Brief note about English language secondary sources on Maimon (Updated)


The really crap thing is that the only books of Maimon’s to be translated into English are his Autobiography and the Essay. I hope that the labors of Midgley et. al. are successful enough that more get translated. It’s impossible to read the secondary texts listed below without wanting to learn German and read Maimon’s later works.

Here are the principle English language secondary texts:

Atlas, Samuel. 1964. From Critical to Speculative Idealism. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Bransen, Jan. 1991. The Antinomy of Thought: Maimonian Skepticism and the Relation between Thoughts and Objects. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991.

Beiser, Frederick. 1987. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Bergman, Samuel. 1967 (originally 1932). The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon. Translated by Noah Jacobs. Jerusalem: Magnes.

Buzaglo, Meir. 2002. Solomon Maimon: Monism, Skepticism, and Mathematics. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Freudenthal, Gideon. (ed.) 2004. Salomon Maimon: Rational Dogmatist, Empirical Skeptic. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Freudenthal, Gideon. 2006. Definition and Construction. Salomon Maimon’s Philosophy of Geometry. Preprint 317 of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin. [PDF]

Socher, Abraham. 2006. The Radical Enlightenment of Solomon Maimon: Judaism, Heresy, and Philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Thielke, Peter and Yitzake Melamed. 2007. Salomon Maimon. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimon/&gt;

The Bransen and Freudenthal books are Kluwer and as such horrendously expensive. I’m currently waiting to get through interlibrary loan. The Socher book looks to be a really good intellectual biography. I’m waiting for amazon to deliver it. I’ll update these notes when I get through them.

Thus far I’ve read the Buzaglo, the chapter in Beiser’s book, and chunks of the Atlas and Bergman books.

Beiser’s book is a fantastic account of the period in German philosophy between Kant and Fichte. The final chapter is on Maimon. Beiser says, “To study Fichte, Schelling, or Hegel without having read Maimon’s Versuch is like studying Kant without having read Hume’s Treatise (Beiser 1987, 286). He agrees with Atlas that Maimon is the crucial step in rehabilitating metaphysics after Kant; both take the later German Idealists to accept Maimon’s criticism of Kant’s deduction, and both take Maimon’s solution to this problem in terms of the infinite understanding as the precursor to Fichte’s Ich and Hegel’s Geist.

However, Beiser and Atlas disagree on one key component. Atlas thinks that Maimon presents a dilemma between skepticism and dogmatism, thus essentially posing a problem to Kant, while Beiser (1987, 304) argues (agreeing with Cassirer’s assessment in Erkenntnisproblem) that Maimon presents a middle path between skepticism and dogmatism. Beiser shows that in the Essay Maimon is equivocal about whether the infinite understanding is a Kantian regulative ideal or something constitutive (that actually exists). But in a number of later books, Maimon argues more clearly that it is a regulative ideal and that taking it to be so undermines the distinction between skepticism and dogmatism in the same way as Kant responds to the mathematical antinomies.

Atlas and Bergman both interpret Maimon as reacting to “the affection problem” for transcendental idealism. This criticism was made in different forms by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) and Gottlob Ernst Schulze (1761-1833; also called Aenesidemus, the name under which he published his first critique). Basically the criticism is that transcendental idealism inconsistently holds both that causation is something that can only be applied phenomena and that noumena causes phenomena. And it is correct that Maimon’s explanation of the distinction between phenomena and noumena as something within the mind allows him to avoid the problem. Atlas and Bergman take Maimon’s theory of differentials to be exceedingly important because it is key to this maneuver.

However, Maimon only explicitly discusses the problem in later works such as the Logik and his essay on Schulze (neither translated into English yet), both written after the Essay. In contrast to Atlas and Bergman, Buzaglo argues that what really motivated Maimon in the Essay is his dissatisfaction with Kant’s solution to the problem with the schematism. In my post on Chapter 2 I’ll explain this in detail. Buzaglo is also not sure that the theory of differentials in the Essay is coherent, and argues that Maimon’s proto-structuralism about mathematics and rationalistic views about the reduction of intuition to understanding do not rest upon it.

Moreover, in contrast to Bergman, Atlas, and Beiser, Buzaglo does not think that the quid facti problem, (what makes a principle true), is the main issue Maimon is concerned with in the essay. The quid facti problem is to be contrasted with the quid juris problem, which is the problem of determining the necessary manner in which synthetic a priori concepts apply to experience. That is, one might think that Maimon spends so little time on actually discussing Kant’s deduction because Maimon thinks that even if the deduction were to work quid juris, that it doesn’t settle the quid facti problem. On this  reading Maimon agrees with Kant that experience presupposes the truth of certain synthetic a priori principles, but restates Hume’s skepticism in terms of whether we in fact have experience. “Although Maimon is willing to admit the argument of the deduction, that possible experience requires the application of the categories, he still disputes its premise, that there is possible experience (Beiser 1987, 289).” Beiser takes Maimon’s discussion of the schematism to just be in service of consolidating this claim.

Buzaglo in contrast argues that the quid juris problem applied to the schematism is the central problem, and that it is from this that everything else follows for Maimon, importantly- the reduction of intuition to concepts and the role that the infinite understanding plays in terms of the idea of such completed reductions. Again, I’ll explain how this works in my post on Chapter 2.

I don’t want to overstate the differences between Beiser and Buzaglo though! Buzaglo has a much more detailed and fleshed out account of Maimon on the schematism and of how the reduction of intuition to understanding is supposed to actually work, given Maimon’s vies about mathematics (and I really, really am looking forward to reading Freudenthal’s essay in light of Buzaglo’s). Beiser reads the Essay in terms of Maimon’s later books which discuss the affection problem and which are more consistently critical in a way that provides a middle path between skepticism and dogmatism. Both books are excellent.

Like I said, I’ll update this with little spiels on the other books as I read them.

ADDITION: [This is a quick take on Jan Bransen’s book that Jon mentions above – by Mikhail Emelianov]:

Jan Bransen’s The Antinomy of Thought is a rather coherent little book and if it was not so prohibitively expensive it could be a great staring point for anyone interested in Maimon. The subtitle of the book is especially attractive considering the latest craze for objects (aka Objectology) among some bloggers: Maimonian Skepticism and the Relation between Thoughts and Objects. The book is not just on Maimon, but it deals with the articulation of this relationship between thoughts and objects in the works of Rosenberg, Rorty and Nagel (which take the first part of the book) and the possible Maimonian correction (second part of the book).

As Bransen puts it, Maimon’s skepticism “is directed against only one dogmatic claim: the claim that thought and reality are commensurable. This does not mean that one has to defend the incommensurability of thought and reality in order to be able to defend Maimonian skepticism. No, Maimonian skepticism is the attempt to preserve the modesty that we just don’t know whether thought and reality are commensurable or not… [According to Maimon], all we should do is to understand why our attempts to account for the relation between thoughts and objects lead to the Antinomy of Thought. And if we do understand that, we still don’t understand something of thinking itself but only of our accounts of thinking, namely, why they take the form of a problem.” [xi-xii]

Bransen formulates and reformulates the relation between thoughts and objects in terms of the tension between making and finding, or, vis-a-vis Maimon, in terms of the tension between objects determined by thought and objects determined outside of thought. This tension is investigated in Maimon’s skeptical challenge to the three distinctions essential to Kant’s transcendental philosophy [59ff – chapter 4 “Maimon’s Reading of Kant”]:

1) a distinction between appearances and things in themselves
2) a distinction between certain kinds of judgments,
3) a distinction of kind, not degree, between concepts and intuitions

Ultimately, Bransen concentrates his attention, as promised in the subtitle, only on Maimon’s skepticism and leaves his metaphysical speculations aside. Essentially, Bransen argues that Maimon’s philosophical engagement with Kant shows that the latter was successful only to an extent that he presented the issues in novel terms as a philosophical problem, not to an extent that Kantian transcendental philosophy was able to provide us with a solution to this problem. The book’s main premise is that we need to rediscover the problem itself, that is to say, we need to understand the stakes and the significance of both Kantian contribution and Maimonian original reaction to it. Bransen’s defense of Maimonian skepticism is, in a sense, a defense of the skeptical position as such, as an attitude of suspension of judgment in the matters where our capabilities are shown to be limited. Considered from this perspective, the heart of the book (or, at the very least, of its Maimonian section) is found in chapters 5 (“The Value of Skepticism”) and 6 (“The Failure of Dogmatism”).

As a final aside, I have to say that the book is also very well written and reads like a good book of philosophy should be read – it’s fast paced, to the point, and occasionally not without some humor. I haven’t read the first part that deals with Rosenberg, Rorty and Nagel, but I’m sure to return to the second part’s discussion of Maimon throughout the reading of the Essay in the weeks to come.

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About joncogburn

Cogburn is a stereotypical beatnik, with a goatee, "hip" (slang) usage, and a generally unkempt, bohemian appearance, studiously avoiding anything resembling work, which he seems to regard as the ultimate four-letter word. Whenever the word is mentioned, even in a line like "That would work," he jumps with fear, yelping, "Work?!" He serves as a foil to the well-groomed, well-dressed, straitlaced Mikhail, and the contrast between the two friends provides much of the humor of the Reading Group.

7 thoughts on “Brief note about English language secondary sources on Maimon (Updated)

  1. It begins! I have Jan Bransen’s The Antinomy of Thought and I’ll post a short bit on it shortly, maybe tomorrow. But, yes, there isn’t much on it in English.

    I’d say that if anyone has more bibliographical information that can benefit our reading and anyone interested in Maimon and Co, please feel free to mention it either here or elsewhere.

  2. To my knowledge, there are two other essays by Maimon partially translated. In 2001, excerpts of his “Letters of Philaletes to Aenesidemus” appeared as part of the anthology Between Kant and Hegel, trans. & ed. George di Giovanni; and, in the same year, the first half of Maimon’s essay “The Philosophical Language-confusion” was included in the anthology Metacritique: The Linguistic Assault on German Idealism, trans. & ed. Jere Paul Surber. Both of these you can glimpse online; the former you can find on Google Books; the latter you must use the ‘search inside’ feature on Amazon to look for Maimon.

    I have read a good deal of the Socher and the Buzaglo volumes. Socher provides some helpful translations of excerpts from portions of the Autobiography (which by the way is a very easy and entertaining read) that have never been put into English before.

  3. Thanks for those references, Bryan. I think I have that Metacritique volume laying around somewhere, I can make a copy of Maimon’s piece and post it here since it would be easier than reading it on Amazon.

  4. Jon, many thanks for all this work. I’m guessing we’ll come to this in more detail later but can I just ask something in order to clarify for myself? You say,

    “On this reading Maimon agrees with Kant that experience presupposes the truth of certain synthetic a priori principles, but restates Hume’s skepticism in terms of whether we in fact have experience. “Although Maimon is willing to admit the argument of the deduction, that possible experience requires the application of the categories, he still disputes its premise, that there is possible experience (Beiser 1987, 289).””

    Is the point here that the First Critique is somewhat circular, that Kant’s trying to ground experience by reference to a priori conditions somewhat covers up that experience has been defined (or implicitly understood) by him in such a way as is already amenable to a priori structure and coherence?

    • That’s a fantastic point. I’m not sure yet what the answer is.

      Something like it is right on Beiser’s reading, because it is Hume’s argument about induction applied to causality that is being restated by Maimon on this reading.

      Though, depending upon what one means by “the argument of the deduction,” Maimon does not admit it. In his later stuff he argues that Kant’s understanding of logic is completely off, and as such even if you could get categories from logic it would proceed quite differently. And he thinks that the schematism problem (I’ll have a lot to post about this in two weeks) is completely unsolvable if you separate intuition and understanding the way Kant does.

      I think what Beiser means that Maimon holds that even if the deduction were valid, it would (with Hume) still be coherent to doubt whether Kant’s synthetic a priori truths are true, just because we can still doubt whether we have experience. But then the most direct way to establish this would be to argue that any counterargument to the skeptical hypothesis ends up being circular. Which is the way you’ve presented it. So this is something to keep in mind as we push through.

      On Beiser’s reading, in Maimon’s later works he presents the infinite understanding (the actual model for Fichte’s Ich and Hegel’s Geist) consistently as a regulative ideal just to thread the way (in the manner of Kant’s solution to the mathematical antinomies) between dogmatism and his own revived skepticism (which for Maimon is stated in entirely critical terms, concerning the possibility of minds radically different than ours). So it would then be the response to the Dialectic that actually saves us from skepticism about necessity and similar notions, not the deduction.

  5. Utisz, I think Maimon’s critique of Kant’s transcendental deduction is one of the most interesting points here and I’m sure we will get into it eventually, even though it seems to be a complex argument. That Kant’s deduction is the core of the first Critique, I think, is more or less accepted – so choosing it as the target for his skeptical rebuttal, Maimon’s getting right to the heart.

    This is how Bransen puts it:

    “It might be necessary, in order to make experience possible at all, to accept that everything stands in some causal relation. If so, the possibility of experience would require a synthetic judgement a priori like ‘All objects of experience stand in causal relations’. However, this judgement never tells us anything about whatever pair of concrete objects that in fact stand in a causal relation to one another, and, as a consequence, we never know whether we experience causal relations or just perceive what seem to be causal relations. Thus, we never know whether there is in fact a causal relation between the fire and the warmth of a stone, one of Maimon’s favourite examples goes, or whether we judge such a relation in perception.” [77]

    He goes on to cite Maimon’s discussion from Logik in the footnote:

    “Do we have pure knowledge related to empirical objects in an absolutely a priori way? In Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason this question is answered affirmatively, and instead of any proof reference is made to its common use as if it were a fact. We say, for example, that the fire heats the stone, i.e. fire is the cause of the heating of the stone, and so forth, and in this way we look for the cause of every appearance. This implies the presupposition of the concept of cause and of the principle that every appearance has a cause. Our Critique of the Faculties of Cognition answers the question negatively, by showing that this so called fact rests on an illusion of imagination.”

  6. Another worthwhile article is Yitzhak Y. Melamud’s “Salomon Maimon and the Rise of Spinozism in German Idealism,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 42:1 (2004) 67-96. He provides a good discussion of the complex relationship between Spinoza and Maimon, focusing on Maimon’s view of Spinoza as a version of acosmism that anticipates Hegel and later German Idealism. According to Melamud, Maimon marks a shift in the understanding of Spinoza’s philosophical position as tantamount to atheism to Novalis’ characterization of Spinoza as “God-intoxicated man.” Melamud also draws interesting connections between Spinoza’s thought and Kabbalah as they were interpreted by Maimon and his contemporaries. Recommended for readers interested in the relationship between Maimon and Spinoza.

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