Saturday, 21 August 2010

Maimon Conference Report

Salomon MaimonImage via Wikipedia
The event of the week was certainly attending the one-day conference on Salomon Maimon that was staged at my own university, Manchester Metropolitan, this week. The event was organised in celebration of the translation of Maimon's Essay and it certainly revealed further reasons for taking Maimon seriously as a major philosopher. 

The opening speech was given by Bruce Rosenstock who spoke about the topic of creatio ex nihilo as a key element of belief, as articulated by Moses Maimonides (from whom Maimon takes his name). However, Maimon takes the advent of Newtonian science to have ruled out the possibility of belief in such a thing. Interestingly, Maimon compares Maimonides' belief in creatio ex nihilo to the position of Kant since Kant left open the possibility of creation as an hypothesis.

Rosenstock mentioned further that Wittgenstein's Tractatus also adopted the view that Newtonian science is a unitary whole but does so by maintaining an external vantage on the world that allows us to see its existence as "mystical". Maimon, by contrast, wished to annul this notion of the "mystical" and the miraculous sense of things that is at work in the conception of creatio ex nihilo.

Rosenstock also spoke about Jacobi, mentioning how, for Jacobi, the consciousness of the object and of the self are given together in a flash. Neither, for Jacobi, are inferences. Consciousness, for Jacobi, is the revelation of the existence of these two inter-related forces which are grounded, for him, on the immediacy of revelation. However, Jacobi does not allow variation of forces between bodies and thus he has to make a hash of Newtonian physics. Force varies with regard to consciousness for Jacobi but he can make no real sense of relations between bodies.

The chapter of Maimon's Essay that concerns alteration argues that continuity is an a priori element that is added to the relations we perceive. Action and reaction are indivisible for Maimon but he does not take this to be given in foundational perception (as Jacobi did) but takes it instead to be the end-result of analysis. Jacobi cannot allow for lawful regularity but Maimon, by contrast, is very concerned to address this. Measurability, for Maimon, is a feature of perception itself

Real objects cannot be constructed and the result of this is that finite understanding has to relate to these as being "noumenon" (a very odd result for Kant!). The infinite understanding cannot construct real objects either but it does not need to since it grasps the continuity between them as a unity. Construction is neither miraculous nor is it an act of the will. God is, for Maimon, the limit-concept of human understanding's attempt to measure the world. Change cannot be seen by us otherwise than as continuous, we could not believe in any other type of change and nor could God construct any other form of change. There can be nothing but facts in the world for Maimon: there is no further side to the world.

Paul Franks gave the second paper and took his title from the dedication to Kant that Maimon put at the front of the essay where he compared himself to a swallow and Kant to a swan. Franks began his response to the Essay from its introduction and pointed out that Maimon does not there include physics in the province of his notion of "science" due to the fact that his basic conception of science does not come from physical investigation but rahter from mathematics. Citing the two slightly different characterisations of the transcendental Kant gives in the Critique of Pure Reason from A12 and B25 Franks pointed out that Kant does not here deal with "objects in general". Maimon, by contrast, seeks to indicate the need to return to the forms of objects in general in his wider conception of ontology.

Franks went on to speak about the split within analytic readings of Kant between Aristotelian and Platonic conceptions of the Critical task. "Aristotelians" such as Strawson and McDowell emphasise the comprehension of the immediate givenness of objects whereas Platonists such as Michael Friedman, by contrast, are concerned with the mathematisation of nature. Franks firmly put Maimon on the Platonic side of this division.

Franks suggested that Maimon based his view of Kantian method on the Prolegomena rather than the Critique and even argued that Maimon's conception of the transcendental deduction is arrived at by means of this view. Franks stressed a conception that he took to be at the heart of Kant's own enquiry and that he termed epistemic content preservation. This view takes us to have the sciences and then seeks to comprehend experience in such a way that the possibility of us having the sciences can be preserved. This view leads Franks, like Strawson, to see Kant's Critical philosophy as a form of descriptive metaphysicsBy way of reply, Maimon takes Hume's method of asking for the source of human convictions and suggesting that even if they are fictions that as such they may well work perfectly well.

Reverting to the contemporary split in readings of Kant, Franks pointed out that the Strawsonian view of intuition seemed to depend essentially on the connection between difference and likeness (concepts of reflection). This argument does not capture a lot of the specificity of space, such as its' 3-dimensionality although Kant had hoped to do this.

Franks understands Maimon's criticism of Kantian intuition as mistaken due to the fact that Maimon views Kantian intuitions as particulars. By contrast, intuitions are not particulars for Kant, they are rather singular actualities. Particulars are given instead by a combination of concepts and intuitions describing objects. Kantian intuition is a "state" says Franks and not an "episode". Space and time in the purest sense are pure self-affections.

For Kant finitude is revealed through thinking and its difference from intuition. The principle of unidirectionality of time for example is central to the understanding of the mathematisation of nature and to the operation of the finite intellect. It makes no sense, for Kant, to measure time against the infinite intellect. Our finitude is essential to our ability to cognise anything.

Maimon rejects the notion of regressive transcendental arguments, a notion that has recently become a very popular way of reading Kant (by Strawson, for example). Some account of concept formation has to be provided for Kant to respond to Maimon's challenges concerning the formation of a relationship to real objects. Kant, on Franks' view, discusses one in the Critique of Judgment. However, what the effect of reading it should be is to alter the structure of Kant's argument in the transcendental deduction so that the concepts of reflection are used as the centre of its argument. Intriguingly, this suggestion of Franks mirrors one I argued for in Chapter 4 of Kant's Transcendental Imagination

However, what Franks seems to mean by this, is that aesthetic judgments show how concept formation is possible as they are never finished being constructed. Further, the sense contents that are insufficiently theorised in the Critique of Pure Reason are returned to in a richer way in the Critique of Judgment. Kant's position in the fullest sense amounts to a combination of empirical realism with regard to physics + empirical realism with regard to sense-perception on Franks view, a combination that contemporary Kantians have found it difficult to maintain. Maimon, by contrast, on Franks view, has a conception of empirical intuition that moves in the direction of axiomatic mathematics. 

In discussion of Franks' paper, Nick Midgley argued that we don't start from everyday experience for Maimon, we begin from the ideas of the understanding, that is, from the differentials. What is mathematised may not be "nature" in the sense we experience everyday. This leaves open a potential gap between the two senses of "nature" that opens up room for scepticism.

Also in reply to Franks' paper, Gideon Freudenthal argued that Maimon takes physics to be contingently true rather than necessarily true and that he rejects necessitarian conceptions of law.

Daniela Voss gave the next paper which focused on the relationship of Deleuze to Maimon. Deleuze praised Maimon for rejecting "conditioning" as the point of view for transcendental philosophy. Deleuze claims that Kant's conditions are not able to ground the reality of our experience as conditions get their ground from experience so focusing on them mires the transcendental within the given.

Differentials are neither fictions nor realities on Deleuze's conception but elements of the unconscious. Every conscious perception is constituted through an original differentiated production within the understanding. Conscious perception must be resolved into its elements and these elements are the differentials of the rational manifold.

The differentials of objects are noumena but are immanent to the understanding. Voss suggested that the differentials are real and constitutive elements within an infinite understanding. Differentials are presentations: they do not represent anything and they cannot be represented. Deleuze resolves the infinite understanding into the presence of the unconscious in finite understanding. The unconscious thus becomes the condition of consciousness. This enables an internal genesis of consciousness to be disclosed.

Maimon did not view the differentials in terms of Leibniz's petites perceptiones as the latter struck him as merely a legacy of anthropology. However, Maimon does occasionally refer to differentials of sensation. Deleuze, by contrast to Maimon, reinscribes the differentials into the Leibnizian notion. Minute perceptions are distinct but obscure for Deleuze. By contrast, conscious perceptions are clear but confused.

The differential unconscious is in continuity with consciousness and Deleuze takes advantage of later developments of the calculus than were available to Maimon. Differentials are virtual elements of a differential unconscious, an unconscious that is present in finite thought.

Beth Lord's contribution focused on the relationship between Kant and Maimon. In April 1789 Maimon sent the manuscript of the Essay to Kant and Kant later arranged for a copy of the Critique of Judgment to be sent to Maimon. However, Kant subsequently failed to reply to Maimon's letters and never again referred to him seriously. Lord suggested, however, that the composition of the Critique of Teleological Judgment was seriously influenced by Kant's reading of Maimon's Essay.

The question that both the Essay and the Critique of Judgment concern themselves with is how to account for nature's infinite differences. The answer, in both texts, involves reference to the intuitive intellect. From this it follows that sections 76-77 of the Critique of Judgment, the sections most important for the German Idealists, were written, on Lord's view as a critique of Maimon. The teleological principle is something Kant takes to be required if we are not to be overwhelmed by diversity.

How do objects in general relate to objects in their genesis? Real objects in terms of their specific genesis and diversity are not, on Maimon's view, accounted for by Kant. Kant points out, in the introduction to the Critique of Judgment, that there might be such specific laws at work that we cannot determine them.

The genesis of objects occurs through thought for Maimon as our own understanding is a confused mode of the infinite intellect. In the case of the real object, ideas of understanding flow from differentials. Real objects are determined internally and genetically by specific differences. Real objects of thought are represented by imagination in sensibility.

Kant's intuitive intellect involves a distinction between the supersensible substratum and the intellect that causes it to be so that the understanding is thus external to the substratum. Kant takes Spinozism to consist in a conflation of the understanding with substance which is why he views Maimon as a Spinozist.

How to account for differences? Maimon does so through a rationalistic account of the intellect whilst Kant denies this due to it requiring a conflation of substance and understanding. However, Lord concluded the paper by suggesting that the distinction between Kant and Maimon would become less stark as Kant wrote the Opus Postumum where we encounter conceptions like Maimon's ideas of the understanding and a genetic discussion of the conditions of experience is supplied.

Gideon Freudenthal closed the conference with a paper that reflected on Maimon's conception of philosophy. When Maimon translated the Essay into Hebrew he termed it a work on universal philosophy which Freudenthal understood to mean that Maimon viewed the term "transcendental" in a medieval sense.

On Maimon's conception, knowledge worthy of the name is of the pure intellect. Maimon viewed geometry as a science of continuous magnitude and arithmetic as a science of discrete magnitude. Our cognition stands in the same relation to mathematics as the infinite intellect does to objects generally. We could forsake intuition if we were able to act like God.

Real objects are not, for Maimon, existent prior to relations since the relations are the objects themselves. Number is a ratio of each number to one so number is not a magnitude. It is only in relation to a specific intuition that number can determine magnitude. The common property of the numbers is their ratio to 1.

We cannot, however, construct the objects between which the ratios pertain and for this reason we require intuition. Mathematical truths are necessary but opaque to reason.However, Maimon upholds a criteria of rationality and measures mathematics against it. If his accounts fail to produce the reduction of mathematics to an entirely axiomatic system this need not affect his criteria and contemporary mathematics works with this criteria rather than with Kant's allegiance to the "fact" of how mathematics works.

P.S. Since writing this posting Gideon Freudenthal has been in touch with a much fuller account of his paper's argument which I have reproduced here.


Paul Franks said...

Hi Gary, It was great to meet you at the Maimon workshop. I just came across your detailed report! A couple of comments on your account of what I said:
1)I would not say that I, like Strawson, "see Kant's Critical philosophy as a form of descriptive metaphysics." Kant has an explanatory and justificatory ambition with respect to the possibility of synthetic a priori cognition, an ambition that Strawson lacks.
2) While I would say that "intuitions are not particulars for Kant", I would not say that "they are rather singular actualities." Nor that they are "states". What I said may not have been clear. But my view is that intuitions are episodes -- on the "ing" side of the Sellarsian distinction -- in which the cognitive faculty interacts with singular actuality, i.e., actuality prior to any conceptualization and therefore prior to any possibility of object-individuation. Such episodes can, however, necessarily be characterized temporally with respect to their occurrence and duration, and (if they are intuitions of outer sense) spatio-temporally with respect to the actuality affecting me.
I will certainly want to look at what you say in Ch. 4 of your book on the imagination! Many thanks for this detailed account and your contributions to discussion. I look forward to more conversation in the future.

Gary Banham said...

Thanks for your comments Paul and let me add that it was great to meet you at the workshop also! Thanks very much for your comments on my report and for your corrections of what I took to be your view. In relation to your comments:

1) I agree with the claim that Kant as an explanatory and justificatory ambition which Strawson lacks and it's good to have confirmed that you think this also.

2) This second point was much trickier and thanks again for clarification here. The Sellarsian "ing/ed" distinction is one I remember you referring to in the paper though I didn't take a note of it at the time so that's why it was missing here. If the intuition interacts with a singular actuality that is present prior to conceptualisation (something that certainly makes sense of B145) then I am unsure how the episode in question is still temporal.

I should add I have just got hold of your book *All or Nothing* and read the introduction which I found immediately fascinating and am looking forward to working through it further. I certainly would welcome a lot more conversation.