This is a draft of a paper from years ago (early aughts) that it looks like I may never finish. But it is relevant to present concerns. So here it is.
ROYCE REVISITED: INDIVIDUALITY AND IMMORTALITY
“What is it that makes any real being an individual?” Near the beginning of his 1899 Ingersoll lecture, The Conception of Immortality, Josiah Royce identifies this as the fundamental question whose answering must precede any serious discussion of the immortality question.i Since the latter concerns whether we survive bodily death as individuals, it is clear that the logically prior question is: What is it to be an individual?
This question, “formal and dreary” as it may seem, yet “pulsates with all the mystery of life.”ii I share Royce’s enthusiasm since I count it as one of his greatest insights that “the logical problem as to what constitutes an individual being” is identical to “the problem as to the worthy object of love.” (CI 32-33) This essay sets itself three tasks. The first is to expound the main features of Royce’s doctrine of individuality in a rigorous and contemporary manner. The second is to raise some critical objections to it. The third is to sketch an alternative which preserves Royce’s insights.
I. Royce’s Formulation of the Problem of Individuality
According to Royce, the world of commonsense is a world of concrete things and persons that differ numerically from one another in their very existence. No doubt these things and persons resemble each other in a myriad of ways. A world without resemblances would be no world at all. But “deeper than resemblance” (CI 6) is the fact of numerical-existential difference. My interpretive term ‘numerical-existential difference’ is meant to highlight the fact that for Royce numerical difference is not analyzable in terms of a difference in qualitative properties, but is grounded in the very existence of that which differs numerically. It is clear that Royce rejects Leibniz’s principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles according to which, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, every case of numerical difference is a case of qualitative difference. If Leibniz were right, we would have “individuation through mere ideal or typical variety...,” a solution that “fails to meet all the conditions of our problem.” (CG 238) What Royce is alluding to is the fact that an adequate solution must explain both i) what makes concrete individuals differ categorially from entities of other categories, such as properties, and ii) what makes two concrete individuals differ numerically from one another.
Royce is suggesting that a Leibnizian solution to problem (ii) makes it impossible to solve problem (i). For if you ground numerical difference in property-differences, then you assimilate an individual to a property or type. You explain numerical difference, but only at the expense of failing to explain the categorial difference between an individual and a property.
Whether or not Royce is right about this, he does have a fairly compelling reason for rejecting the Identity of Indiscernibles, namely the fact that complete resemblance -- resemblance in respect of every property -- is consistent with numerical diversity. There is no logical bar to the supposition that an individual have an indiscernible twin with which it is qualitatively identical but from which it is numerically distinct. If so, numerical difference cannot be grounded in properties, but must be grounded in the very existence of the things that numerically differ. For a thing to exist is for it to be numerically different from everything else that exists. (CI 7) The “deepest truth about me,” then, is “my [numerical] difference from all the rest of the world....” (CI 8) This is the deepest truth because i) a thing cannot have properties without existing, and ii) a thing cannot exist without differing numerically from all else.
Having stressed the necessary connection between existence and numerical difference, which is tantamount to a rejection of Leibniz’ principle of the identitas indiscernibilium, Royce goes on to define an individual as “an essentially unique being, or a being such that there exists, and can exist, but one of the type constituted by this individual being.” (CI 8) Talk of “the type constituted by this individual being” is puzzling since a type is precisely what an individual is not. Types are repeatable in that each type is essentially such as to allow the possibility of many tokens or instances. Individuals, however, are not in this sense repeatable. (An indiscernible duplicate of an individual is not an instance of it but a separate individual in its own right.) Royce makes the point himself when he says that “human thought is able to define only types of individuals, and never individuals, so that this individual is always for us indefinable.” (CI 9) Thus Royce’s definition of ‘individual’ is as much an indicator of the problem that will occupy him as it is a preliminary fixing of terminology.
The problem is that, although we can define individuality abstractly by saying that each individual is essentially unique, what the intellect thereby grasps is not what makes this individual be the very individual it is and no other. What the intellect grasps is merely a structure common to individuals. And yet what the intellect cannot grasp, namely, the haecceity (thisness) of an individual, is precisely what makes an individual an individual. The concept of the individual as the essentially unique is at best a limit-concept: it points to the individuality of individuals – which of course can occur in reality only as these very individuals and not as a property or form or essence on its own – without being able to grasp it. The ultimate individuality to which commonsense appears committed seems ineffable. Royce is clear that where the intellect fails, the senses cannot succeed. Thus one cannot sense the unique and ultimate individuality of any individual. Sense-perception, whether inner or outer, reveals to us sense qualities which are all of them general characters.
If the mind is composed of intellect and senses, then we can say that the mind is ill-equipped to know the ultimate individuality that commonsense insists is out there in the world both in things and in persons. As further proof of this ineffability to sense and intellect, Royce adduces the fact that our knowledge of differences is inextricably intertwined with our knowledge of resemblances. Thus if I perceive a difference between two lights, it will be a difference in degree of brightness, or a difference in size, or a difference in place. But these differences are imperceptible apart from resemblance in respect of being bright, having a size, and being in the same larger place. (CI 10) Differences are knowable only together with resemblances. This being the case, what makes one thing numerically differ – differ in its very existence – from another eludes our cognitive grasp. If two things differ property-wise, then of course they differ numerically; but to apprehend a property difference is not to apprehend that which makes the two things numerically-existentially different. The upshot is that “all individuality seems to be conceived and observed by us as merely relative.” (CI 13) Royce’s point is that knowledge of a thing’s individuality requires knowledge of how it differs numerically from all else. But all that is cognitively accessible to us are differences in qualities. Knowledge of these differences, however, is impossible apart from knowledge of similarities. Knowable differences are thus relative to similarities. It follows that individuality insofar as it can be grasped by sense or intellect is merely relative. Individuality gets reduced to a mere aspect opposed to what is not individuality. But this collides with the natural view according to which an individual is an individual absolutely “to the very heart and core of its existence....” (CI 13)
The fundamental problem, then, is this. If individuality is “deeper than all resemblances,”(CI 14) and thus fundamentally unanalyzable in terms of them – as it would be analyzable if you said that two things are numerically the same if they share all properties and numerically diverse otherwiseiii – then we should be able to gain access to this individuality somehow. If it is real, it must be somehow reachable. Both intellect and senses, however, fail us. So either we find some other mode of access, or the pressure is on to dismiss fundamental individuality as a mirage.
Before attempting a solution to his problem, Royce exposes another side of it, which we might call the modal side. The individuality of a thing is not merely that which makes it differ numerically from every other actual individual, but also that which makes it differ numerically from every possible individual. It may well be that each actual individual has a complex property that it alone has and that distinguishes it from every other actual individual. It is safe to say that Josiah Royce is the only 19th century native of Grass Valley, California ever to teach philosophy at Harvard. This property, though it distinguishes Royce from every other denizen of the actual world, cannot be that wherein his individuality or essential uniqueness consists. And this for the simple reason that there are possible worlds in which someone distinct from Royce instantiates the property in question. There is nothing in the nature of this property to require that it be Royce who instantiates it. And there is nothing in the nature of Royce to require that he instantiate the property.
If the very individuality of an individual is to be captured in a property, the property in question must be not only essential to its possessor and individuating of it, but also essentially individuating of it. It must be a property that its possessor has in every possible world in which it exists, and that nothing distinct from its possessor has in any possible world. The only plausible candidates for the office of such properties are such identity-properties as the property of being identical to Royce. It is easy to see that identity-with-Royce satisfies the above conditions: if instantiated it is instantiated by Royce, by Royce alone, and not possibly by anything distinct from Royce.
The problem, however, is that these haecceity-properties – of which Plantinga has made heavy use in recent years – are simply unintelligible. Even if there are such properties, we cannot bring them before our minds. If I cannot bring Royce himself in his essential uniqueness before my mind, then surely I cannot being identity-with-Royce before my mind. For this property somehow involves Royce himself in his very haecceity.
II Why Believe in Irreducible Individuals? Because of Love and Loyalty
The problem, then, is that “our human type of knowledge” (CI 22) never reveals the individuality of individuals. Common sense assures us that individuals are fundamentally real, but their individuality is beyond our ken. The senses give us sense qualities, which are “general characters,” while “Abstract thinking defines for us types.” Comparisons reveal differences but only together with likenesses, so that we never find the ultimate numerical difference that “lies deeper than every resemblance.” But even if we did find a property that distinguished an individual from every other actually existent individual, that property could not distinguish the individual from every possible individual, as it must if it is to be in a position to capture the very individuality of the individual in question. True individuality is something so hidden, so ‘interior’ as to be ineffable. But then how can it be real? How can it be real but unreachable?
One might be tempted to dissolve the problem by simply denying that there are any individuals in the robust and irreducible sense in which Royce thinks that commonsense is committed to them. We could then take their ineffability to sense and intellect as proof of their nonexistence or at least of their irrelevance. But there is an excellent reason not to go this route. The phenomenology of “your intimate human relationships” (CI 24) shows the supreme relevance of genuine individuals. Love and loyalty posit their objects as essentially unique and irreplaceable. These attitudes mean, intend, ‘aim at’ the essentially unique. (This is best interpreted as a phenomenological claim that leaves undecided whether these attitudes ever ‘hit their targets.’) What the lover loves in the beloved is not a mere instance of lovable qualities, but a person whose being (existence) cannot be identified with the being-instantiated of any set of properties. Instances of the same quality-ensemble are interchangeable: so if what Jack seeks in Jill is a mere instance of lovable qualities, then it will not matter to him if Jill be replaced by someone with the same set of qualities. If Jill and Hillary share the same set of lovable qualities, then, qua instances of these qualities, they are interchangeable. But in that case Jack, who seeks merely an instance of these same qualities, cannot be said to love either Jill or Hillary.
And both ladies will indignantly point this out to him: “If you love me for what I have in common with her, then you don’t love me at all!” Clearly, Jack only digs his hole deeper by telling the girls that he loves both of them; for if they are philosophically astute they will point out that, in truth, he loves neither of them but only the being instantiated of a set of lovable qualities. Where there is love there is a directedness to an individual in its essential uniqueness. This is what the lover intends, and it is what the beloved expects. The object of love is the object of an exclusive interest, an essentially exclusive interest.
This is spectacularly clear in the case of self-love. I may have some lovable qualities, but it is certain that I do not love myself merely as an instance of them. Suppose I have an indiscernible twin, and that one of us must be annihilated. If my self-love were merely the love of the being-instantiated of my lovable qualities, then it should not matter to me whether me or my twin is the one to be annihilated. Either way, the lovable qualities would remain instantiated. There is simply nothing to choose between two instances of the same properties qua instances. But obviously it would make all the difference in the world both to me and to my twin whether it will be me or my twin who gets the axe. I am me, not him; my existence is mine, not his; my desire to remain in existence is not a desire that certain properties remain instantiated, but a desire that the bearer of these properties who I am remain in existence. It is my very existing that I love, which is also clear from the fact that I would continue to love myself even if I were to lose all of my lovable properties. It follows that self-love is love of an individual in its essential uniqueness.
Another indication of this is that we are offended when people love us for what we have rather than what we are, even when, as is often the case, we foolishly and self-idolatrously love ourselves in the very same way. A person may be enamored of her physical attributes to the extent of identifying herself with them; nevertheless, she deep down wants to be loved for herself and not for her body. Another person has so identified himself with his wealth that a stock market crash brings him to the brink of suicide: in his own eyes he just is his investments. And yet he does not want to be loved for his money, but for the unique person he is, even though he himself is quite alienated from his own unique personhood. Even when we are are most hidden from ourselves we retain a lively sense (a lively belief or conviction) of our essential uniqueness.
We therefore have good reason not to abandon the commonsensical view that there are genuine individuals in the world despite their ineffability to sense and intellect. Both self-love and other-love mean or intend genuine individuals, albeit without finding them via intellect or senses. Royce sees the cases of self-love and other-love as symmetrical. In neither case can we “define in thought or find directly presented in our experience the individual beings whom we most of all love and trust....” (CI 26) One may doubt the symmetry, however, since it is arguable that there is a direct, albeit nonsensible, intuition of the self. If this is so, then Royce’s case is even stronger: in the case of ourselves, we not only aim at, but also make contact with, a genuine individual. However things may stand with other-love, self-love cannot be an illusory attitude. Loving myself, I love a genuine individual.
The situation, then, is this. Love and loyalty, if they are not to be illusory attitudes, demand or require genuine individuals, individuals that cannot be reduced to instances of properties. But science too, as the pursuit of the final truth, aims at an individual, namely, the individual whole of truth. (CI 42) Love and loyalty, and all pursuit of truth, aim at the Real. But the Real is the individual. “To believe anywhere in genuine reality is to believe in individuality.” (CI 42) Each of us is unshakably convinced of his own reality despite all facile talk of the ‘illusion of the ego’; but to be so convinced is to be convinced of one’s individuality, which is to say, of one’s essential uniqueness and irreducibility to any mere instance of properties. But if genuine individuals are neither definable by the intellect nor presentable to the senses, then how are we to understand their reality?
We demand individuality (CI 38), but in our present state, a genuine individual appears to be little more than an ideal, ever aimed at and striven for, but never encountered, an “elusive goal of an infinite quest.” (CI 39) We are not content, however, to think of individuals as merely ideal; we posit them as real. We could say that we posit them as non-posits, as existing beyond their being-posited. Thus we are not content to think of individuals in neo-Kantian terms as nicht gegegeben sondern aufgegeben (not given but presented as a task). Although ideal for us in our present state, genuine individuals are posited by us as real in themselves. But how can they be real in themselves?
III. Royce’s Voluntaristic Solution to the Problem of Individuality
There are really two questions here. One is epistemological: how do we know individuals; how do we make conscious contact with them? The other is ontological: how is the being of an individual to be understood? Although the questions are distinct, it is characteristic for an idealist such as Royce to answer the second question by way of the first. So, starting with the first question, wherein resides our consciousness of individuality? This consciousness, which cannot arise from either sense or intellect, arises when we will that “there shall be none precisely like the beloved....in this voluntary choice, in this active postulate, lies our essential consciousness of the true nature of individuality.” (CI 38) We are conscious of an individual as of something that we will to be irreplaceable and non-interchangeable, that we will to be the object of an exclusive interest. But of course this consciousness does not prove that there are any individuals. Willing or wanting or desiring or intending that a person be a genuine individual does not make her one. The lover may say to the beloved, “You are my one and only forever!” but the mere saying or thinking or even willing of this does not constitute the beloved a genuine individual. Indeed, the radical transcendence of a genuine individual, its irreducibility to any instance of properties, or to any merely intentional object, even the intentional object of an exclusive interest, seems positively to guarantee that genuine individuals cannot be constituted as such in our sort of fragmentary consciousness. In loving an individual, I presumably respond to its antecedent ipseity and haecceity; I do not, by loving it, confer these properties upon it.
We may conclude from this that if will is involved in the constitution of individuals as individuals, this cannot be my finite and fragmentary will. After all, I am a willing individual, and it would be patently absurd to say that my being an individual derives from my willing myself to be an individual. I cannot constitute myself an individual unless I antecedently am an individual.
We can say, however, that whether or not there are any genuine individuals, the concept of an individual is the concept of something that “adequately expresses a purpose.”(CI 48) Thus the concept of an individual is a teleological concept. (CG 267) An individual in its individuality cannot be an object of thought or an object of sense-perception; and so if individuals are not to be wholly ineffable and thus nonexistent for us, they can only be something that expresses a purpose and satisfies the purpose it expresses.
To show that the world is a world of genuine individuals, then, it must be shown that the world expresses will and uniquely embodies purpose. If it can be shown that the world is a unique individual whole, then, according to Royce, it can be shown that “every fragment and aspect, just by virtue of its relation to the whole, is inevitably unique.” CI 66-67).
And here I ran out of steam . . . .
III Critique of Royce’s Solution
IV Sketch of an Alternative Solution
i Josiah Royce, The Conception of Immortality (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968), p. 4. Hereafter cited as CI.
iii On pain of triviality, ‘properties’ cannot range over such pseudo-properties as the property of being identical to Abraham Lincoln.