Royce’s The Philosophy of Loyalty, Chapter 3

Josiah Royce, in Chapter 3 of The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908), argues that in order to be a moral person, one must chose to be loyal to causes that do not infringe upon other people’s loyalty to their causes — that is, one must be loyal to loyalty — and that all virtues are forms of loyalty to loyalty. He argues this by discussing the ways in which various loyalties conflict with each other; showing that conflicts such as war are harmful because they rob others of their opportunities to be loyal; claiming that one should not be opposed to others’ loyalties, only to blindness in loyalty and disloyalty to loyalty; showing that one must be loyal to that which arouses his or her own natural curiosities; discussing the contagious nature of loyalty; and explaining how certain duties or virtues are a part of loyalty to loyalty.

I am really enjoying Royce’s book for it’s good, thorough logic and sound reasoning. I was resistant before reading, like others, I think, because we have a negative connotation with loyalty in this country, due to a fear of authority and blind obedience. But his arguments make a lot of sense, and I found myself pretty persuaded by this chapter. As I started this particular chapter, I was skeptical. I thought: well, how’s he going to do this one? How’s he going to explain what types of causes to be loyal to? But rather than answer the question with a rigid prescription, he expands his theory to include virtues (which, after reading Aristotle in classical moral theories, I’m partial to at the moment) by showing that all virtues are a form of loyalty to universal loyalty. This makes a lot of sense to me as an conceptual tool for understanding virtues. From Aristotle’s perspective, virtues were the mean between deficit and excess, which made sense, but at times felt like a matter of semantics. Royce’s theory, however, seems to make logical sense without wordplay (though I do love wordplay!). My only reservation about Royce’s theory is that it seems too simple, which leaves me a bit suspect that I am missing some critique or flaw.

NOTE: After discussion in class on Thursday, I figured out that Royce’s theory isn’t so simple. It might be on the surface, but when we tried to apply it to certain loyalties and causes in class, it becomes a confusing mess. I’m still a fan, though.

Royce, Josiah. The Philosophy of Loyalty. 1908. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 1995.

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2 Responses to Royce’s The Philosophy of Loyalty, Chapter 3

  1. Dennis says:


    Joseph got me with the Royce hammer as well. I still want to resist Royce’s ideas, but he’s got some really good points.

    Is loyalty a virtue or a principle? Or is it something else entirely?

  2. Michael says:

    At this moment in time, I’d speculate that loyalty is a virtue, or perhaps more accurately, a meta-virtue. Royce argues that all virtues are an aspect of loyalty to loyalty. For instance, Joyce writes, “Justice means, in general, fidelity to human ties in so far as they are ties. Justice thus concerns itself with what may be called the mere forms in which loyalty expresses itself. Justice, therefore, is simply one aspect of loyalty — the more formal and abstract side of loyal life. […] But justice, without loyalty, is a vicious formalism” (68). Royce discusses virtues such as justice and benevolence in terms of “duties,” but it seems to me that calling them virtues is apt.

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