Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Auxier, Randall


This project seeks to utilize the thought of Josiah Royce to address problems stemming from the contemporary American criminal justice system, with a specific focus on the process known as “ex-offender reentry.” Whereas most mainstream reentry efforts focus on the individual perpetrator in isolation from their relationship to the whole, e.g. in and through various self-help programs, I use Royce’s secularized and irreducibly interpersonal model of atonement to illustrate the ways in which (re)integrating “ex-offenders” requires effort not only on the part of the perpetrator themselves, but so too from the community at large. In so doing I rely heavily on Royce’s realism (i.e. anti-nominalism) concerning the nature of relations. I do so first by problematizing the self/other dichotomy in and through adopting Royce’s model of subjectivity, in which relations with others are at least partially internal, that is, constitutive of our own identities. Second, by using Royce’s affirmation of the reality of relations to show, insofar as criminal acts damage not only individuals but also interpersonal and communal relations, that these relations cannot be restored unilaterally. What is more, since relations between so-called offenders and their respective communities are often less than ideal prior to the criminal acts in question, I seek to develop the transformative element of Royce’s model of atonement, to the effect that communities might paradoxically be better off for having gone through processes of atonement than if no such need had arisen. It is regarding this point especially that I find Royce’s thought to be most obviously related to the contemporary transformative justice movement, which sees responses to criminal wrongdoing as an opportunity for communities to address inequities that not infrequently give rise thereto. Finally, I utilize Royce’s personalism and “doctrine of two levels” to argue that the notion of personal responsibility, while usually applied exclusively to individuals, is equally applicable to communities and institutions. In the end I argue that a genuine commitment to transformative justice not only calls for atonement, in Royce’s sense, as a response to individual acts of wrongdoing, but also as a response to the forms of collective wrongdoing that have created circumstances in which the reentry phenomenon so disproportionately impacts largely urban, minority communities.




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