Salomon Maimon’s Attitude towards the Philosophy of Kant (in the Light of Their Correspondence and a Recently Discovered Manuscript of A Dialogue Between Kant and One of His Students)

Mirosław Żelazny



The article familiarizes us with Salomon Maimon (1754–1800), a self-taught philosopher of Jewish descent, and with his attitude to the scientific views of Immanuel Kant. Although Maimon depicted himself as a follower of Kant, the reality contradicts this picture. The conclusions drawn in the article are based on Maimon’s letters and his manuscript of A Dialogue between Kant and One of His Students discovered only recently.

The abovementioned correspondence with Kant clearly shows Maimon’s position in relation to the views of the philosopher from Königsberg. The letters, most of which remained unanswered, are written in a characteristic, somewhat audacious manner. Maimon begins them with glorifying Kant’s philosophy but then suggests numerous corrections concerning not only its insignificant details but also some principal issues which would radically change the whole system of Kant’s philosophy. Presumably that justifies the fact that Maimon received but one answer in the whole correspondence. Kant answered it at the instigation of his friend, Marcus Herz, with whom Maimon won favour. Later, however, Kant bore a grudge against Herzto such an extent that their own correspondence, previously frequent and very personal in character, almost ceased, becoming scarce and official.

This, however, did not discourage Maimon, who in his Autobiography (1792) claimed that Kant had a high regard of him. The Jewish self-taught philosopher kept writing letters to Kant, and as he could not bear the lack of any answer, he decided to respond to the lettershimself. Kant’s would-be answers are contained in the abovementioned manuscript of A Dialogue between Kant and One of His Students, which for Maimon was a kind of compensation for Kant’s repudiation. Thetitle dialogue is between the Königsberg philosopher and a student N, whose views are identical with those of Maimon. It is hard to overlook the importunity of his attacks on Kant, whose answers are far more polite perhaps due to the fact he cannot equal him. In the dialogue, Kant contradicts himself, is lost in the arguments, and finally agrees with the statements of N despite the fact that they are quite distant from his own critical philosophy.

N – that is Maimon – casts doubts concerning various aspects of Kant’s philosophy, e.g. the notion of space as a form of pure intuition, and Kant’s attempts to defend his position are quite helpless. Frequent statements such as “I do not know” or “highly probable” compound Maimon’s picture of Kant. It turns out, however, that in some of the theses contained in the dialogue Maimon was close the views of Fichte, which Kant refused as well. Perhaps, then, Maimon was a link between Kantian philosophy and the classical German idealism, a link much more important than it is generally acknowledged.


Immanuel Kant; Salomon Maimon

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