr, the state librarian emeritus, and the premiere of Wallace’s two-act play, “Beyond Our Mountains.” Tickets for the event range from $25 for one event to $125 for the entire series of events.

“The organizers and myself hope that the community, comes as well, not just for the keynote presentation,” Tunstall said.

More information on the conference can be found at or by emailing

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530 477-4236.

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