Monday, 8 November 2010

Maimon and Kant on Quality

Salomon MaimonImage via Wikipedia
It's been sometime now since I discussed Salomon Maimon, whose Essay on Transcendental Philosophy I promised to go through and, indeed, I did discuss some topics from Chapter 1. In this posting I want to start addressing Chapter 2 though the difficulty of doing so ensures this cannot be done in one posting.

Maimon somewhat provocatively opens this second chapter by distinguishing quality from quantity, thus expressing a methodological view that counters that at work in Kant's Critique. In the Critique Kant schematizes the category of quality in the Anticipations of Perception and the effect of this treatment is that we arrive at the notion of intensive quantity. Whilst intensive quantity is something different from "extensive" quantity and involves a surprising departure from the structures of space and time as it is revealed here that specific intensive quantities can be apprehended "in an instant" (though to relate specific ones to each other we require continuity) there is still the clear result here that schematizing quality has led to its representation as a form of quantity.

So when Maimon opens the chapter by considering quality in itself or "abstracted from all quantity" he is aiming directly at a different mode of viewing quality than is given in the Critique. Further, in a note on the first page, Maimon also describes "magnitude" qualitatively. This representation of quality is done by imagining colour as a physical point or, as Maimon also expresses it, as "the differential of an extension". Sensible differentials are distinguished from what is given to consciousness and Maimon here provides us with a genetic story concerning how it is that we move from these differentials to consciousness. The story is presented in the following passage:

Just as, for example, with an accelerated movement, the preceding velocity does not disappear, but ever joins itself on to the following ones, so that an ever increasing velocity arises, so equally the first sensible representation does not disappear, but ever joins itself on to the following ones, until the degree necessary for consciousness is reached. This does not take place by means of the comparison of these sensible representations (because the imagination does not compare) nor by insight into their identity (as occurs later by means of the understanding when it has already achieved consciousness of different objects), but takes place merely in accordance with the universal Newtonian law of nature, namely that no action can be eliminated of itself without an action being opposed to it (that is, we are not conscious of any comparison in us, although it must proceed obscurely because comparison is a condition of unity in the manifold, or of a synthesis in general, by means of which an intuition first becomes possible).
In this quote Maimon makes a number of fascinating points. Firstly, the comparison of the genesis of consciousness to the nature of accelerated movement, a comparison whose pointed character becomes even more manifest when the process of generation is said to take place in accord with the "universal Newtonian law of nature". Secondly, the process of this connection in terms of how the differentials are continuously related to each other, a process that enables the accumulation of connections to relate to the process of increases of velocity. Thirdly, the way in which the continuous unconscious comparison is assumed to be underway. The connection of this picture to the way in which Deleuze reads Leibniz has been commented on elsewhere.

The next stage of the genesis is indicated to include the intervention of the understanding and reference to the categories so the opening stages of Maimon's genetic account are to be understood as preceding the action of understanding and to thus show quite a bit of activity (albeit receptive activity) prior to the operation of understanding. Maimon presents the differentials as noumena by contrast to the "objects" of awareness which are phenomena. This sense of noumena is one that suggests a response to the "problem of affection" often broached concerning the reference to affection at the very beginning of the Transcendental Aesthetic. What is affecting prior to the sense of objects? Maimon has an answer in the shape of the differentials. The differential is equal to zero (as Kant indicated in the Critique that intensive magnitudes had a limit point in zero) as we are not conscious of it by its very nature. However, despite this, there are relations between differentials.

When Maimon explicates the role of the differentials in his account he first refers to them as "ideas of reason" though he later distinguishes them from what Kant refers to under this name and prefers instead the notion of "ideas of understanding". The pure concept of the difference between two colours expresses the relation between the differentials that makes possible the conscious presentation of each of the colours and hence the ability to distinguish and identify (cardinal for experience in general) is taken to reside in an appreciation that is first given to receptivity prior to active spontaneous understanding. In this way Maimon follows Leibniz in articulating a sense of innate ideas and, like Leibniz, views these ideas as functional unconscious capacities that make conscious representation possible.

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