Maimon Reading Group: Chapter 1 (Comments)


First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who was reading and commenting this week (first week of our reading, so hopefully there’s much more to come). I have to say that I have had a chance to revisit some of the most fascinatingly difficult themes that have always puzzled me, so this has been a great opportunity to try and think about them again.

Let me begin with Nick Midgley‘s imaginary encounter between Kant and Leibniz. Here’s Leibniz (looking as eager to communicate with other scholars as he ever):

‘You say that space and time are the forms of our sensibility, they belong to our faculty of cognition whereas sensations are given to us from without. Now what I don’t understand is how you think sensations are brought under these forms. For if what we are given is non-spatio-temporal, then it is either one or manifold. If it is one than I do not see that any principle for making it spatio-temporal is possible, and if it is manifold, that is to say differentiated, then you need a principle for mapping the differences onto space and time. For example, if what is given is red and green how is it decided that the red is to the left of the green and not vice-versa? or that the red came before the green and not after it? I have been mocked for arguing that this is the best of all possible worlds, but what I meant by this is to propose that the world is organized to achieve a maximum of continuity. Now it seems to me that only a principle such as this could take you from a manifold of different sensations to a particular ordering of them in space and time. This is why Herr Maimon is right to suggest (chapter 8, s.77) that the principle of continuity is an a priori principle that your transcendental philosophy requires. Finally, in your Amphiboly of the Concepts of Reflection you attack me for claiming that the principle of the identity of indiscernibles applies to the sensible world. You would say there is no reason why two identical peas should not lie side by side in a pod. But I reply that your own theory counts against this, for if two non-spatio-temporal sensations are identical then we are agreed that they are not two but one, but to be placed side by side they must first be distinguished from one other, contrary to the hypothesis.’

Certainly we can imagine Kant returning to his discussion of space/time, beginning with the refutation of the sort of position Leibniz advocated, but the matter is much larger that that. One question that is important to keep in mind is “Why does Kant open his Critique with the discussion of space and time?” Maimon clearly follows Kant here and dedicates his Chapter 1 to the same issues. What is so important about the issue of space and time? Let me try my Kant mask on for a second:

Leibniz: “You say that space and time are the forms of our sensibility, they belong to our faculty of cognition whereas sensations are given to us from without. Now what I don’t understand is how you think sensations are brought under these forms. For if what we are given is non-spatio-temporal, then it is either one or manifold.”

Kant: “Well, to be precisely, if the given is non-spatiotemporal, then it cannot be either one nor manifold the former being coherent ideas only if we already presuppose that space and time are part of our cognitive apparatus. What is this given that you speak of and is it not in fact already spatiotemporal? Take your example of green and red. Are you saying that “red” and “green” are colors given to us – but in what way? How am I intuiting this “red” or “green”? Am I imagining two large green and red cucumbers? Am I seeing patches of red and green? How large? You see, even your example of some obscure red and green being given already (confusedly) implies the notion of space (and time if we ask a question whether red and green are intuited simultaneously or successively). For me, “a manifold of different sensations” is already a very loaded phrase, because, as I famously opined (I’m really proud of that one, you know?) “Thought without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” [A51/B76]…

Leibniz: “Hold on there, buddy, what are those As and Bs and numbers?”

Kant: “Man, don’t even get me started on that one. I’m not sure what moron decided to do that – that’s not why I rewrote the damn thing! Can we get back to our conversation?

Leibniz: “Sure, but not too long, over at Hume’s place they are having a poker game tonight, I promised to make an appearance.”

Kant: “Fine. So as I was saying, the way I articulate (and justify) cognition requires that we have both intuitions and concepts, otherwise there is nothing given as such before it is determined by the concept. So you original question – how can sensations from without be brought under the concepts? – is essential to my project, but unless you’re willing to accept my argument vis-a-vis the connection between intuitions and concepts, we can’t really understand each other. For example, I am having a really hard time understanding what you mean by non-spatiotemporal sensations since I conceived of sensation and sensibility as already having forms of intuition of space and time. So when I write in my Amphiboly that you mistake appearances for thing-in-themselves (sorry about that tone, by the way, you were dead and your Wolffian disciples were a rather annoying bunch, especially after my book came out in 1781 and they were all over my ass claiming you’ve already argued all the interesting parts and all the lame ones were wrong), I simply meant to suggest that it is important to not only distinguish between the two, but also remember that things like “multiplicity” and “numerical difference are already given by space itself as the condition of outer appearance.” [A264/B320]

Leibniz [visibly losing interest, looking around]: “I see what you mean. Hey, Rene Descartes? My man, how is it hanging, brother? Sorry, gotta run”

There is certainly plenty in the potential conversation between Leibniz and Kant, and I hope that reading the Essay further will give us plenty of opportunities to get back to it.

Now a few lines to Mike Toule: I generally like the overall direction of your comment. I wonder, however, if we need to recall Kant’s discussion of “outer and inner sense” that opens the Transcendental Aesthetics:

“By mean of outer sense (a property of our mind) we represent to ourselves objects as outside us, and all in space. In space their form, magnitude, and relation to one another is determined, or determinable. Inner sense, by means of which the mind intuits itself, or its inner state, gives, to be sure no intuition of the soul itself, as object; yet it is still a determinate form, under which the intuition of its inner state is alone possible, so that everything that belongs to the inner determinations is represented in relations of time.” [A23/B37]

This is a rather odd opening, I think, because it basically suggests that inner sense and outer sense are aligned with time and space, not, as one would imagine, with space only – inner space of thought and outer space of objects affecting us. So in one sense I agree with you, that is, Kant does get rid of the classical dualism of subject/inside/mind and object/outside/things. But I’m not sure he reconstitutes this dualism vis-a-vis sensibility and understanding, although Maimon seems to be arguing so. Or at the very least, we might suggest that this dualism of sensibility and understanding is a different sort of dualism not necessarily modeled on the distinction between “inside” and “outside” – not sure if this makes much sense, let me know.

This, I think, lead me nicely to Shahar Ozeri‘s comment on representations of inside and outside (ourselves and objects):

“The linchpin to all of this is the claim that we are conscious of ourselves as determined in time. That is, it’s us that represent, well, ourselves as having mental states that occur in a particular order, e.g. one after another. Kant, of course, insists that such order can’t be determined by reference to me alone, we need some sort of reference to something persistent. For Kant, only things in space can manage this. So, perception is a necessary condition for me to “represent/determine/be conscious of” myself…”

Is that not a kind of a precursor of Reinhold’s Satz des Bewusstseins (Principle of Consciousness)? Beiser has a nice section on Maimon’s debate with Reinhold (and Atlas as well, I think) – basic premise being that Maimon didn’t think that this principle of consciousness was basic enough. But if we skip that point for now, I do think that Kantian answer to the question – “Is there any type of sensibility that is severed from space and time, but nonetheless, possible?” – would have to be no. But what about Maimon? I think I definitely agree with both Shahar’s and Nick’s points here and say that, taking Hume’s skepticism as Maimon’s background, his musing in Notes – “Perhaps one day there will be an object that I perceive but not in space (or in time)” (endnote 5, p.177) – is rather representative of his skeptical position and his doubt vis-a-vis Kant’s ability to prove that the connection between sensibility and understanding is demonstrated to be structured in a way that establishes necessity and universality.

7 thoughts on “Maimon Reading Group: Chapter 1 (Comments)

  1. I can’t remember if it’s Buzaglo or Beiser who says that Maimon actually invented this kind of skepticism where you agree with Kant that such knowledge is relative to people but then doubt whether it is universal. Nietzsche and Cassirer turned Maimonic necessity (or rather the lack thereof) into a virtue here.

    • As I wrote in my “Why Maimon” opening post, I think it’s the most intriguing thing about him (among many other brilliant ideas) – I think this new sort of “topical skepticism” is what I personally strive for as a thinker (if I can call myself that)…

      • Having thought about it some more, it seems to me that Maimon is not so concerned at all with the issues raised in the fourth paralogism, e.g. transcendental realism and idealism, but is instead worried–more broadly– about the grounds for justification and whether or not justification is completely independent of experience, defeated by experience or depends upon experience. Maimon, of course, being the good rationalist, is working all of this out on the transcedental level: empirical thought must stand in rational relations to its objects in order to have content (not sure if I want to attribute this rather wimpy version of Kant to Maimon, however) As Mikhail pointed out in his initial post, one might ask if Kant’s apriori intutions are apriori enough, which as I take it, means that we can certianly provide lots of neat naturalistic accounts of our experience, but Maimon’s response to this (if I follow him correctly) is at bottom, Hume’s critique of inductive reasoning, e.g. habituation, which at best, are probable and in turn, can’t meet the demands of reason. Maimon’s got a weird synthesis of Hume and Leibniz of the Monadology going on. I think this “Maimonic necessity” should probably be connected to Leibniz, esp. the Principle of Sufficient Reason/Principle of Contradiction that drive the bulk of the Monadology, as far as I can tell. Mikhail tells me this Hume connection is all over the secondary literature, so I’ll have to have a look (I’ve just read Socher and I’m not so sure what I think, and read a couple of articles in the conference proceedings). Anyway, I dug up a citation of a relevant article by Peter Theilke that I’ll have to ILL (if anyone has a pdf please forward it my way), “Apostate Rationalism and Maimon’s Hume,” Journal of Philosophy, 2008.

        Now, to think out loud for just a bit more, it also occurs to me that there may be some interesting connections between Maimon and Frege, as well as Maimon and Mcdowell here as well, given their work on concepts, intuition, and Frege’s work on arithmetic and sense/reference, but its just a hunch, and honestly, my knowledge of both thinkers is cursory at best.

        Given what I know about McDowell (confession: I never finished Mind and World), receptivity–through which we passively receive intuitions–already draws upon the operations of the mind at the conceptual level. So, conceptual application is already at work in the reception of intuition. The idea that the mind is separated from the world vis a vis conceptual application is for McDowell, wrong. That is, perception is (already) to see the world conceptually. This means that perception is able to yield justification for beliefs about the world. However, I’m not so sure if this gels with Maimon’s more robust skepticism. But McDowell’s position, if I’m getting it right, maintains experience is at once the source and the absolute grounds for our beliefs about the world. But nonetheless, justification is a relation within a logical space of “reasons,” and this relation is conceptual. I can’t really say all that much more about McDowell, but there seems to be some fruitful possibilities here. In the end, I suppose the connection, obviously, is Kant. So, perhaps it’s better to start there…

        Maybe others will have more to say on this connection (if there is one), I don’t know.

      • Having thought about it myself, I wonder why Kant insists on the distinction between intuitions and concepts so much. I mean it is certainly helpful in terms of formal analysis, i.e., when the Transcendental Aesthetics opens with a set of definitions/distinctions, it’s useful to a point. But it’s one thing to say “Look, let’s think about our cognitions from these two perspectives, because it is easier to explain what I want to explain” – it isn’t dogmatic, it’s sort of preparatory work – but it’s entirely different to insist then that sensibility and understanding are qualitatively different cognitive functions to a point of dualism. I’d like to reread some of those sections, especially since Maimon’s Chapter 2 will get us further down the road of his explanation of intuition/sensibility.

  2. I think the excellent quote from Shahar’s post suggests both a principle of consciousness and a reality-principle (the requisite time-space grounding of perception).

    Look what happens to causation, and to time and space considerations during many a dream, when sleep ‘turns off’ the reality-ground of sensibility, leaving the imagination and memory alone in charge of ‘experience.’ Often in a dream the most ridiculous consequents will follow from antecedents without our slightest power to criticise or doubt – only utter gullibility as we move along to the next oddity. I am sure that a significant part of my personality is also ‘turned off’ (resting) during the dream.

    I want to put a marker on Maimon’s de-emphasis of the personal coefficient in apperception, because I think this downplay explains his scepticism toward Kant’s version of the synthesis of a sense manifold under concepts. Does Maimon hold a Humean ‘bundle-theory’ of personal identity?

    If there is this de-emphasis of the unifying role of apperception in Maimon, I can make sense of both Fichte’s excitement over his own book of 1794 and his view of the importance of Maimon’s work – a work which by missing the obvious (the obvious for Fichte) pointed to its greater necessity, which Fichte certainly attempts to provide (I am not able to say he succeeds).

  3. This dream example is a suggestive one, since the dream is such a time-honored feature of the argument for some version of idealism. But I’m not sure about John’s argument that part of our personality if ‘turned off’ in a dream. One might argue that it’s all one’s personality, in different modes.

    This thought about dreams reminds me of a lot of the philosophical rumination over the concept of ‘the virtual’, in particular David Deutsch’s in The Fabric of Reality.

    • My dream comment was originally meant for Mikhail’s post on the Transcendental Deduction, but it spilled out into this thread because, from my experience, I think it supports Kant’s argument for the necessary role of self-consciousness as mediator between intuitions and concepts (in something like the unity of apperception) – against Maimon’s apparent suggestion that Kant portrays the two in an incommensurable duality.

      But skholiast, the dream example is useless here if nobody will allow that self-consciousness is significantly disabled while dreaming. Because if the self is wholly in the dream, then Maimon is able to say that the chaos of effects and the strangeness of causes, the loss of time and the compromise of space, as well as the lack of critical apparatus for doubting all such absurdities by the dreamer, only shows that the concepts of understanding are not independent of intuitions of the manifold – and cease along with the intuitions when sensibility is shut down by sleep.

      I won’t burden this thread with my arguments for a significant impairment of self-consciousness in the dream state – although I think our gullibility as dreamers is part of that argument. I can save that kind of self-indulgence for my own blog 🙂

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