Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Salomon Maimon's Commentary on the Subject of the Given in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Salomon Maimon's Commentary on the Subject of the Given in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason

Article excerpt

IN THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (hereafter CPR (1)) Kant makes multiple allusions to the "thing in itself." (2) He also mentions that, while understanding spontaneously produces concepts, sensibility receives its objects passively. (3) An initial reading would lead us to infer the existence of a material principle that would have a causal effect on sensibility, generating its material in such a way that the object of materially considered knowledge could be understood as the effect of a transcendent cause, that it would be located beyond the phenomenal sphere. Kant himself refers to a "cause" (4) or "ground," (5) the effect of which are perceptions.

This approach is problematic, since concepts can only reach out to the phenomenal sphere. To aim to apply them beyond that scope would imply a return to a precritical position, from which Kant openly removes himself in CPR. (6)

In view of this problem, we could consider that Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi's classical statement: "without this presupposition [of the thing in itself] I cannot enter into the system, but with this presupposition I cannot remain within it" is totally justified. (7) In other words, the pretension that would appear to be the basis of Kantian philosophy is a critical pretension, according to which the only cognoscible thing is that of which we have an immanent knowledge. (8) For Kant, this immanent knowledge is always experiential, that is not purely intellectual, in finite beings. (9) To state that something in itself is causally determining but uncognoscible, would require a level of acceptance that goes beyond the margins of Kantian criticism.

How, then, can the idea of the given to sensibility be understood so that it does not contradict the critical pretensions of Kantian Philosophy? In other words, how can we understand this as not caused by a transcendent thing in itself?

Salomon Maimon tried to answer this question. Not only did he show the difficulties of the Kantian proposal, but he sketched a way of getting round them. In this paper, I will present the Maimonian position and evaluate it in terms of this problem, trying to establish its contribution to the development of critical philosophy. Prior to this, however, in order to place this proposal in a proper focus, I will briefly refer to the issue of the thing in itself as broached by the first interpreters of the CPR: Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, and Karl Leonhard Reinhold.


The issue of the given in the first commentators. The Maimonian interpretation of the CPR differs somewhat from the interpretations of subsequent commentators of the work, in the sense that on the one hand, he takes the stance that to maintain criticism it is necessary to defuse the metaphysical-causal charge of his affirmation, while on the other, he does his very best to remain close to Kantianism, which he understands to be imbued in the critical spirit, and not simply get rid of the CPR. Jacobi, Reinhold, and Schulze respectively stray from at least one of these two attitudes. Jacobi formulates the issue of the thing in itself in such a way that his solution does not appear possible within the framework of the CPR or of a critical model. He states that entering into the Kantian system involves acknowledging Kant's distinction between a thing in itself that is uncognoscible and phenomena that are cognoscible. Nonetheless, this distinction, which at first enables us to overcome a naive realism that believes that we really know the thing in itself without involving our way of knowing, turns against the Kantian system, as this system considers that it is incorrect to affirm the existence of a transcendent thing in itself (in other words a thing in itself that could be reached cognoscitively), because knowledge is merely phenomenal. (10)

Now then, a sensible receptive knowledge would in itself demand--owing to a rational requirement--a reference to a thing in itself that operates as a source of my passive or receptive representations. …

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