Maimon between Hume and Leibniz.


Although Maimon is a transcendental philosopher in a Kantian tradition (both judging by his self-profession and by the philosophical input of the Essay), it is clear that he is negotiating certain philosophical terrains that are not unlike those of Kant’s proposed attempt to reconcile rationalism (Leibniz) and empiricism (Hume). In the Preface A of CPR Kant writes:

In the beginning, under the administration of the dogmatists, her rule was despotic.  Yet because her legislation still retained traces of ancient barbarism, this rule gradually degenerated through internal wars into complete anarchy; and the skeptics, a kind of nomads who abhor all permanent cultivation of the soil, shattered civil unity from time to time.  But since there were fortunately only a few of them, they could not prevent the dogmatists from continually attempting to rebuild, thought never according to a plan unanimously accepted among themselves. [Aix]

I’m sure there’s already some German Kantians who wrote tomes about the difference between the Preface A and the Preface B (the one with “Copernican Revolution” reference), but I have to say that every time I reread the prefaces to CPR, the political metaphors seem to be much stronger than generally accepted, but that’s another topic. Clearly in the case of the first Preface, Kant saw his philosophical work as a work of reconciliation between the forever fighting dogmatists-rationalists (Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten) and skeptics-empiricists (Hume, Locke). Maimon enters the same battle, it seems, and claims to be fighting it on Kant’s side since, according to Maimon, the victory that Kant has announced in CPR (“I have succeeded in removing all errors” [Axii]) is only half-won.

4 thoughts on “Maimon between Hume and Leibniz.

  1. Yes, he says he is fighting on Kant’s side. And yet the concessions or innovations he seems to make seem to be more skeptical than rationalist (this is my impression, I haven’t actually done a tally-sheet). And the upshot is that Maimon’s thinking seems to be a major stop on the way to Fichte and the other later Idealists. By pushing the skeptical line of questioning, he forces mind back upon itself, as it were.

  2. I’ve hit “publish” by accident actually, I’ve been meaning to write a bit more about Maimon’s actual relation to Leibniz and Hume. But since it’s up, it’s up – I’ll add some more later tomorrow. I have it all outlined (following Harman’s wise advice about writing outlines and all)…

  3. There is tremendous debate among Hume scholars about how sceptical his philosophy truly is. It’s even acquired the moniker – The New Hume Debate. There is indeed it seems to me a tension in Hume’s writings between the despairing skepticism at the end of the first book of the Treatise and Hume’s later writings, especially his political and economic essays. Peter Millican, Kenneth Winkler, and others argue that Hume’s scepticism has been overblown and that we ought to take Hume’s later rejection of the Treatise seriously and turn to the Enquiry instead where the skepticism is much less pronounced. If one pushes Hume in this direction, though I think Millican pushes a little too hard, then it would seem that Maimon and Hume would be even closer.

    • I think Kant’s metaphor certainly exaggerates the “fight” between dogmatists and skeptics in order to make his effort appear reconciliartory – I like the metaphor itself though, very vivid… I think whether Hume himself was skeptical is not really an issue (at least for me), but whether his arguments support the kind of skepticism Maimon seems to embrace. Authorial intention be damned!

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