Maimon Reading Group: Chapter 3

[by Nick Midgley, London]

Chapter 3

This chapter discusses ideas of the understanding, and distinguishes them from the ideas of reason that Kant introduced in the Antinomy of Pure Reason (A405/B432 ff). Maimon had already deployed this notion in chapter 2 to characterise the differentials of sensation, but here he re-introduces them with different examples and a definition of them as the material completeness of concepts, that does not straightforwardly apply to the differentials. The chapter ends with an opposition between the subjective and objective orders of the operations of the mind, very briefly expressed but very intriguing.

Kant, in his letter responding to the manuscript of the Essay (Appendix II), criticizes the argument Maimon makes in this chapter for introducing this new species of ideas. Because Kant states in the letter that he has only read the first two chapters of the Essay and because there are passages in the chapter where Maimon is clearly trying to respond to Kant’s criticisms (see my translator’s footnote 3 on p.47), it is evident that the original chapter two was rewritten and divided into chapters two and three after Maimon read Kant’s letter. Continue reading

Kant and the Turn to Romanticism (from Kritike)

Here‘s an interesting essay on Kant and Romantics by Vinod Lakshmipathy – the opening sections give a decent review of Kant’s “problem” (how do rules of understanding apply to intuitions) and could be helpful for anyone interested in the post-Kantian developments:

The ontological specialty of human beings is that there is in “man a power of self-determination, independently of any coercion through sensuous impulses.” Human reason creates for itself the idea of spontaneity, which corresponds to the power of beginning a state spontaneously.8 This power of reason accounts for human freedom—the freedom to transcend the domain of the phenomenal, as it were. However, once a state is begun spontaneously, the consequent chain of actions is subject to the mechanical laws of the natural world of phenomena. That is, an effect “notwithstanding its being thus determined in accordance with nature, [may at the same time] be grounded in freedom.” Hence the peculiarity of human beings is that they are able to “bridge” the two realms— noumena and phenomena. But Kant is unclear about how exactly this interaction is possible. There is an irreducible dualism.

I like the phrase “ontological specialty” here – if objectology is correct and there’s no real ontological difference between humans and objects, then at the very least, one can emphasize some relations once in a while as a kind of menu specialty. “Today’s ontological specialty is the relationship between shoes and shoelaces with a side of cotton-on-fire action.”

Adulation + Zizek= Vomiting

I was reading yet another article about Slavoj Zizek this morning–a figure I’ve basically stopped paying attention to for various reasons–and almost vomited when I came across this:

He is very much a thinker for our turbulent, high speed, information-led lives,” says Sophie Fiennes, “precisely because he insists on the freedom to stop and think hard about who you are as an individual in this fragmented society. We need a radical hip priest and Slavoj is that in many ways.”

Good grief (somewhere a single tear is slowly making its way down Wavy Gravy’s cheek). I mean, really. Gag. Thankfully, the author of the article qualifies this idiotic statment, albeit with another nausea inducing gem:

The very thought, I suspect, would have him quaking in his proletarian boots – and free airline socks.

Quaking? Perhaps (isn’t Zizek always “quaking?”)  The phrase “proletarian boots” –clearly an attempt at wit–is just a bit over the top. The author of the article, like most articles about him, wastes a bunch of space discussing  Zizek’s appearence.  Ooh…Proletarian boots, such a fashion statement!  I must march down to the closest TJ Max and get some!  Continue reading

Maimon Reading Group: Chapter 2 – A Rejoinder

I think Jon’s summary of the issues in chapter 2 is as comprehensive as it could be, considering the medium of our discussion, so my points here will mostly be related to things I’d like to reemphasize and draw attention to in terms of my own interests and my own reactions to the chapter. I wanted to post this immediately after Jon’s summary, but having gone through several reads of the chapter, I have continuously struggled to formulate my ideas as precisely as possible. So the resulting post is shorter and, hopefully, more concentrated. Plus, I of course got distracted and had to go look for my copy of Hermann Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung because he was compared to Maimon in Atlas’s discussion of the latter’s theory of infinitesimals. [Cohen’s essay on Infinitesmal-Methode is available online] So, long story short, here goes. Continue reading

Karate Kid As A Class Warrior

We watched Karate Kid this afternoon – the old one, on Netflix stream – I forgot this part in the middle when the old guy makes him wax cars, paints the fence and so on as a preparatory exercise for his fighting. It’s a kind of “working will prepare you for fighting the rich spoiled white kids from a nice neighborhood” sort of thing. Of course, the bad guys are all rich Californians and the protagonist is a poor Italian kid from Jersey. Where is Zizek to make insightful remarks about how this all represents this or that?

Too stupid to know you’re stupid

Great Errol Morris series in the NY Times this week. Excited enough about part 1 that I’m posting this before reading part  2. Morris is speaking with David Dunning, a Cornell professor who came up with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.


And I became very interested in judgments about the self, simply because, well, people tend to say things, whether it be in everyday life or in the lab, that just couldn’t possibly be true.  And I became fascinated with that.  Not just that people said these positive things about themselves, but they really, really believed them.  Which led to my observation: if you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent…If you knew it, you’d say, “Wait a minute.  The decision I just made does not make much sense.  I had better go and get some independent advice.”   But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.


People often come up with answers to problems that are o.k., but are not the best solutions.  The reason they don’t come up with those solutions is that they are simply not aware of them. Stefan Fatsis, in his book “Word Freak,” talks about this when comparing everyday Scrabble players to professional ones.  As he says: “In a way, the living-room player is lucky . . . He has no idea how miserably he fails with almost every turn, how many possible words or optimal plays slip by unnoticed.  The idea of Scrabble greatness doesn’t exist for him.” (p. 128)


The average detective does not realize the clues he or she neglects.  The mediocre doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments never considered.  The run-of-the-mill lawyer fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there.  People fail to reach their potential as professionals, lovers, parents and people simply because they are not aware of the possible.

His fantastic example is of a gentleman from Pittsburgh who robbed a bank in broad daylight with no disguise and was recognized and arrested immediately following his photo appearing on the nightly news. Turns out the gentleman had taken precautionary measures, applying lemon juice to his face to render him invisible to all video cameras. So Dunning took this example and developed this theory that we’re too incompetent to be aware of our incompetence. If we had the knowledge to know we needed to seek objective outside expertise, we would have done so. Without that knowledge, we use what we have and make terrible terrible decisions.

Anyway, great article. All should read.

Thresholds of Consciousness: Leibniz-Maimon-Deleuze

I couldn’t agree more with Jon’s claim in his excellent summary of chapter 2 of Maimon’s Essay that “everything follows from the material in chapter 2.” Bringing in the contemporary debates regarding the ‘myth of the given’ and the Kripkenstein paradox was particularly helpful in illuminating the central concerns of Maimon’s chapter. I got a lot out of reading Jon’s post. As I read through chapter 2 I hadn’t thought of the Wittgenstein-Kripke rule-following paradox, but instead kept thinking of Donald Davidson, and for much the same reason Jon turns to the Kripkenstein paradox (assuming I understood Jon correctly). Just as the central problem in the Kripkenstein case is to raise the problem of determining whether or not one is applying a rule correctly, similarly for Davidson it is a question of differentiating between what one takes to be true and what is true. How do we come upon this difference? Davidson’s solution follows a similar path to Wittgenstein and Kripke; namely, one knows they are applying the rules correctly when one does what others expect them to do (“you’ve got it, continue on in the same way,” as Wittgenstein put it), and others similarly do what one would expect them to do in relevantly similar circumstances. What intrigues me about Davidson’s approach, especially as I tend to read it through a lens shaped by Deleuze and Hume, is the emphasis Davidson gives to shared agreement as the basis upon which one can subsequently differentiate between true and false, agreement and disagreement. As Davidson puts it in his essay, “Seeing through Language,” “Before there can be learning there must be unlearned modes of generalization. Before there can be language there must be shared modes of generalization.” In short, before there can be language and before there can be the capacity to differentiate between taking something to be the case and its being the case, there are unlearned and shared ‘modes of generalization.’ Continue reading

New Contributors.

Just wanted to use this quick post to introduce two new contributors to our discussion of Maimon (and hopefully other related or unrelated matters):

Jeffrey A. Bell is a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an author of several books on Deleuze, Hume and other figures. He has a new blog over here, for anyone interested.

Nick Midgley is a philosopher and translator based in London. He is of course one of the translators of Maimon’s Essay and an author of the detailed Introduction to the book.

That’s a very short intro, I know. If anyone wants to add some awesome details, please feel free. Preference is given to something cool like “also collect South American butterflies”…

Kant’s Philosophy of Mathematics

I’m slowly making my way through Gideon Freudenthal’s “Definition and Construction: Salomon Maimon’s Philosophy of Geometry” and I came across a reference to Louis Couturat‘s discussion of Kant’s philosophy of mathematics (Les Principes des Mathematiques: avec un appendice sur la philosophie des mathématiques de Kant) – it is available on Google Books (as a PDF) in German as “Kants Philosophie der Mathematik” published as an appendix to Die philosophischen Prinzipien der Mathematik (Leipzig, 1908). Continue reading