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/>
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.