1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maimon, Salomon

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MAIMON, SALOMON (1754–1800), German philosopher, was born of Jewish parentage in Polish Lithuania, and died at Nieder-Siegersdorf on the 22nd of November 1800. He married at the age of twelve, and studied medicine in Berlin. In 1770 he severed his connexion with his orthodox co-religionists by his critical commentary on the Moreh Nebuḥim of Maimonides, and devoted himself to the study of philosophy on the lines of 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 ten years he published the works which have made his reputation as a critical philosopher. Hitherto his life had been a long 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 till 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 über die Transcendentalphilosophie, in which he formulates his objections to the system. He seizes upon the fundamental incompatibility of a consciousness which can apprehend, and yet is separated from, the “thing-in-itself.” That which is object of thought cannot be outside consciousness; just as in mathematics is an unreal quantity, so “things-in-themselves” are ex hypothesi outside consciousness, i.e. are unthinkable. The Kantian paradox he explains as the result of an attempt to explain the origin of the “given” in consciousness. The form of things is admittedly subjective; the mind endeavours to explain the material of the given in the same terms, an attempt which is not only impossible but involves a denial of the elementary laws of thought. Knowledge of the given is, therefore, essentially incomplete. Complete or perfect knowledge is confined to the domain of pure thought, to logic and mathematics. Thus the problem of the “thing-in-itself” is dismissed from the inquiry, and philosophy is limited to the sphere of pure thought. The Kantian categories are, indeed, demonstrable and true, but their application to the given is meaningless and unthinkable. By this critical scepticism Maimon takes up a position intermediate between Kant and Hume. Hume’s attitude to the empirical is entirely supported by Maimon. The casual concept, as given by experience, expresses not a necessary objective order of things, but an ordered scheme of perception; it is subjective and cannot be postulated as a concrete law apart from consciousness. The main argument of the Transcendentalphilosophie not only drew from Kant, who saw it in MS., the remark that Maimon alone of his all critics had mastered the true meaning of his philosophy, but also directed the path of most subsequent criticism.

Maimon’s chief works, in addition to the above quoted, are Philos. Wörterbuch (1791); Streifereien im Gebiete der Philos. (1793); Über die Progresse der Philos. (1793); Die Kategorien des Aristoteles mit Anmerkungen erläutert (1794); Versuch einer neuen Logik (1794 and 1798); Kritische Untersuchungen über den menschl. Geist (1797). See S. Maimons Lebensgeschichte von ihm selbst beschrieben (1792, ed. K. P. Moritz; Eng. trans. by J. C. Murray, 1888); Wolff, Maimoniana (1813); Witte, S. Maimon (1876).