MAIMON, SOLOMON BEN JOSHUA:
Philosophical writer; born at Nieszwicz, Lithuania, in 1754; died at Niedersiegersdorf, Silesia, Nov. 22, 1800. Endowed with greaty ability, he became versed in rabbinical literature while still a child. He was married at the age of twelve, by his father, to the daughter of a widow of his native town; at the age of fourteen Maimon was a father. Pressed by his mother-in-law, with whom he was perpetually quarreling, to earn a livelihood, he became tutor to the family of an innkeeper in a neighboring village. His days were spent in expounding the Pentateuch to his unpromising pupils, and the greater part of his nights in studying Jewish philosophical literature. He derived special pleasure from speculative science. Maimonides' "Moreh Nebukim" became his guiding star, and it was in token of reverence for that great master that he assumed the name of "Maimon." He soon plunged into cabalistic mysticism, which he endeavored to place upon a philosophical basis, being convinced that the Cabala was an attempt, veiled in allegory and fable, at a scientific explanation of existence. This endeavor of Maimon's irritated the Ḥasidim with whom he associated, and he received rebukes instead of the expected compliments. Disillusioned, he turned to secular studies. Maimon began to study physics, especially optics, from old German books, which he procured at considerable pains. The further he advanced in the study the stronger grew his innate thirst for knowledge, and, being harassed both by his implacable mother-in-law and by his coreligionists, who began to regard him as a heretic, he decided to go to Germany and there study medicine. A pious merchant accorded him passage to Königsberg, and, after many struggles, at the age of twenty-five he reached Berlin.
But a rude reception awaited the future philosopher, whose words Goethe was to treat with respect, and to whom Schiller and Kerner were to pay tributes of praise; he was refused admission as a vagabond by the Jewish gatekeeper. In his despair Maimon appealed to a rabbi he had met, showing him the manuscript of his commentary on the "Moreh." Unfortunately, the rabbi belonged to those for whom Maimonides' philosophical work is the symbol of heresy. For six months Maimon wandered about the country, in company with a professional beggar, until he reached Posen. There he was befriended by the pious rabbi Hirsch Janow, who, conceiving a high opinion of Maimon's rabbinical learning, furnished him with means of subsistence. After two years of comfortable life Maimon grew weary of his superstitious surroundings, and recklessly wounded the religious feelings of his Orthodox protectors. Again he went to Berlin; this time, owing to the protection of a countryman of his settled there, he was admitted. Soon a happy accident brought him into contact with Moses Mendelssohn. In reading Wolff's "Metaphysics" Maimon was quick to detect the deficiencies in his proofs of the existence of God; Maimon wrote a criticism of them and sent it to Mendelssohn, who, recognizing in him a profound thinker, took him under his protection.Resorts to Conversionists.
Maimon had now an excellent opportunity to begin an honorable career; but his mind, fed on metaphysical problems, had become inadaptable to any regular occupation. He abandoned his project of studying medicine and took up pharmacy; but after three years of study he was not in a position to exercise it professionally. He frequented bad society, acquired habits of intemperance, and made a profession of cynicism which scandalized his protectors. Finally he was abandoned by Mendelssohn and had to leave Berlin. Mendelssohn, however, gave him letters of recommendation which secured him a good reception in the leading Jewish circles of Holland, whither he went after a short stay in Hamburg. In Holland, again, his uncouth manners and unmanageable temper alienated his friends. In desperation he returned to Hamburg and, in order to improve his position, decided to embrace Christianity. Addressing a letter to a Lutheran clergyman, he expressed his readiness to abandon Judaism. Maimon, however, had a natural aversion to hypocrisy, and naively confessed that it was not religious conviction that made him prefer Christianity, for, he says, Judaism is more in keeping with reason than is Christianity. The honest clergyman naturally refused to baptize him, but procured him the means of entering the gymnasium of Altona in order that he might improve his knowledge of languages.
After two years Maimon left the gymnasium and returned to Berlin. His former friends, especially Mendelssohn, befriended him again, and sent him to Dessau, where he was to translate into Hebrew German scientific works intended for circulation among the Russian and Polish Jews. Their publication, however, was abandoned, and Maimon, dissatisfied with his friends, went to Breslau, where, through the assistance of Ephraim Kuh and Professor Grave, he found pupils. While there Maimon received a visit from his son, then twenty years of age, who demanded, in the name of his mother, that Maimon should return to his family or give her a letter of divorce. Maimon had refused a similar demand, made through a messenger, while he was still in Hamburg, because he hoped to be able in the near future to support his family in his native country; now that he could no longer entertain such a hope he endeavored to persuade his wife and son to join him in Germany. They refused, however, and Maimon finally gave the desired divorce.Philosophic Essays.
In 1786 Maimon once more returned to Berlin, and, protected by Ben David, Asher, and Marcus Herz, devoted himself to literary-philosophic activities. In 1790 Count Kalkreuth gave him an asylum on his estate at Niedersiegersdorf. Until that year Maimon had published only philosophical articles. In 1788 he became acquainted with Kant's philosophy, and under its influence wrote "Versuch über die Transcendentale Philosophie" (Berlin, 1790), in reference to which Kant declared, in a letter to Marcus Herz, that of all his critics and opponents Maimon was the most acute. In 1791 Maimon published a philosophical lexicon, in which he had collected a series of dissertations on the principal points of philosophy. This work gave rise to a violent controversy between him and Reinhold; Maimon defended his views in "Streifereien im Gebiete der Philosophie" (ib. 1793).His "Kritische Untersuchungen."
After having published three historical and critical works on philosophy—"Ueber die Progresse der Philosophie" (ib. 1793); "Versuch einer Neuen Logik" (ib. 1794), in which he attempted to expound an algebraic or symbolic system of logic; and "Die Kategorien des Aristoteles" (ib. 1794), with explanatory notes—propædeutic to his theory of logic—Maimon produced his most important work, "Kritische Untersuchungen über den Menschlichen Geist" (ib. 1797), which secured him a prominent place among the historians of philosophy. Therein he originated that speculative monistic idealism which, during the first half of the nineteenth century, pervaded not only philosophy, but all sciences, and by which Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel were influenced. The great question at issue in Kant's analysis of the mind was, "Has man any ideas which are absolutely and objectively true?" the answer to which depends on another question, "Has man any ideas independent of experience?" for if all ideas depend on experience, there can be no question of objective ideas, experience being essentially subjective.
Kant answered the second question in the affirmative, and the first in the negative. He showed that in consciousness certain elements are given which are not derived from experience, but which are necessarily true. However, these given elements or "things in themselves" man knows only as they appear to him, but not as they are "per se." This concept of "things in themselves" is rejected by Maimon, who holds that the matter of exterior objects which produce impression on man's sensibility is absolutely intelligible. He also contested the Kantian distinction between sensibility and understanding as well as the subjectivity of the intuitions of time and space. For him, sense is imperfect understanding, and time and space are sensuous impressions of diversity, or diversity presented as externality. In practical philosophy he criticized Kant for having substituted an unpractical principle for the only motive for action—pleasure. The highest pleasure is in knowing, not in physical sensation, and because it recognizes this fact the "Ethics" of Aristotle is much more useful than the Kantian.Autobiography.
Maimon's autobiography was published by K. Ph. Moritz (Berlin, 1793). In this work he gives a résumé of his views on the Cabala, which he had expounded in a work written while he was still in Lithuania. According to him the Cabala is practically a modified Spinozism, in which not only is the world in general explained as having proceeded from the concentration of the divine essence, but every species of being is derived from a special divine attribute. God, being the ultimate substance and the ultimate cause, is called "En Sof," because He can not be predicated by Himself. However, in relation to the infinite beings, positive attributes were applied to Him, and these attributes were reduced by the cabalists to ten—the ten sefirot. The ten "circles" correspond to the ten Aristotelian categories, without which nothing can be conceived. In the same work Maimon expresses his views on Judaism. He divides Jewish history into five main periods: (1) the period of natural religion, extending from the Patriarchs to Moses; (2) that of revealed or positive religion, from Moses to the Great Sanhedrin; (3) the mishnaic period; (4) the Talmudic period; (5) the post-Talmudic period. Maimon censures the Rabbis for having burdened the people with minute prescriptions and ceremonies, but praises their high moral standard. Only those, he says, who have not penetrated into the real spirit of the Talmud and who are not familiar with the custom of the ancients, especially of Orientals, of veiling their theological,ethical, and philosophical teachings in fable and allegory, can find in the old rabbinical writings matter for derision.
Maimon was the author of the following Hebrew works, of which only the first has been published: "Gib'at ha-Moreh," a commentary on the first part of Maimonides' "Moreh Nebukim," preceded by a sketch of the history of philosophy (Berlin, 1791); "Ta'alumot Ḥokmah," on mathematical physics; and "Ḥesheḳ Shelomoh." The last work is in four parts: (1) "Ma'aseh Nissim," on the twelve sermons of R. Nissim; (2) "'Ebed Abraham," on Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch and Psalms; (3) "Ma'aseh Libnat ha-Sappir," reflections; (4) "Ma'aseh Ḥosheb," on algebra.
- S. J. Wolff, Maimoniana, Berlin, 1813;
- J. H. Witte, Solomon Maimon, Berlin, 1876;
- Ed. Erdmann, Gesch. der Neuern Philosophie, iii., part 1, p. 510, Leipsic, 1853;
- Geiger's Jüd. Zeit. iv. 189;
- S. Bernfeld, in Ha-Shiloaḥ, 1901, p. 226;
- S. Hodgson, Philosophy of Experience, Preface;
- Venn, Symbolic Logic, Preface;
- Watson, Salomon Maimon, Toronto, 1890;
- Zangwill, Dreamers of the Ghetto.