Although this chapter is rather short, I have to admit that it is rather dense – not necessarily in terms of being obscure or incomprehensible, but in terms of requiring a rather extensive amount of context (Kant and Leibniz, for example). So I spent most of the my weekend rereading sections from the first Critique and only a brave act of discipline stopped me from rereading Leibniz-Clarke correspondence.* What follows are some remarks on Chapter 1 that, I hope, can help us pose initial questions regarding Maimon’s Essay. I am mostly looking forward to trying to parse this chapter and so any help would be not only welcome, but necessary. I will therefore provide only a rather general outline of the discussion and ask some question that I’d like to clarify for myself (and hopefully others).
I’d like to begin with a few short remarks about Maimon’s take on some of the essential Kantian doctrines. Hopefully it will allow for a better understanding of what he is trying to argue in Chapter 1 vis-a-vis space/time being both intuitions and concepts.
Maimon’s main issue with Kant seems to be the distinction between intuitions and concepts (and the milage that Kant gets out it), or, to put it differently, not with the distinction itself (we could, say, introduce the distinction as a purely methodological tool) but rather with the implied dualism between the sensibility and the understanding. This distinction is between object’s being given to us (intuitions being representations by means of which objects are given to us – sensibility) and object’s being thought about (concepts being that by means of which we think about objects – understanding). This distinction sets up Kant’s analysis of cognition as essentially a synthetic activity of subsuming intuitions under concepts – as many have pointed out, in this sense the demonstration (“deduction”) of how a posteriori intuitions are subsumed under a priori concepts (categories) is the heart of Kant’s argument. In terms of Maimon’s chapter 1, it seems appropriate to mention that, for Kant, as far as his analysis of experience is concerned, sensibility gives us space/time (forms of sensibility) and understanding gives us the categories (forms of understanding).
What Thielke then labels Maimon’s Challenge is the following:
“Kant’s critical idealism rests upon an unwarranted and unstable foundation claim about the nature of cognition… It must be emphasized that, however, that behind the discussion of space and time lies the more central issues of the heterogeneity of the faculties [of sensibility and understanding]… At stake is the question of whether separate faculties can nevertheless interact so as to produce experience..” [Thielke, 89-90]
If Maimon’s task is to overcome Kantian dualism of sensibility and understanding, then it is clear that in Chapter 1 he goes about it by first challenging Kant’s discussion of space/time. Space/time are not non-conceptual forms of sensibility, but are minimal conceptual conditions for thinking about objects. The reason we think of space/time as intuitions is their misrepresentation by imagination. Maimon’s actual conceptualization of experience in terms of differentials will take place later in the Essay. All I’d like to do here (hopefully to start thinking about the importance of these issues not simply for our understanding of Kant and German Idealism, but also for our current philosophical attempts to deal with similar issues).
1. The opening of the chapter rehearses some well-known Kantian postulates: “a limited cognitive faculty” is divided into two parts – matter and form; matter is the particular of the object (intuition/sensibility) and form is the universal (concept/understanding). Form of sensibility allows us to establish a particular relation to a particular object, while form of understanding allows for a conceptual relation to objects in general. The nature of cognition is, again with Kant, that of “ordering manifold in time and space” [11/13]. Maimon’s in agreement with Kant regarding the a priori nature of space/time as well. Space/time as forms of sensibility then are dealt with in Chapter 1 while their connection with the forms of understanding is promised for Chapter 2.
2. Again, Maimon’s initial description of space/time is not very different from that of Kant: “Space and time are not concepts abstracted from experience because they are not constituent parts of experiential concepts: that is, they are not the manifold, but rather the unities through which the manifold of experiential concepts is gathered together.” [12/14] A bit further Maimon writes: “So what are space and time? Kant asserts that they are the forms of our sensibility, and here I am of completely the same opinion as him.” [13/15] However, Maimon’s addition in the next sentence proposes to understand space/time in a way that is different from Kant.
3. Maimon’s short “deduction” here begins with the assumption that the condition of any thought/thinking is “unity in the manifold”: if A and B are completely identical, there is no manifold to unify, therefore no thought, however, if A and B are completely different, there is no possibility of unity and therefore no comparison, and no thought. [13/15] Space and time then are “these special forms by means of which unity in the manifold of sensible objects is possible, and hence by means of which these objects themselves are possible as objects of our consciousness.” [13/16]
4. The most puzzling statement, in terms of Kant’s philosophy, about the nature of space and time come a bit later (after a short discussion of how positing time cancels space and positing space cancels time): “Space and time are as much concepts as intuitions, and the latter presuppose the former.” [14/18] That “the latter presupposes the former” might not be as controversial for Kant, but suggesting that space/time are not a priori forms of intuition but concepts is certainly going against Kant in a big way. Maimon’s explanation is simple and elegant: if space and time are “special forms” that make the unity in the manifold possible, then, being “the sensible representation of the difference between determined things,” they aid in the unifying the manifold and are concepts. Space and time are both intuitions and concepts – as intuitions they are “mere forms of sensibility,” as concepts they are forms of “all transcendental cognition in general.” [179/347, note 9]
If Kant distinguishes between the forms of sensibility (intuitions) and the forms of understanding (concepts), then Maimon claims that, being both intuitions and concepts, “representations of space and time have just the same degree of reality as the pure concepts of the understanding or categories; and that therefore what can rightly be maintained of one can also be maintained of the other.” [17/22]
5. Even though it seemed, in the beginning of the chapter, that Maimon’s goal is to introduce his understanding of space/time as concepts in addition to Kant’s description of them as intuitions, the chapter ends with Maimon stating that, based on his presentation, space/time can only be called “empirical intuitions (as predicates of intuitions) and not pure intuitions,” which goes against Kant. [18/26] So, in a sense, Chapter 1 attempts to disprove Kant’s point that space/time are a priori forms of intuition and claims that space/time are concepts (of “being-apart” and “preceding/succeeding”).**
Clearly Maimon begins the Essay with a discussion of space and time for the same reasons that Kant does so in the first Critique, and yet Maimon’s conclusions seem to be based on Kantian assumptions about the nature of cognition and produce strikingly different results. Space and time are concepts of relation, not extension. As much as it looks like a defense of Leibniz’s position, Thielke argues that “Maimon’s account does not claim that space and time – nor indeed the objects that fill them – are simply unclear or confused concepts. Space is not an empirical concept, nor is it abstracted from conceptual difference. Rather, space stands as a condition on the possibility of representing difference as a form of the particular images provided by the imagination. In this light, Maimon can, like Kant, be viewed as advancing the transcendental explanation of space. Each maintains that space provides the form under which the representation of an individual object is made possible; the debate between them centers on what type of form this is.” [Thielke, 98]
I’m going to leave this summary at this – I have plenty of questions about this chapter, so I might state some here and see I can get some help from other readers:
1) Judging by Maimon’s argument, such things as “pure intuitions” are not possible, or are they? If space and time are the only pure intuitions, according to Kant, then how does Maimon’s theory of space and time still a subset of transcendental philosophy as formulated by Kant? To put it differently, how transcendental is Maimon’s version of space/time as concepts?
2) I’m not sure I’m entirely clear about the whole business of “space/time as fiction” and so on. Both Midgley and Thielke give it some thought, but I wonder if a more clear presentation of that subject matter is possible.
3) If Maimon’s take on space and time is indeed transcendental enough, then how does essentially adding space/time among categories affect the general Kantian conceptual framework?
4) The discussion of difference as a special form is rather intriguing if not entirely clear in Chapter 1. Especially in Note 9 [178-179/344-347] where Maimon writes: “The form of identity refer to an objectum logicum, i.e. to an undetermined object, because every object in general is identical with itself. By contrast, the form of difference refers only to a real object, because it presupposes determinable objects… So the form of identity is the form of all thought in general (as well as the form of the merely logical); whereas the form of difference is the form of all real thought, and consequently an object of transcendental philosophy.” What is this business of “real objects” and “real thought”?
Of course, to limit the discussion to Chapter 1 here is an arbitrary decision and all of these issues/questions could be easily addressed in the context of the following chapters, but for now it seems fair to start with small problems and move onto large ones. I’m itching to reread Transcendental Aesthetics once again, but it would have to do for the initial post – hopefully we will have plenty of opportunities to go back to Kant in the following weeks, but clearly Maimon’s philosophical contribution goes well beyond his peculiar interpretation of Kantian philosophy, so I’ll try and resist the temptation to always go back to Kant and “compare/contrast” him with Maimon.
* Leibniz-Clark correspondence deals with the issues of absolute vs. relational time/space and, as a debate, is essential to situate both Kant’s and Maimon’s arguments. Also see Peter Thielke’s essay “Intuition and Diversity: Kant and Maimon on Space and Time,” in Freudenthal, ed. Salomon Maimon: Rational Dogmatist, Empirical Skeptic, 89-124 and Nick Midgley’s “Introduction to the Translation,” xxxvi-xxxix.
** Nick Midgley addresses this issue on xxxvii of the Introduction (unless I’m completely missing it).