Royce, born in Grass Valley, California on November 20, 1855. He was the son of Josiah and Sarah Eleanor (Bayliss) Royce, whose families were recent English emigrants, and who sought their fortune in the westward movement of the American pioneers in 1849. He received the B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley (which moved from Oakland to Berkeley during his matriculation) in 1875 where he later accepted an instructorship teaching English composition, literature, and rhetoric. After some time in Germany, where he studied with Hermann Lotze, the new Johns Hopkins University awarded him in 1878 one of its first four doctorates, in philosophy. 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. 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. Royce's position at Harvard was made permanent in 1884 and he remained there until his death, September 14, 1916.
Royce stands out starkly in the philosophical crowd because he was the only major American philosopher who spent a significant period of his life studying and writing history, specifically of the American West. “As one of the four giants in American philosophy of his time […] Royce overshadowed himself as historian, in both reputation and output” (Pomeroy, 2). During his first three years at Harvard, Royce taught many different subjects such as English composition, forensics, psychology and philosophy for other professors. Although he eventually settled into writing philosophy, his early adulthood was characterized by wide-ranging interests, during which he wrote a novel, investigated paranormal phenomena (as a skeptic), and published a significant body of literary criticism. Only as historian and philosopher did he distinguish himself. Royce spread himself too thin, however, and in 1888 suffered a nervous breakdown which required him to take a leave of absence from his duties.
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