Maimon Reading Group: Chapter 6 – Identity, Difference, Opposition, Reality, Logical and Transcendental Negation


[by Corey McCall, Elmira College]

The concepts of identity and difference are more general than the categories.  Identity and difference refer to determinable things rather than determined things, while the categories refer to determined things (i.e. they are conditioned).  Identity and difference are relational concepts, which means that they are reciprocally determining, but they are determinable with respect to the categories.  A and B must be thought as different, for they are more than thing.  A=A refers to more than one thing as well, insofar as we are referring to things at different times. While concepts can be self-identical, an object cannot.  Maimon’s point here recalls Hume’s notion of the emptiness of metaphysical speculation in The Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: “Man is a reasonable being; and as such, receives from science his proper food and nourishment: But so narrow are the bounds of human understanding, that little satisfaction can be hoped for in this particular, either from the extent or security of his acquisitions” (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 3).  It also recalls Maimon’s own point from the end of Ch. 4 that these syntheses only occur within time (54).

Regarding the non-identity of concepts, we have two possibilities here: nonidentity results either from a temporal series or the possibility of errors in judgment.  Recall from Chapter 5 that judgments are always incomplete.  This means that all determinate judgments (judgments in which we subsume particulars under general concepts) are only ever approximations.  To some degree or another, our concepts fail to come to grips with particular intuitions.  Maimon gives us  skepticism without pessimism, but it won’t take long to get from Maimon’s skepticism to Nietzsche’s perspectivism and from there to Adorno’s notion that knowledge always does violence to particulars (which isn’t to say that Nietzsche or Adorno were directly influenced by Maimon, except perhaps insofar as German Idealism was decisive for both).   Paul Franks raises the question of the mood of skepticism, and he argues whether one’s skepticism results in resignation, faith, or in despair is an important feature of one’s skeptical stance.  He characterizes Kant’s attitude toward skepticism as follows: “it is not that philosophy must seek, above all, to refute skepticism.  Rather, philosophy must learn from skepticism which questions to ask, while transmuting the skeptic’s mood of despair.  Thus, transcendental philosophy may be described, not only as an account of synthetic judgments a priori, but also as an account of the conditions of the possibility of skepticism” (Franks, 151).  For Jacobi, the skeptical project leads inexorably to despair, for there can be no ultimate grounding, no unconditioned for the unending string of related conditions.  The only possibility for Jacobi (and for Jacobi’s  predecessor Montaigne and his successor Kierkegaard) is a leap of faith.  By way of contrast, Kant’s skepticism leads to a hopefulness born out the attempt to change the subject to the distinction between the transcendental and the empirical.

However, difference does not preclude identity of some sort; objects that were completely different from one another would be completely opposed to one another, rather than simply relatively differentiated.  Since difference signals a lack and true identity can be said to obtain only within the realm of concepts, this means that absolute distinctions (rather than relative ones) only obtain within the conceptual realm as well.  “So only concepts can be judged identical or different, and intuitions can be judged only by means of their forms, namely in terms of whether they are in the same space or not” (Essay, 64).  Maimon cites Baumgarten here, but Leibniz’s Law (two things are identical iff they share the same properties)is clearly behind this as well:

although time and place (i.e., the relations to what lies outside) do distinguish for us things which we could not easily tell apart by reference to themselves alone, things are nevertheless distinguishable in themselves. Thus, although diversity in things is accompanied by diversity of time or place, time and place do not constitute the core of identity and diversity, because they [sc. different times and places] impress different states upon the thing. To which it can be added that it is by means of things that we must distinguish one time or place from another, rather than vice versa. (A VI vi 230/RB 230) (cited in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on “Leibniz”).

Like Leibniz, Maimon seems to construe spatial distinctions as a reflection of deeper conceptual differences (this would follow from Maimon’s adoption of the Leibnizian doctrine that sensibility and the understanding are not really distinct), and temporality differentiates apparently identical things from one another (substance is that which perdures through change–its accidents change while it remains at least relatively the same).  For Leibniz, there cannot be two identical individuals in the world, for then God would have no reason to choose one individual over another (the SEP article cited above is a useful primer again here).  Maimon parts company with Leibniz here–whereas Leibniz conceives the Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles in terms of its metaphysical significance (i.e. in terms of what it tells us about the nature of God and God’s creation), for Maimon, the lesson remains strictly epistemological.  The non-identity (or, more precisely, the relative identity and difference) of sense data leads him back to the skeptical conclusion that concepts can never fully capture particulars, back to the quid juris problem.

Maimon next turns to reality and negation or opposition.  Opposition is the correlate of reality; we cannot think one without the other (i.e. they are relational concepts).  Unlike Heidegger, who can be read (especially in his earlier work such as Being and Time and “What is Metaphysics”) as attempting to provide das Nichts with a real ontological and existential significance, Maimon follows the metaphysical tradition of conceiving of negation as a privation of the real, such that reality and negation are mutually insinuating (and not my ownmost possibility that serves as the non-ground of my possibilities, etc., etc.).  Das Nichts in Heidegger serves as the condition for possibility, but, to borrow Maimon’s terminology, it is a one-sided relation (or perhaps it should be a one-sided relation, in which all my authentic possibilities refer back to my non-possibility).  Hopefully this is sufficient to illustrate the difference between Heidegger and Maimon without getting lost in the wilds of Heidegger’s thought (though I’d be happy to say more in comments should people wish).

But what then of the relationship between logic and reality?  If real affirmation and negation are mutually insinuating, are affirmation and negation in the logical realm relative concepts in the same way?  (More simply: does our logical and conceptual language map onto reality?  If so, how?)  Both logical form and its matter arise simultaneously (66).  Maimon attempts to explain: “Reality and negation are as much logical (affirmation and negation [Vernenung]) as transcendental (something and nothing).  In the first case they are the two universal forms of judgment, or ways that objects are related to one another; they are in fact forms of the forms themselves [this would seem to relate back to the point that Maimon makes at the outset of the chapter, viz. that identity and difference are more basic than the categories themselves-CM], and this in two ways: either through being ways that forms are related to one another, as when I say that accidents belong to a substance (this is a relation of affirmation between substances and accidents, and these are themselves in turn explained by means of relations, etc.); or by virtue of constituting the universal, itself determined in different ways by the forms” (66).  Relations of cause/effect and substance/accident are equivalent to determinations of affirmation (“For example, if I say: a is the cause of b, then this is as much as to say: I determine the universal form of affirmation by means of cause, etc.”).  Reality is thus “a something subsumed under logical affirmation for the subject; whereas a negative thing is a something subsumed under the relation of negation” (67).

Questions still remain; here are a couple: It’s not clear from the text whether categorical judgments are reducible to logical affirmations or merely equivalent to them.  The passage cited from p. 66 indicates the latter, more modest interpretation, but the idea that identity and difference are more general that the categories would indicate that categorical judgments are reducible to them and are determined by them (provided that affirmation itself is equivalent with identity, of course).  A second, more significant question concerns the relationship between logical affirmation and the status of determinables discussed in previous posts (I wrote about in my post on ch. 5 and Nick provided insights in his discussion of ch. 4), or, more simply, the relationship between identity and difference (as determinables) and affirmation and negation as logical functions.  Maimon states on p. 65 that the concepts of identity and difference are derived from “the universal logical functions of affirmation and negation, and these in turn teach us nothing about the matter or content of judgments but merely express their form, or the way they relate to one another.”  As near as I can tell, this is the relationship: Affirmation and negation as formal logical processes provide the basis for the general concepts of identity and difference which in turn determine the categories.

One final note: concept-creation occurs as a result of affirmation, so affirmation is essentially a process of synthesis that begins with a universal concept and proceeds to the particular (whereas judgment begins with the particular and proceeds to the universal) (Ch. 4, p. 53).    “If I say that a is or can be b (a triangle is or can be right-angled), then a new concept ab (a right-angled triangle) arises from this.  On the other hand, when I say a is not b, no object arises from this” (67).  This us brings us back to the topic of construction that I raised in my previous post.   Beiser argues that the Principle of Determinability comes to the fore in Maimon’s later work.  That may be, but it’s clear that he’s trying to work this idea out Chapters 4-6.  According to Beiser, the Principle of Determinability either provides a criterion for deciding between arbitrary and real thought (‘The circle is black’ vs. ‘the circle is round’) or, on a stronger reading, “the aim of the principle is to provide a criterion of objective knowledge in contrast to subjective perception or the mere association of ideas[…]On this reading, the principle determines not only the semantic compatibility of terms, but also whether or not a judgment is objectively or subjectively true” (Fate of Reason, 313).  Chapters 5 and 6 could then be seen as an early attempt to work out this problematic of the relationship between formal logic (affirmation and negation) and reality understood in terms of the relations between identity and difference (with the proviso that, given Maimon’s skepticism, this relationship will only be unproblematic from the point of view of an infinite intellect) .

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About cmccall

Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Elmira College in Elmira, NY. Research interests include 19th and 20th c. European philosophy, American philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, and the history of modern philosophy more generally. Since I'm a one person department, I'm a jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) when it comes to teaching.

6 thoughts on “Maimon Reading Group: Chapter 6 – Identity, Difference, Opposition, Reality, Logical and Transcendental Negation

  1. Corey, you’re going to be a hard act to follow. This is a great summary of Chapter 6. Really interesting, especially on the differences with Leibniz, which I’ve also been thinking about.

  2. Tons to be interested in and impressed by in this essay. I zoom in on this one aspect, partly because I am interested in the hinge between Leibniz and the critical philosophy:

    For Leibniz, there cannot be two identical individuals in the world, for then God would have no reason to choose one individual over another… for Maimon, the lesson remains strictly epistemological. The non-identity (or, more precisely, the relative identity and difference) of sense data leads him back to the skeptical conclusion that concepts can never fully capture particulars.

    Leibniz’ concern with the grounds of God’s choice is a reiteration of the Euthyphro question, although motivated in Leibniz’ case by cosmological not ethical concerns. Maimon’s re-staging in the epistemological zone thus also pries a little further apart the is and the ought; not surprising since in his skeptico-criticism he is following Hume. For Leibniz, the question is why are things the way they are; for Maimon, the question arises whether one can know how things are. (To put it all too summarily).

  3. I have also picked up on Leibniz connection, but since Leibniz’ corpus is such a strange combination of essays, letters and notes, I wonder where one would even begin in this possible comparison between Maimon and Leibniz. Maimon was certainly informed about Wolff/Leibniz, but I wonder if anyone came acroos a good study on the subject matter?

  4. Thanks for the comments. I’d like to figure out the connection between Leibniz and Maimon. Leibniz and Spinoza are early modern figures who I don’t teach on a regular basis (we have a “distinctive” academic calendar with two 12-week terms and a 6-week one, so I teach an early modern survey every other year, but it’s compressed into twelve weeks. We begin with Montaigne, then proceed through Descartes, Hume, and Kant). At any rate, I think an acquaintance with both Leibniz and Spinoza is necessary to figure out what’s going on with German Idealism in general, and likely for Maimon as well, so I’m going to have to get to work. If nobody else takes up the Leibniz-Maimon connection, I’ll see what I can dig up.

    • I was going to take a crack at Leibniz-Hume-Maimon connection later today, but anyone is welcome to it, it’s a fascinating topic, I think. Although it seems that Maimon’s relying mostly on Wolffian-Leibnizian metaphysics that was the orthodoxy of the time. Henry Allison’s early book on Kant-Eberhard (I think it’s mostly translations of related material) is a good place for the discussion of the relationship between dogmatic rationalism and transcendental philosophy.

  5. Corey, in your first two sentences I think you reduce a threefold distinction to a twofold one. That is to say it is not that identity and difference refer to the determinable and the categories to the determined. Rather, identity and opposition refer to an object in general (objectum logicum – Maimon expresses this more clearly in chapter 9 (s.151) where he says that objects of thought in general cannot differ from one another), difference refers not to an object in general but to determinable objects, and the categories refer to determined objects.

    This is the basic threefold structure of undetermined / determinable / determined that Deleuze makes so much of in chapter 4 of Difference & Repetition.

    Identity is the principle of analytic judgements and of logical truth (chap 9) and difference is not involved, difference comes in with metaphysical truth, with synthetic judgements and the determinable (which in the case of synthetic a priori judgements is space and time) and its determinations.

    However, given that this is the basic structure, how does this fit with Maimon going on to say that identity and difference are reciprocally defining correlates, and that one cannot be thought without the other? When he talks of them in this way it is always with respect to determinable objects, (or determined objects – eg. an object at different times)not to an object of thought in general. So there are the concepts of identity and opposition (A = A, A is not non-A) applied to the purely logical object of thought, and then there are the concepts of identity and difference applied to determinable objects (pure intuitions for Kant, differentials for Maimon – although perhaps one can’t speak of ‘objects’ here – so one has continuity as minimal difference, maximal identity). But in the latter case identity is subordinate to difference rather than the reverse, since it is what makes determination possible.

    This means that although Maimon does say that ‘difference is not a special form in its own right but just signifies lack of identity’, this I think potentially gives a very misleading picture of the role of difference in his philosophy. Identity only gives logic and thought whereas difference gives reality and cognition (see Short Overview, s.179-80: ‘all things must be thought different from one another’). Difference and identity are correlates and Maimon wants to think minima of difference, which is minimal lack of identity, but this is not to give identity priority over difference, and it is above all not to think of difference as lack. Further, infinite determination is not the final overcoming of difference in identity – one can see this in endnote #32 to chapter 3 – the infinite series that expresses an irrational number is an idea of the understanding – and as such knowable for an infinite intelligence – but as such it remains different from the irrational number itself which is a mere idea of reason and is equally unknowable (as object, as number) to an infinite as it is to a finite intelligence. There is an obstinate non-identity recognized by Maimon here that modern mathematics reflects in positing different species of number.

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