Maimon, Solomon

Maimon, Solomon a Jewish rabbi and philosopher, one of the ablest expounders of the Kantian school, was born in Lithuania in 1753. He was of very humble parentage, and in his youth was confined in his educational advantages to the study of Hebrew. Yet his talent for speculation manifested itself at a very early age, when still confined to the expounding of Talmudic lore. In his very youth, Moses Maimonides's Moreh Nebuchim fell into his hands; but while to Moses Mendelssohn it became the guide to truth, it became to Maimon a guide to a labyrinth of speculation from which no open-sesame gave him an outlet until, in advanced life, he fell in with the writings of Kant, to become one of his most ardent students and ablest expounders. In the despair which the Moreh Nebuchim prepared for him, he turned to the Cabala for relief, determined to become a Jewish Faust. Plagued by the disadvantages of Russo-Jewish society, he finally quitted his native land and went to Germany to study medicine and thus gain a livelihood. He was 25 years old when he arrived at Konigsbereg, in West Prussia. His condition in this, the old capital of Prussia, the seat of a university at that time in the very zenith of her glory, was much like that of a man who, after having suffered starvation for days, is suddenly placed at a table filled with the daintiest food. Partaking too greedily of the food set before him, he became a great sufferer mentally — i.e. he was lost in wild speculation. In 1779 he went to Berlin, and became an intimate associate of the German Jewish savant, Moses Mendelssohn. It was not, however, until years had been passed in a roving life that he finally, in 1788, on his return to Berlin, gave himself to the study of Kantian philosophy, was recommended to Kant, and soon made a great name for himself. Both Schiller and Goethe, it is said, sought his society; the latter, we are told, desired Maimon to take up his residence near his side (Aaimoniana, p. 197; Varnhagen's Nachlass, Briefwechsel zwischen Rahel u. David Veit, 1:243 sq., 247 et al.; 2:23). In his last years count Kalkreuth gave Maimon a home on one of his estates in Silesia. He died in 1800. From an admirer of Kant, Maimon finally changed to a decided opponent, and, to make good his claims, presented the world with a new system of philosophy, which was written in the interests of skepticism. According to Maimon, there is no knowledge strictly objective except pure mathematics, and all empirical knowledge is only an illusion. He traces all the forms of thought, categories, and judgments to a general and unique principle, that of determinability, of reality, of substance; but he contends that we have no right to suppose that our thought has for its object a thing without ourselves, existing independently of the thought, which determines it. "He admits, with Kant," says Wilson (Hist. of German Philosophy, 2:186), "that there are conceptions and principles a priori, a pure knowledge which applies itself to an object of thought in general, and to objects of knowledge a priori; but he denies that this very pure knowledge absolutely applies itself to experience. The philosophy of the Kritik admits this application as a fact of conscience. This fact, according to Maimon, is simply an illusion, and he declares that the categories are destined only to apply to objects of pure mathematics. Maimon's objections were not without influence on the ulterior development of general philosophy, and Fichte paid much regard to them; but the great objection, the one which bears upon the application of category to reality, Fichte destroyed in one word when he said that the right of this application cannot be deducted until it is absolute" (compare Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, vol. 2). Among his best works are, besides his numerous essays and treatises on various philosophical themes in the "Berliner Monatsschrift" and the "Magazin" from 1789 to 1800, in themselves a small library, and besides ten books on all departments of philosophy, published between 1790 and 1797, the Gilbath ha-Moreh, a Hebrew commentary and a remarkable introduction to the three volumes of Maimonides's Moreh Nebuchim (Berlin, 1791), in which he proved himself master of the philosophical field; also Versuch über die Transcendentalphilosophie (Berlin, 1790, 8vo); Versuch einer neuen Logik, oder Theorie des Denkens, etc. (Berlin, 1794, 8vo); and Kritische Untersuchungen iuber den menschlichen Geist (1797), and a memoir of his own life entitled "Lebensgeschichte" (2 vols. 1792-93). See Wolf, "Rhapsodien zur Characteristik S. Maimons" (1813); Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden. 11:142 sq. (Leipzig, 1870, 8vo); Tennemann, Manual ofPhilosophy, p. 411 sq.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale. vol. 32, s.v.; Dr. Wise in the Israelite (Cincinnati, Ohio), Jan. 1871. (J. H. W.)

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