Salomon Maimon regarded the Principle of Determinability [Satz der Bestimmbarkeit] as one of the major achievements of his philosophical writing. Thus, he writes: “[T]he principle of determinability laid down in this work is a principle of all objectively real thought, and consequently of philosophy as a whole too. All the propositions of philosophy can be derived from, and be determined by it [woraus sich alle Sätze herleiten und wodurch sie sich bestimmen lassen].” This paper consists of two parts. The first is expository in nature. I briefly spell out the main aspects of Maimon’s principle of determinability and its aims. In the second part, I examine Maimon’s surprising claim that once we accept the principle of determinability, we have to deny the possibility of two independent subjects sharing the same predicate. Maimon provides several proofs for this highly counterintuitive claim, and I will try to clarify and evaluate these proofs.
The extraordinary life-story of Salomon Maimon (1753-1800) has already been told in several places – the more interesting ones being Maimon’s own Lebensgeschichte (1792/3) and Sabbatia Wolff’s Maimoniana (1812/3) – and I shall not dwell on it here. My aim in this paper is to contribute to the clarification of one crucial doctrine of Maimon. Scholars of German Idealism usually know Maimon as one of Kant’s earliest critics, and as an apparently original thinker whose style of philosophizing is obscure to the extent that frequently, one can hardly decide whether a specific claim of Maimon is an ingenious philosophical insight or just simple nonsense. What is clear, however, is that Maimon was no mystic of any sort (in fact he was one of the most radical rationalists in modern philosophy, insofar as he was willing to grant the Principle of Sufficient Reason unlimited validity), and that he was definitely trying to present his claims as lucidly as he could.
Apart from his critique of Kant, Maimon’s significance for the history of philosophy lies in his crucial role in the rediscovery of Spinoza by the German Idealists. Specifically, Maimon initiated a change from the common eighteenth-century view of Spinoza as the great “atheist” to the view of Spinoza as an “acosmist”, i.e., a thinker who propounded a deep, though unorthodox, religious view denying the reality of the world and taking God to be the only real being. I have discussed this aspect of Maimon’s philosophy in other places…
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