Christian Krijnen (Ed.): Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel? Brill, 2019

Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel? Book Cover Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel?
Critical Studies in German Idealism, Volume 24
Christian Krijnen (Ed.)
Brill
2019
Hardback €143.00 $172.00
x, 260

Reviewed by: Andrew James Komasinski (Hokkaido University of Education)

Introduction

Despite facing almost immediate criticism from Hegel, Kant’s view of normativity has greatly influenced contemporary value theory. This volume is the fruit of a 2017 conference at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam by the same name that sought to bring the two conflicting accounts into dialogue (1). There are three general points worth making before addressing the articles themselves.

First, the articles in this volume use diverse sigla. Some articles, such as Christian Hoffman’s, refer to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right as PR and other articles, such as Jiří Chotaš’s, refer to it as RpH (9, 164). The Phenomenology of Spirit similarly receives the sigla PhG from Arthur Kok, Christian Schmidt, and Alberto L. Siani whereas Martin Bunte and Tereza Matějčková inter alia use PS (47, 147, 244, 62, 199). Similar article by article variation occurs with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason with Martin Bunte using CPR but Paul Cobben using KdrV (66, 27). While each article is internally consistent, this and rehearsal of the same parts of Hegel make the book feels more like a collection than a whole. For consistency’s sake, I will use PR, PhG, CPR, along with EPS for Encyclopedia of the Philosophical System and Religion for Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone consistently in this review.

Second, different authors took different approaches to the use of German. Some authors use the German directly for the major parts of PR: Abstrakt Recht, Moralität, and Sittlichkeit; others translate them as Abstract Right, Morality, and, Ethical Life (Battistoni at 121, 124; Chotaš at 164). I will consistently use the English throughout. For terms such as Bildung where the translation choices are substantive, this is more understandable. Hoffman glosses it as “education” and then uses “education” after that (4,12). Krijnen supplies the possible translation “education of the understanding and applicable skills” but generally sticks to Bildung (115-117). Siani does the same (250). Chotaš and Zabel call it development (171, 181). These differences between articles will not impede specialists but make it challenging to read the work as a united whole.

Third, the title of the volume suggests proponents of both Kant and Hegel, but true to its origin at a conference from a network called “Hegel’s Relevance,” most authors are more sympathetic to Hegel than to Kant (1). Some contributions write as if Hegel’s critiques of Kant were definitive and Hegel’s positions decisive. Having more full-throated defenses of Kantian’s normativity and more engagement between the two as competing contemporary interpretations would have strengthened the volume. Nevertheless, the volume contributes importantly to our understanding of ethics and social philosophy in Hegel and German Idealism.

Contributions

  1. Being at Home with Oneself in the Whole—Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom as Actuality, Christian Hoffman

Christian Hoffman’s article provides an excellent introduction to the relation between Bildung and holism in Hegel and how this differentiates him from Kant. Hoffman traces Hegel’s attempt to accomplish monistically and holistically what Kant tried to achieve dualistically for reason and freedom. (9-10, 13). Hoffman identifies Bildung “education” in PhG, as both breaking the natural harmony and building “a new and more differentiated form of the whole” (12). Hoffman also highlights the senses in which Hegel’s unity is active rather than a static thing (14).

Turning to the system in the EPS and the PR, Hoffman first emphasizes how this holistic process is not just knowing but self-knowing (14-17). Hoffman joins to this sense in which Hegel’s holistic account refers to a common realm of shared freedom (19-22). Finally, Hoffman notes the relation between the Hegelian holism and its Aristotelian ancestry (inter alia 22-23). Hoffman addresses Kant’s idea of normativity as a dualistic account Hegel incorporates insights from but then supersedes.

  1. Hegel’s Radicalization of Kant’s Copernican Turn: the Internal Unity of the Natural and the Moral Law, Paul Cobben

Paul Cobben’s article progresses from problematic Humean impressions to dualistic Kantian intuitions to Hegel’s monistic resolution. First, Cobben develops how Kant’s intuitions solve the Humean predicament where impressions are both external and mind. Kant solves this problem in his apparatus of manifolds, imagination, and categories, which makes impressions mental and things-in-themselves external (27). Through this, Kant equates propositional and material truth when material truth is mediated by the Kantian apparatus (27-31). Cobben, following Gadamer, reads PhG’s first chapter as tracing out the Kantian account but rejecting its account of material truth (31-33). Cobben remarks that Hegel has demonstrated “The apperception of the Perception cannot justify how the manifold of intuitions can be connected into an objective material truth” (34). Unfortunately, the arguments substantiating this claim and the claims about Hegel’s “first truth of the understanding” and “second truth of the understanding” were truncated and hard to follow (34-35).

Cobben believes that understanding requires attending to the subject as conscious (36). Cobben sees PhG’s account of desire’s inability to achieve unity with its object, because it continues to want precisely what it is not as culminating in the realization that the perceived world that individual consciousness finds itself in is not merely its own but rather a shared world (38-39). Cobben joins to this an interpretation of the lord/bondsman dialectic which understands it as involving the death of individual consciousness and its sublimation into institutional consciousness (40-42). Cobben’s final claim is that Kant’s solution fails and that Hegel develops an account that culminates in the resolution of the lord/bondsman dialectic (43). Most of the second half seemed like it would benefit from more engagement with contemporary defenses of understanding along Kantian lines and other interpretations of the lord/bondsman dialectics.

  1. The Religion of the God-Man: Hegel’s Account of Revealed Religion in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Arthur Kok

Arthur Kok’s article is a welcome addition to the discussion of Hegel’s concept of God and its relation to Kant’s religion. Kok’s article also looks at Kant’s dualism and Hegel’s attempt to overcome it in PhG, insofar as Kant’s moral philosophy required a religion with a God as the projected lawgiver of reason to realize the good (46-47). Kok identifies this argument in PhG both specifically and within Spirit’s dialectical search for an adequate relation between freedom and moral duty (47-48). This activity culminates in the realization that the source of moral value in religion is Spirit moving in the community (49). Here, more interaction with Kant’s Religion could have explained why Kok believes Kant’s account of the rational community as the arbiter of moral value is inadequate.

Kok also locates a similar dynamic in Hegel’s account of revealed religion, i.e. Christianity, situating it as the dialectical outcome of an unhappy consciousness where freedom sees the inadequacy of an external law (50-53). This leads to the incarnation as the simultaneous “activity of the Self that results in the appearance of the Self without the Self becoming something other than itself” and thus resolves this tension in religion by (1) being “both distinct and non-distinct from those who identify him as the God-man,” (2) representing “the self-realization of spirit,” and (3) establishing “the presence of the divine in this world” to overcome suffering (55). Kok then articulates this as Hegel’s answer to the problem of evil where human activity can free itself from evil (56). Joined to the resurrection (and ascension), Hegel makes community that remembers the God-man the true reconciliation of spirit in ethics (57).

  1. The Reality of Value as a Problem of Kantian Ethics, Martin Bunte

Martin Bunte’s article looks at Hegel’s formalism objection against Kant’s ethics from PhG 257 (A.V. Miller pagination) and the problem of testing but not giving laws (62). Bunte believes Kant’s ethics suffers from a tautology because the a priori nature of Kant’s ethics interacts with the autonomy of the will to produce moral laws that are “conceivable only under the reservation of the heteronomy of what is willed” (63). Bunte explains his version of the objection in a single sentence: “If freedom as spontaneity or autonomy is to be the essential reason for the determination of will, then it must be able to refer to rules or laws from the position of legislator” (64).

Bunte argues that a successful Kantian defense against this objection must also achieve a unity for practical reason like the one for theoretical reason (65). Since the two domains are both domains of reason, Bunte notes that they must both find their origins in the spontaneity of the will as the “unconditioned condition” (65). Bunte illustrates this with the categories of the understanding in the realm of theoretical reason (66). Bunte analogizes that Kantian practical reason must be premised on the idea that the moral self gives itself its rules (66). Bunte here distinguishes the analogical cases by arguing that reason’s theoretical use refers to the laws of nature but that its practical use must refer to laws of freedom, which means laws that it must give itself (67). While Bunte largely thinks that Hegel’s critique rings true, he believes Kant succeeds in answering one part of Hegel’s objection: the moral imperative is something the self commands to itself as a demand of reason and that he develops such an account in Religion (70).

Bunte believes both that the formalism objection applies to Kant and succeeds convinced the formalism objection succeeds. There is a large amount of literature on this that finds things murkier: there is disagreement as to both what the objection is, to whether it misses the mark, and to whether Kantians have resources to resist or overcome it (See for instance Hoy 1989, Freyenhagen 2012, and Stern 2012).

  1. Foundations of Normativity, Max Gottschlich

Unlike many articles in this volume, Max Gottschlich’s article focused on identifying which logic is best for normativity: “formal logic” which he identifies with pre-Kantian order of being thinking (74-75), “transcendental logic” which he identifies with Kant (75-81), or “dialectical logic” which he identifies with Hegel (81-86). Gottschlich dismisses formal logic as often used but not useful for considering normativity, because it cannot capture the paradox of determiner and determined.

Transcendental logic, in contrast, focuses on the paradox of determiner and determined and identifies the limits of what can be said and is naturally reflexive (76). In Kant, this accomplishes “self-fulfilling self-relation” (77, emphasis in original). Through this, Gottschlich states that transcendental logic identifies the role of values and norms in “settings” (77). Gottschlich mentions in passing that he thinks the formalism objection is wrong (in opposition to several articles in this volume), that Kant and Hegel agree that value must begin in reason, and that Hegel’s true objection is to the absolute form, rather than developmental growth, that births duties (80).

Gottschlich sees dialectical logic’s acceptance of contradiction as its genius (82). In a clearer formulation, the point is that “the self only maintains itself by losing itself” – in other words when it recognizes its mediation as dynamic act rather than absolute (84). Gottschlich then turns to how norms are produced in the Hegelian account (86). While Kant and Hegel both make goal-setting a sign of rationality, Gottschlich sees Hegel’s version as more advanced because it abstracts from the abstracting in the execution of a “concrete universal” (86-87). Gottschlich next looks at poiesis (production) where Kant’s form is too abstract to derive anything but an abstract universal (90). Only in Hegel, he maintains, can we find subjectivity (a subjectivity beyond the self) as the goal (91). At many points, Hegel’s critiques seemed to be accepted uncritically and would have benefited from more interaction with defenses of the Kantian approaches.

  1. Hegel über die logischen Grundlagen der Sittlichkeit, Klaus Vieweg

Klaus Vieweg’s article was the singular contribution in German to this volume. Vieweg highlights the important role of civil society in PR often overlooked since it is only one step before right’s ultimate form in the state. After rehearsing PR’s Morality as a critique of Kant and a demonstration of its self-inadequacy (95-96), Vieweg focuses on Ethical Life as “eines logisch fundierten Systems der allgemeinen Willensbestimmungen konzipiert, als das Objektive der Freiheit” (97). In this domain, it is not the objective that dominates like a yoke but reason as a cozier hearth that determines things based on both objective and subjective will (97-98).

Vieweg focuses on the role of civil society and how it helps us understand modern society. Viewing identifies civil society as setting living a good life as the goal in a domain where consciousness has been brought under the concept (98-99). This is true freedom insofar as thinking has itself as its end. While Vieweg notes the work of Dieter Henrich on Hegel’s Lecture on the State as Three Ends, he argues that civil society’s importance has not been sufficiently mined in PR (99). Vieweg sees reflection and necessity as the distinctive marks of civil society that separate it from the family’s role as the natural end of humanity and the state’s self-substantial unity (100). Vieweg argues that this logic occurs in triadic form throughout these three forms of Ethical Life but in different sequences (101).

For Vieweg, what unifies all of the forms Ethical Life is that they all will the concept not only subjectively but in recognition of its objectivity (103; PR §142A). In this way, they are self-developing ends. They advance over the freedom of persons in abstract right, the freedom of moral subjects in Morality, and become the freedom of ethical subjects (103). Through this, they find themselves unified in a moral community (103).

  1. How is Practical Philosophy Speculatively Possible?, Christian Krijnen

Christian Krijnen’s article identifies both Kant and Hegel as contributors to a complete account of normativity. Krijnen argues that post-Kantian attempts in German Idealism to better ground the unity of practical and theoretical reason all lead to the centrality of freedom and the construction of value-laden reality (106-107). Krijnen believes the Kantian approach succumbs to a formalism objection that Hegel avoids this by understanding “self-formation as self-knowledge in the fashion of a self-realization of the concept” (107). At the same time, Krijnen argues that Hegel’s solution eviscerates practical philosophy by thematizing it as the “speculative doctrine of the idea” rather than engage it practically (108). Thus, Krijnen holds that Hegel does achieve a unity in the form of free Spirit but that this unity sublates practical philosophy and demeans it as an inadequate form of knowledge (109).

Returning to Kant’s architectonic, Hegel is not describing what “ought to be” in practical philosophy (110). In Kant’s picture, the free will needs to realize the rational object of its freedom, which it experiences as an ought (111). In contrast, Hegel’s Ethical Life focuses on the actuality of freedom rather than an ought: “The point for Hegel here is that we only have concrete, not mere abstract duties only in the realm of Sittlichkeit” (112).

Krijnen’s positive task is to establish a speculative practical philosophy despite Hegel’s failure to provide one (112). He begins by noting that Kant makes moral agents the originators of their actions (through the bifurcation of the world into the deterministic theoretical realm and the free practical realm), and this for Hegel is only true in the realm of subjective Spirit – not objective Spirit (112-113). Krijnen notes that abstract oughts operate as givens for Hegel and thus remain inadequate, which makes them inadequate for the living good that Hegel demands of the sphere of action (113-114).

Krijnen thinks an answer can be found in Bildung in the family and civil society (114-115). Krijnen then differentiates his view from those of Vieweg and Cobben. Krijnen thinks that Vieweg is wrong to think Hegel does not need a “canon of duties,” because Hegel does not abandon Morality’s truth but brings into Ethical Life (116). For Cobben, Krijnen notes the degree to which both treat Bildung but argues that the solutions Cobben notes are problems of integrating practical philosophy into Hegel rather than irremediable deficits in Hegel’s philosophy (117).

  1. The Normative Function of the Right of Objectivity in Hegel’s Theory of Imputation, Giulia Battistoni

Giulia Battistoni presents a deeply technical argument about imputation in the Morality section of PR. Battistoni first maintains that Hegel’s critique of Kant identified with PR §135 shows Kant unable to “derive particular and concrete duties from the determination of duty as formal correspondence with itself” and requires evaluating both the “consequences of actions” and “the social context” (121). While Ethical Life merges objective and subjective concerns of right, Battistoni sees Morality as the locus where imputation attributes subjective right to a moral subject (121-122). In Morality, the moral subject experiences the good as an ought, which interestingly creates the problem of making this “both the true good and a mere opinion” where actions are good if they are born of good intention (123).

To understand imputation in this context, Battistoni draws a parallel with Hegel’s two notions of nature (128). First nature is externality which can take the form of a natural world which stands in opposition to the subject as a determination separate from will (124). Second nature is the habituation and internalization of the social order of right (127). Battistoni locates the lower sense in Abstract Right and the higher sense in Morality, especially PR §119A’s claim that external deeds are categorized as we impute motives to the moral subjects involved (132).

  1. Freedom from Kant to Hegel, Christian Schmidt

Christian Schmidt’s article differs from many of the other critiques in defending Hegel against a contemporary critique. Schmidt tests whether Louis Althusser’s critique of German Idealism applies to Hegel and through this differentiates Kant and Hegel on freedom. Schmidt looks at why Althusser calls Hegel an empiricist by highlighting how Hegel mines the real by dividing the empirical and the essence of things to get to their essences (142). As Schmidt points out, this largely echoes Hegel’s critique of Kant where the empirical becomes merely material fodder for the categories to peel off (142). In contrast, Hegel sees understanding as a synthesis of sensuous manifold and mental activity (143). While knowing this, Althusser still things Hegel is guilty of the same bifurcation.

Schmidt spends the rest of the article looking specifically at freedom in Kant and Hegel as “a property of rational beings and moral (or political, or social) agents that is not detachable” and the critique of this analysis in Foucault and Althusser (144-145). Schmidt first explains how reason and understanding are the self-activity of subjects that separate them from animals (145). Despite the receptive components of understanding, Kant believes moral agents are free (146). Schmidt characterizes Kant’s account as “highly abstract … purified from all social and political meaning” (146). On this basis, Schmidt believes Althusser stands justified in his critique of Kant (147).

Hegel’s subject, like Kant’s, is a break in the causal chain (147-148). At the same time, Hegelian freedom is the restriction of “dull-witted emotions and raw impulses” (LPWH 103-104) that only finds itself in the state (148). In Hegel, freedom is a byproduct of people pursuing desire since this constructs and restructures the rules of society (148-149). This merges with spontaneity insofar as individuals collide with the established order (151). Thus, Hegel presents a unified idea of freedom where freedom is “the concretization of spontaneity” (152). For this reason, Schmidt rejects Althusser’s critique of Hegel.

  1. Justification of the State: Kant and Hegel, Jiří Chotaš

Jiří Chotaš contrasts Kant and Hegel’s justifications of the state. Chotaš reads Kant as like Hobbes building the state from a state of nature where people “are at each other’s mercy” who produce by nature a civil union with a “general united will” that expresses itself in the ruler, the judge, and most importantly the legislator which cooperate for the benefit of the citizens (158-161).

While Hegel shared Kant’s idea that “freedom creates human substance,” Hegel also examined how it was realized, Hegel believed Kant erred by basing this union on “an arbitrary will of individuals” who sought to establish it for property and contracts (164). In contrast, Hegel believed the State was the natural home of people and argued for this in PR, his “scientific proof of the concept of the state” (164).

Chotaš summarizes the stages of Ethical Life. First, Chotaš looks at family, focusing on how marriage links non-related people around love and common interest rather than as Kant supposed contract (166). Second, civil society arises through the division of labor (167). To this, Hegel joins the Polizei who secure “external order” in matters as diverse as public health and bridge-building (168). Chotaš identifies these attributes as giving civil society the status of being “‘an external state’ as well as ‘a state of necessity’ (PR §183)” (168). Here, corporations protect their members like an extended family and provide “the second ethical root of the state” (169). Third and finally, the state itself functions as the culmination of the ethical ideal actualizing itself in customs (169) and replicating the family as “a human community with its own spirit and will” but through “political virtue” rather than feeling (169-170). The state also takes on attributes of civil society, by transforming people’s ends and unifying them as a whole (170).

Chotaš then distinguishes Hegel’s state from Kant’s. He begins by noting that for Hegel, peoples and their constitutions are mirrors (171). He notes that both believe constitutional change should happen through constitutional procedures (171). He notes that Hegel also has three powers but they differ: “the legislative power, the executive power, and the princely power or monarchy” (171). For Hegel, the most important of these is the sovereign (PR §273, 279R) but remains under the constitution (171-172). Chotaš also describes the Hegelian legislature: upper house of landed gentry by birth and lower house by election (172). Chotaš’s article could have demonstrated further differences by addressing Kant’s Religion and contemporary defenses of Kant’s state.

  1. Hegel’s Republican Penal Philosophy: an Attempt at a Contemporary Reconstruction, Benno Zabel

Benno Zabel focuses on the republican nature of Hegel’s penal philosophy, situating it in an account of PR (182-183). Zabel identifies crime in Hegel as “(performative) self-contradiction” (184). Zabel explains using PR §95 that in crime, a criminal violates freedom (184-185). This must be met with cancellation (185). As Zabel points out, Hegel believes crime only applies to actions (185). Zabel identifies three practical functions in Hegel’s conception of punishment: “the dimension of the (formal) recognition of status, the dimension of the institutionalized procedure and the dimension of social communication” (186). Recognition of status begins with the “effective power of sanctions” (186). This also brings to the fore the standing of the victim as a member of a moral community (186). Crime, for Hegel, is resistance to “the common normative basis” and must be met so that crime does not appear as valid (187).

Turning to institutionalized procedure, Zabel contends that Hegel sees punishment as part and parcel of a legal procedure (187). Thus, it simultaneously refers to the separation of powers (187). In other words, the counter-coercion of punishment must occur on “a universally recognized basis” in accepted criminal law (188). As Zabel notes, for Hegel, contra Foucault, these procedures are precisely the prevention of despotism (188). Textually, Zabel supports this from the “administration of justice” (189).

Finally, Zabel points out how punishment communicates for Hegel (191). Zabel explains that “punishment can be considered only as retaliation (Wiedervergeltung), that is, as (symbolic) restoration of the order of freedom” (191). Zabel notes that Hegel is not limited to mere retribution, however, and can help in “the general prevention of crime and betterment of the individual” as punishment becomes “a visible part of society” (191). In this way, punishment communicates. Zabel disagrees with Cooper’s Abstract Right only reading (1971) and other interpretations that isolate punishment from the larger context of Hegel’s PR. Zabel thus argues for a punishment plus account of Hegel’s penal philosophy in line with Brooks (2012) and Komasinski (2018) and others.

  1. History as the Progress in the (Un)Consciousness of Freedom?, Tereza Matějčková

Matějčková’s article contrasts the destructive Enlightenment that felled governments and challenged religions with a Hegelian concept of freedom where freedom invigorates institutions (196-197). Kant occupies a middle where the limits of knowledge lead to “respect and toleration of others” (198). Hegel extends this by making actions reflexive and incorporating a social reality in the “I that is We and We that is I” (199 quoting PhG 110). On this reading, normativity becomes an internal feature of freedom such that Absolute Spirit’s achievement is to recognize that “that its own thinking has been conditioned by a plurality of other spirits or subjects” (200). This particular characterization of absolute Spirit could have been expanded and defended textually.

Matějčková uses PhG’s lengthy phrenology critique to highlight how this involves a re-appropriation of the physical contra dualistic approaches that deny the skull-bone any part in Spirit. For Hegel, in contrast, it is a part but just one part and highlights the Hegelian idea that the inner is the outer and the outer the inner (203-205).

For Hegel, all of the upheavals of history are part of “the progress of the consciousness of freedom” (206). In the realm of history, this amounts to a recognition that nature by itself has no history, because nature is not for itself (207). Only by the addition of human freedom and spontaneity can something new arise (207). In Hegel’s history, world-historical people function precisely by using freedom to overturn existing structure (208). In the process, they appeal to the people (209). Joined to its dynamism is the terminus of history (210). This end is one where freedom is being achieved through equal checks and balances in the institutions (210). Matějčková maintains that contra Popper, Hegel’s philosophical system develops institutions that enable people to have personal freedoms (211). This article covers a lot of ground and makes interesting arguments that would be clearer if they were set in contrast to others writing on similar topics in Hegel such as Adrian Peperzak’s Modern Freedom (2001).

  1. Is There Any Philosophy of History?, Jean-François Kervégan

Kervégan contrasts philosophy of history in Kant and Hegel against the backdrop of the arguments between enlightenment and anti-enlightenment thought (219-220). Kervégan first notes Voltaire’s coining of the term in 1765 and its audacity for mixing two heretofore distinct areas of knowledge as a history of human spirit (217-218).

Kervégan believes Kant lacks a proper philosophy of history, because the Kant texts generally categorized do not deal with a “system of rational knowledge via concepts” (220). Kervégan suggests that Kant’s historical works even when they present a “history of freedom” are still just histories rather than a proper philosophy of history, because philosophy proper is metaphysics in nature and freedom and “historical considerations do not belong to it” (226).

Conversely, Kervégan identifies the history of philosophy as central to Hegel’s philosophy (226). Given Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Spirit is always working towards an adequate understanding of itself including its history (227). Philosophy thinks in the present and thinks the rational as actual and the actual as rational (228). This has the consequence of making history present to itself. In other words, the object of Hegel’s philosophy of Spirit is history, and Spirit is also the one doing the study (229).

  1. “Freedom in the European Sense”: Hegel on Action, Heroes, and Europe’s Philosophical Groundwork, Alberto L. Siani

Siani argues that Hegel and Europe are intertwined terms with Hegel’s insight being that institutions should mirror the freedom of people (235-236). Siani quotes Hegel’s linkage of Europe and freedom: “It is especially this subjective or moral freedom that is called freedom in the European sense” in the Morality section of the encyclopedia (EPS, §503R, 224) (236).

Siani explicates this through PR’s Morality section emphasizing Hegel’s critique which Siani articulate as follows: “morality has to state the difference between subject and object in order to affirm the freedom of the former, but if this difference is absolutized, subjective freedom can never bridge the gap to objectivity, and hence becomes utterly ineffective and empty” (241). This is, of course, overcome for Hegel in Ethical Life in which subjective freedom bridges the gap. Classically, the individual is free qua an identity rather than an abstraction (243). Modern freedom requires that tragedy intervene and make this freedom open (243). Siani then provides an extended consideration of Antigone and the role of heroes in the transformation of freedom (243-248).

As this is the third chapter in this volume to articulate a version of Hegel’s critique of Morality, it would help to understand how the different interpretations contrast with each other and differentiate themselves from common interpretations and defenses against the objection from Kantian scholars.

External References

Brooks, Thom. 2012. “Hegel and the Unified Theory of Punishment.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, edited by Thom Brooks, 103–23. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Cooper, David E. 1971. “Hegel’s Theory of Punishment.” In Hegel’s Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives, edited by Z.A. Pelczynski, 151–67. London: Cambridge University Press.

Freyenhagen, Fabian. 2012. “The Empty Formalism Objection Revisited: §135R and Recent Kantian Responses.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, by Thom Brooks, 43–72. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hoy, David Couzens. 1989. “Hegel’s Critique of Kantian Morality.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 6 (2): 207–32.

Komasinski, Andrew. 2018. “Hegel’s Complete Views on Crime and Punishment.” Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4 (4): 525–44. https://doi.org/10.1017/apa.2018.35.

Peperzak, Adriaan Theodoor. 2001. Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Legal, Moral, and Political Philosophy. Studies in German Idealism, v. 1. Dordrecht ; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Stern, Robert. 2012. “On Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Ethics: Beyond the Empty Formalism Objection.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, edited by Thom Brooks, 73–99. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hermann Schmitz: System der Philosophie (Gebundene Ausgabe), Karl Alber, 2019

System der Philosophie (10 Bände im Schuber) Book Cover System der Philosophie (10 Bände im Schuber)
Hermann Schmitz
Karl Alber Verlag
2019
Hardback 420,00 €
5,384

S. Besoli, G. Morrone, R. Redaelli (Hrsg.): Emil Lask. An der Grenze des Kantianismus, Königshausen & Neumann, 2019

Emil Lask. An der Grenze des Kantianismus Book Cover Emil Lask. An der Grenze des Kantianismus
Studien und Materialien zum Neukantianismus, Band 39
S. Besoli, G. Morrone, R. Redaelli (Hrsg.)
Königshausen & Neumann
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Paperback 68.00 €
302

Solomon Maimon: The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon: The Complete Translation

The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon Book Cover The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon
Solomon Maimon. Edited by Yitzhak Y. Melamed & Abraham Socher. Translated by Paul Reitter. With an afterword by Gideon Freudenthal
Princeton University Press
2019
Hardback $35.00
336

Reviewed by: Thomas Nemeth (USA)

Salomon Maimon hardly needs an introduction today. However, there was a time, not too long ago, when a relatively popular image of German Idealism within Anglophone philosophy had it consisting of just four figures, viz., Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, with the last three uniformly denounced and thereby simply dismissed. Bertrand Russell, for one, as late as 1945, saw Fichte’s subjectivism as involving almost a form of insanity. Even today, it may be all-too-easy to see Maimon as a curiously odd and eccentric figure sandwiched between Kant, who was fundamentally mistaken but could, they thought, be understood, and Fichte, whose prose was manifestly unintelligible and so could not possibly be understood. Of course, Maimon’s numerous philosophical writings, most of which are quite unfamiliar to even the most informed student of intellectual history, represent much more than a transition or stepping stone on the path to Hegel’s Absolute Spirit. Thankfully owing to the efforts of a number of recent assiduous scholars, this picture has considerably changed, although Maimon is still largely seen as an astute and penetrating critic of Kant’s epistemology rather than a precursor or even initiator of a strand of neo-Kantianism. Still, the appearance of outstanding studies of, in particular, Fichte and Hegel has forced increasing attention be paid to the conceptual understanding of the development of their respective philosophies and thus to Maimon. What is truly remarkable is that he alone penned a detailed autobiography—and an often amusing and informative one at that—whatever the motivation for writing it might have been.

We can briefly summarize Maimon’s account of his life. The bulk of the recollections in this volume admittedly have little to do with what gained him renown. Had he not written a single line of philosophy, his autobiography would be of interest only to cultural historians for what it tells us of the environment in which Maimon grew to young manhood and of the way of life within several dispersed Jewish communities of the time. But Maimon did write philosophical tracts of a rather high, perhaps, some might argue, even of the highest order and many will turn to this autobiography in hope of understanding his philosophical, rather than cultural, development. Admittedly, they may initially come away somewhat disappointed, but the information is there in plain sight.

Born Shlomo ben Yehoshua in 1753 in what was then Polish Lithuania (now Belarus), Solomon Maimon, as he recast himself in homage to the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, spent a significant portion of his adult life travelling in search of an education. In this pursuit, he left behind a family from an arranged marriage. Much could be said of the sheer intellectual poverty of his environment during his early years. He tells us that he was raised in the “blackest darkness,” that he tried to free himself “from superstition and ignorance” (215), that he read at a young age a Hebrew-language book on astronomy found in his father’s library, but, he laments in retrospect, it was already over 150 years old. The point we might notice today is not that the book was antiquated, as Maimon wants us to think, but that his father had a library! As a youth, Maimon was already recognized for his intellectual gifts in his community and was raised to follow his father’s footsteps as a rabbi. He writes that when he was about nine years of age he could “already grasp both the Talmud and the commentaries, I also enjoyed engaging in disputations about them” (31). In fact, Maimon recounts that in one of his travels in Germany he met a leading rabbinic opponent of the Jewish enlightenment, Raphael Kohen, who described Maimon’s father as a “famous rabbi” (219). Was Maimon’s environment, then, as impoverished as he wants us to believe. Did he not hone his intellectual gifts through an immersion in Jewish texts? And were the respective backgrounds of Kant and Fichte more “enlightened” than his? Kant’s family was hardly intellectual; his father was a harness maker. Fichte came from a family of poor ribbon weavers. What sort of “libraries” were those families likely to have? Certainly, one may respond that they had a greater opportunity for career advancement than Maimon did, but that is not the issue. The issue is Maimon’s portrayal of his background as intellectually impoverished.

Quite dissatisfied with his life and wishing to learn, Maimon set out westward in hopes of reaching Berlin ostensibly to study medicine. Eventually while on the road, he came upon a Jewish beggar, with whom Maimon wandered for a number of months and who taught him the art involved in his acquaintance’s “profession.” They came to Posen in Poland, and there Maimon decided to stay for a time owing to the generosity he encountered from within the Jewish community. After a while, realizing what he took to be the general superstitious nature of many of the locals, Maimon set out again for Berlin. Unlike his first attempt to enter the Prussian capital, he was able to enter without incident, since he traveled by coach, whereas previously he arrived by foot – and was turned away. Now in Berlin he encountered Moses Mendelssohn, for whom he expresses high praise indeed. Despite the privations he experienced during his meandering travels and his obvious mental gifts, Maimon not for a moment seriously considered adopting a trade that could improve his material well-being and yet yield sufficient free time to pursue his interest in philosophy. Mendelssohn was but one who admonished him to pursue a settled direction and cease his “dissolute” way of life – precisely what this was Maimon fails to elaborate. In any case, he had no intention of heeding this well-meant advice, telling Mendelssohn, as he told others, that he was “uninterested in practical undertakings,” that his upbringing had made him “prefer the quiet, contemplative life” (208). If this was the case, why did he frequent and spend what little financial resources he had at taverns and, quite likely, other establishments of ill-repute?  He records that he spent three years in an apprenticeship at a pharmacy, even earning a certificate to document his knowledge, but confesses that he never had any intention of actually working as a pharmacist.

Deciding to leave Berlin without offering much thanks to those who befriended him, he eventually made it to The Hague in Holland, where again he was welcomed and stayed for some nine months, “leading a life of complete independence but also extreme reclusion” (211). In short, he again gives every indication of being in debt to the generosity of others, not giving so much as a hint once of seeking meaningful employment. In the end, despairing of the Dutch Jews, whose only interest in his eyes was to make money, he decides to travel yet again, this time back to Berlin. Throughout his travels, Maimon often laments his inability to speak the language of those whom he encounters wherever he went. Judging from the numerous conversations he relates, though, one finds it hard not to ask how was he was able to communicate with so many. This remains somewhat of a mystery unless we take his linguistic handicap to be somewhat exaggerated. Were those with whom he had extended conversations able to understand his tongue, or did he acquire theirs in a remarkably short time?

Although we may find Maimon’s itinerant life-style curious, perhaps even amusing, what surely interests us here is his encounter with Kant’s philosophy, which he came upon sometime in the mid- to late-1780s. Writing down his observations and commentary on the first Critique, these became his best-known treatise, the Essay on Transcendental Philosophy, published in 1790 in Berlin. The story behind this work—or, rather, immediately after its composition—has been related numerous times. Maimon showed his manuscript to Marcus Herz, who suggested Maimon send it to Kant himself accompanied with a letter of introduction that Herz offered to write.[1] Kant, receiving the package and claiming he had little time to read carefully such a ponderous work, nevertheless, glanced at it. He quickly realized its worth, and remarked that Maimon had understood him better than any of his other critics. Maimon, of course, took this to be an affirmation of his own perspicacity into Kant’s thought particularly in contrast to Karl L. Reinhold’s, Kant’s first popularizer. What Maimon does not dwell upon in his Autobiography is Kant’s extended (for a letter) reply in his letter to Herz dated 26 May 1789 concerning the central issues raised in the Transcendental Philosophy. Kant recognized Maimon’s “many acute observations” (Ak 11: 54) but also that although Maimon’s central question “quid juris?” could be answered along the lines of Leibnizian-Wolffian principles, such an answer would require sensibility to be understood as not fundamentally different from the understanding. In short, Maimon’s “way of representing is Spinozism” (Ak 11: 50). As Kant understood the Transcendental Philosophy, human understanding is not just a faculty of thinking but also a faculty of intuition, whereby thinking brings the intuitive manifold into clear consciousness. In his reply to Herz, Kant wrote that regardless of the quality of Maimon’s manuscript, he could hardly explicitly endorse its publication, since it was in effect an extended criticism of his own views. As we know, it did get published and went on to receive high praise from Fichte for one.

Maimon’s autobiography was published in two volumes, the first in 1792 and the second in 1793. Naturally, then, he was able to recount the events of his life and publications only up to that time which includes several essays written and published soon after the Transcendental Philosophy. He sent copies of at least two of these essays to Kant, asking for the latter’s opinion. Kant did not answer. We cannot even be certain that he read them. Nevertheless, that he had at least looked at them would account for a sharp change of attitude toward Maimon conveyed in his letter to Reinhold from 28 March 1794 in which Kant wrote that he “never really understood what he [Maimon] is after” (Ak 11: 495). Reinhold may have seen Maimon as a competitor in the public arena. As mentioned, Maimon appears to have thought in such terms. Kant may have simply realized that Reinhold could be a much more effective propagandizer for his own transcendental idealism than the disheveled Maimon and accordingly sought to bolster Reinhold’s self-assurance.

It certainly is a great pity that Maimon died in 1800 in poverty. It is also quite sad that given the date of his autobiographical reflections only one chapter—and a short one at that—concerns his dealings with Kant and Kantian philosophy. Maimon would go on in the few years before his death to write a number of other works that have received little recognition in the meager scholarship devoted to his philosophical thought. It is fortunate, though, that the existing English-language scholarship is of a high order, the studies accompanying this translation being examples.

A translation of Maimon’s autobiography by J. Clark Murray appeared in 1888. It was republished by the University of Illinois Press in 2001 with a quite valuable introductory essay by Michael Shapiro. Despite that early translation’s imperfections, it is still useful for anyone wishing to become acquainted with Maimon and his environment. Shapiro’s introduction provides much useful background information for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. The language used in Murray’s translation may appear quaint to us today, but it is perfectly intelligible to anyone familiar with English literature of the period. For those who prefer contemporary idiom, the translation under review will be welcomed. This new translation is often more literal, arguably on a rare occasion to its disadvantage. For example, in one place Maimon recounts a well-meaning friend telling him “die Philosophie gelte nichts mehr,” which Reitter translates as “Philosophy has lost its value,” whereas Murray, more figuratively, but perhaps more accurately conveying its intent, translates it as “philosophy was no longer a marketable commodity.”

More significantly, of course, as the editors and translator note in their own introductory essay entitled “Maimon’s Autobiography: A Guide for the Perplexed,” Murray’s translation omitted ten chapters on Maimonides and a preface with which Maimon had begun his second volume. The Murray translation, in fact, did not acknowledge within the text itself a break between the first and second volumes, but he did confess in his “Translator’s Preface” to having omitted the material mentioned. Those who wish completeness either for its own sake or out of interest in what Maimon had to say about his hero Maimonides will welcome the inclusion of that material here in this new translation. On the other hand, the exclusion of it in the 2001 reprinting of the Murray edition will allow it to be read as a more natural autobiography, the chapters on Maimonides appearing as a distraction. The present translation also includes, in the editors’ words, a “comical, puzzling allegory with which Maimon concluded the second, final part of his autobiography” (xvi). Again, Murray may have felt this opaque text to be irrelevant for the purposes at hand. The editors of the present translation provide helpful information to its understanding, but the tale is unfortunately brief and sheds no substantial light on Maimon’s philosophy. It does allow us, though, to conclude, as mentioned, that he viewed Reinhold as his competitor.

Arguably more serious were Murray’s omissions in the chapter mentioning his philosophical writings circa 1790. Although Murray admitted that he had “condensed” those pages since the information there seemed to him to be “no longer of any special interest.” The problem is that many, if not most, readers of Maimon’s autobiography come to it with an interest in post-Kantian philosophy, not ethnic studies. Murray entirely omitted Maimon’s, brief though they may be, description of his 1789 article “Über Wahrheit,” some clarifications of another piece “Was sind Tropen?” from the same year as well as his short discussions of two other essays from 1790. All of these can be found in this splendid new translation. Of special interest in this regard for the student of philosophy is Murray’s failure to include Maimon’s criticism of Wolff’s definition of truth.

Whereas such are the omissions of the Murray translation, this beautifully produced 2018 translation omits—understandably, of course—Murray’s own “Concluding Chapter” in which he dutifully observes that despite the prejudices that Maimon as a Jew would have encountered there was no overarching reason why he had to live and die in poverty. As we know, one of his early heroes, Spinoza, did not find it beneath himself to earn a living working with his hands.

Melamed and Socher, the editors of the new Reitter translation, have added copious and helpful notes to the text throughout. They point out that many of the tales, incidents, figures, and quotations seem so incredible that a reader may conclude they are either fictitious or at least exaggerations. Yet, in every instance that could be verified Maimon’s accounts check out (xvi). They correctly point out that they documented this corroboration in their notes, thereby making this translation additionally valuable.

A significant addition to this translation is, of course, the editors’ essay, as mentioned, but also yet another essay, an “Afterword” entitled “Maimon’s Philosophical Itinerary” by Gideon Freudenthal, himself the editor of a collection of essays on Maimon’s thought.

The translation is accompanied by a thorough index and a nice bibliography for those who wish to learn more about both Maimon as an individual and as a thinker.

In conclusion, whereas the much earlier Murray translation particularly in its 2001 incarnation can still prove useful particularly to the initiate, the Reitter translation, given its completeness, accompanying materials, that it hews more closely to the text, will be preferable to those looking for those qualities.


[1] This, at least, is Maimon’s account. In his letter of 7 April 1789 to Kant, Herz writes that Maimon asked him to write such a letter (Ak 11: 14).

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