Review of Maimon

I came across this review of Maimon’s essay this morning in U of Toronto’s Journal for Jewish Thought.

Upon its (Essay on Transcendental Philosophy) original publication in 1790, none of the philosophers asked (Beck, Reinhold and Schmid) consented to review it; instead, Maimon was sent the following, “Three speculative thinkers of our time have refused to review your work, estimating that they did not have the power to penetrate profoundly enough the meaning of its inquiries.”

Interesting, I had never heard about this (fake?) humility on the part of Beck, Reinhold and Schmid…

Read the full review here

9 thoughts on “Review of Maimon

  1. I don’t know enough about the personal lives of these characters, but I somehow suspect that this can largely be chalked up to anti-Semitism.

  2. I’d say from what I’ve read, it’s definitely a possibility. I think Maimon himself often stated how awkward (to put it mildly) his standing as an intellectual was within that sort of anti-Semitic establishment – say, he could not hold a teaching position and so on. But it could also be that Maimon’s style was turgid and obscure and that the reviewers didn’t want to bother with deciphering it. I mean Kant himself barely read the Essay

  3. I realize this hope might be illusory but it seems to me that if blogs are good for anything, it’s this ability not only to comment and generally talk about many things at once, but also for leaving a trace of those comments for anyone interested to browse months or even years later in order to add, augment or even refute what was said.

    I don’t think online discussions will ever replace traditional scholarship (despite some claims) – writing an essay is a very different mode of thinking, I’d say – blogs are, on the other hand, a perfect medium for thinking on one’s feet and not many are brave enough to go that route. (To give credit where credit is due, Levi Bryant’s early blog work was this sort of “thinking on one’s feet” flexible to criticism but firm and consistent in its presentation).

  4. I really can’t see it being a matter of style (Kant was notorious for not reading much of contemporary philosophy…he never read, e.g., Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre, but had no trouble denouncing it) — Maimon’s style is not any worse than, e.g., Fichte or Schelling or even Kant himself.

  5. The letter to Reinhold that the review cites is supportive of your point – I cite a large chunk in my post – and Kant does say he’s too old to penetrate other people’s writings and has only time to finish his own.

    What do you make of the review’s claim that Maimon’s commentary (Talmudic?) style is what separates him from the likes of Fichte and then Hegel?

    Certainly, it’s no reason not to review the work, especially when there is not that much stuff being published on Kant (I suppose by our standards) – I’m not disagreeing with you vis-a-vis anti-Semitism charge then.

    • Many defenders of Kant like to point out that the letter was written at a point in Kant’s life when he started to feel like his mind was deteriorating and his students were “jumping ship” left and right, esp., Reinhold. So, I wonder if the comment is sort of like a blogging type of one-upping as much as it represents the anti-semitism of the day. However, having read Michael Mack’s book about German Idealism and antisemitism I’m more convinced of the latter–esp., the tone of Kant’s criticism: “Maimon is a nosy Jew whose work is parasitic on my own and worse, non-sensical.” However, I suspect he got the non-sensical part from Reinhold’s nasty letters–though I do quite like that Maimon publishes the whole exchange without Reinhold’s permission. I mean, all of these guys–as Herz did–try to characterize Maimon as “raw” and “unpolished,” which of course, is the classic way of making the “other” exotic, and outside the Enlightenment insider circle, e.g. outside Germany, civic life etc. However, Maimon is somewhat “exotic” from both perspectives, the Jewish and German, as I hope came across in my rambling post from Sunday.

  6. Surely this tendency to represent the opponent as somehow beyond comprehension is not quite dead, is it? I mean it’s the classic strategy when confronted with more or less hostile critique: “Why are my critics so mean? They must have some real personality problem and wish me ill.” In Maimon’s case it’s all too easily “explained” by his being a Jew.

    I have to say it’s difficult to “defend” Kant from Reinhold’s letter, expect maybe a middle way “everyone was a jerk back then” argument. Just because he was old and annoyed, doesn’t mean it was okay to be anti-Semitic, right?

    • The editor of the translated correspondence says this, “It is one of the few places where Kant makes an anti-Semitic remark. Perhaps it should be forgiven, on the grounds that Kant was extremely sensitive to criticism and to the apostasy of his followers, and 1794 was a bad year for him not only on these two accounts but also because of his troubles with the official proscription of his work on religion. the persecution from which Kant suffered seemed serious enough to Kant’s friends to warrant an offer of asylum from one of them (the educator J.H. Campe).”

      Also, Kant publicly helped raise money for a statue to Mendelssohn. And finally, see his letters to Herz and Mendelssohn in the translated Philosophical Correspondence 1759-99. The letters to Mendelssohn are some of the nicest in the volume, and it’s hard to imagine an anti-semite penning them.

      Edvard Grieg once said disparaging things about the composer Felix Mendelssohn, things that were picked up by anti-semites and broadcast. He had the good fortune to be able to talk publicly about Mendelssohn’s genius and refute what the conservatives said about him. Maybe Kant raising money for the earlier Mendelssohn’s statue can be read in the same light?

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