Salomon ben Josua Maimon (1754, Sukowiborg/Niasviž, near Mirz, Polish Lithuania – November 22, 1800, Nieder-Siegersdorf, Niederschlesien) was a German philosopher born of Jewish parentage in Belarus. Born Shlomo ben Joshua, he acquired great respect for the twelfth–century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, and adopted the surname “Maimon.” Educated as a rabbi, Maimon studied German philosophy and raised important objections to the transcendental idealism of Kant. Kant remarked that Maimon alone of his all critics had mastered the true meaning of his philosophy. Arguing that cognition requires absolute unity of the subject and object, Maimon criticized Kant’s dualism, pointing out that Kant's "thing in itself" is incomprehensible. Maimon modernized the ideas of Maimonides and proposed the concept of the human mind as an imperfect expression of the infinite divine mind. Maimon believed that through scientific progress, human minds would become more adequate expressions of the divine mind. His monistic perspective opened new possibilities for German idealism and influenced Schelling, Fichte and Hegel.
Although there are some disputes about the year of Maimon’s birth (around 1754), Salomon Maimon (real name Heimann (Cheiman)) was born and grew up in Mir, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (now in Belarus). He was born Shlomo ben Joshua, finished Jewish school in Mir, and learned the Talmud pefectly by the age of nine. He was only 12 when he was married to a girl from Nesvizh, and at the age of 14 he was already a father and was making a living by teaching Talmud. As a mark of his great respect for the twelfth–century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, he adopted the surname “Maimon.” Later, he learned some German from books and walked all the way to Slutsk, where he met a rabbi who had studied in Germany and who loaned him German books on physics, optics and medicine which made him determine to study further.
At the age of 25, he left for Germany and studied medicine in Berlin. In 1770, he severed his connection with his orthodox co-religionists over his critical commentary on the Moreh Nebukhim (Guide of the Perplexed) of Maimonides, and devoted himself to the study of philosophy as it was presented by Wolff and Moses Mendelssohn. After many vicissitudes he found a peaceful residence in the house of Count Kalkreuth at Nieder-Siegersdorf in 1790. During the ensuing 10 years he published the works which have made his reputation as a critical philosopher. Until 1790, his life was a struggle against difficulties of all kinds. From his autobiography, it is clear that his keen critical faculty was developed in great measure by the slender means of culture at his disposal. It was not until 1788 that he made the acquaintance of the Kantian philosophy, which was to form the basis of his lifework, and as early as 1790 he published the Versuch uber die Transcendentalphilosophie, in which he formulated his objections to the system.
Thought and Works
Critique of Kant’s “Thing-in-Itself“
Immanuel Kant remarked that Maimon alone of his all critics had mastered the true meaning of his philosophy. In 1791, Maimon wrote in a letter to Kant that while he found the skeptical part of the Critique of Pure Reason wholly convincing, he harbored doubts about the more dogmatic aspects of Kant's system. Maimon’s criticisms involved what he regarded as an internal problem in Kant’s transcendental idealism. Kant accounted for the content of cognition by proposing that the actual object of cognition (the "thing-in-itself") was outside the realm of possible human experience, but caused the sensations through which its content was perceived. Maimon criticized Kant’s dualism, pointing out that there could not be a separate, external material object and an internal, mental form; or a distinction between the mental faculty of understanding and the faculty of sensibility. Maimon argued that cognition required absolute unity of the subject and object. Kant’s cognitive dualism, which began with distinct faculties of sensibility and understanding, failed to explain how the various elements of cognition could come together to realize an experience. Maimon held that the object of cognition (the “thing-in-itself”) was simply an object of inquiry or the limiting concept, not an independent reality. Maimon agreed with Kant that since human beings are finite beings, restricted by time and space, there were aspects of reality which the human mind could not grasp intuitively, but this did not imply that, in principle, these things could never be an object of cognition. Maimon regarded Kant’s transcendental arguments as “castles in the air” which might be valid, but did not provide the “fact of experience” to prove that they were sound.
Maimon modernized the ideas of Maimonides (1186 – 1237) with his doctrine of the infinite mind. Our finite, human minds are imperfect expressions of the infinite, divine mind that is the source of both the form and the matter of knowledge. An object (the thing-in-itself) would be cognized in its completeness by the infinite mind, in which matter and understanding are not comprehended separately. The human, finite mind would experience the object to the fullest extent possible using sensory data, understanding and the knowledge accumulated about that object through scientific research. Maimon believed that through scientific progress, human minds would become more adequate expressions of the divine mind, able to comprehend reality ever more completely. Perfect science, or complete comprehension equal to that of the infinite mind, was an ideal for which mankind must strive but could never reach. This ideal encompassed the role of empiricism in constantly broadening the human experience. Ultimately, Maimon proposed that Kant could not refute Hume’s skepticism until the ideal of perfect science was reached and all was completely understood. This monistic concept of the human mind as an imperfect expression of the infinite divine mind opened new possibilities for German idealism and influenced Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel.
- Atlas, Samuel. From Critical to Speculative Idealism: The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon. Martinus Nijhoff, 1964.
- Bansen, Jan. The Antinomy of Thought. Springer, 2003. ISBN 9780792313830
- Bergmann, Samuel Hugo. The Autobiography of Salomon Maimon with an Essay on Maimon's Philosophy. London: The East and West Library, 1954.
- Bergmann, Samuel Hugo. The Philosophy of Salomon Maimon. translated by Noah J. Jacobs. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1967.
- Maimon, Solomon. Gesammelte Werke. Volumes 1-7. edited by V. Verra. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970.
All links retrieved November 16, 2019.
General Philosophy Sources
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Guide to Philosophy on the Internet
- Paideia Project Online
- Project Gutenberg
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