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International Yearbook

of German Idealism

8 2010

Philosophy and Science

Herausgegeben von/edited by

Fred Rush (Notre Dame) und/and Jrgen Stolzenberg (Halle/S.)

Redaktion/Associate editors

Paul Franks (Toronto) und/and Lars-Thade Ulrichs (Halle/S.)

Wissenschaftlicher Beirat/Editorial Board

Karl Ameriks (Notre Dame), Andreas Arndt (Berlin), Manfred Baum (Wuppertal), Frederick C. Beiser (Syracuse), Robert Brandom (Pittsburgh), Daniel Breazeale (Lexington),

Rdiger Bubner (Heidelberg), Claudio Cesa (Pisa), Konrad Cramer (Gttingen), Klaus

Dsing (Kln), Michael N. Forster (Chicago), Eckart Frster (Baltimore), Manfred Frank

(Tbingen), Hans Friedrich Fulda (Heidelberg), Karen Gloy (Luzern), Henry S. Harris

(Toronto), Vittorio Hsle (Notre Dame), Rolf-Peter Horstmann (Berlin), Michael Inwood (Oxford), Wilhelm G. Jacobs (Mnchen), Jrg Jantzen (Mnchen), Walter Jaeschke

(Bochum), Salvi Turr (Barcelona), Charles Larmore (Chicago), Batrice Longuenesse

(New York), Frederick Neuhouser (New York), Robert B. Pippin (Chicago), Claude

Pich (Montreal), Terry Pinkard (Georgetown), Alain Renaut (Paris), Michael Rosen

(Oxford), Birgit Sandkaulen (Jena), Hans-Jrg Sandkhler (Bremen), Dieter Schnecker

(Siegen), Ludwig Siep (Mnster), Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer (Leipzig), Dieter Sturma

(Essen), Charles Taylor (Montreal), Violetta L. Waibel (Wien), Michael Wolff (Bielefeld),

Allen W. Wood (Stanford), Gnter Zller (Mnchen)

De Gruyter

http://www.degruyter.de/journals/ijbdi

ISSN 1613-0472

ISBN 978-3-11-022285-2 (Br.)

ISBN 978-3-11-022286-9 (online)

ISBN 978-3-11-022287-6 (Br./online)

Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet ber <http://dnb.d-nb.de>

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Gedruckt auf surefreiem Papier, das die US-ANSI-Norm ber Haltbarkeit erfllt.

Printed in Germany

www.degruyter.com

Gideon Freudenthal

Understanding versus Intuition

Maimon entwickelt seine Philosophie anhand einer Analyse der Mathematik, die,

seiner Ansicht nach, das Beste an menschlicher Erkenntnis darstellt. Aber nicht

einmal die Mathematik gengt seinem Kriterium der Rationalitt, das in der Einsehbarkeit durch den Verstand und nicht in der Evidenz der Intuition oder Einbildungskraft besteht. Maimon versucht die Mathematik auf analytische Aussagen

zurckzufhren, und, wo sich dies als unmglich erweist, sie zumindest so zu formulieren, dass sie seinem synthetischen Kriterium gengen. Dieser Satz der Bestimmbarkeit unterscheidet reelle Synthesen von Kategorienfehlern. Beide Programme konnten ihr Ziel nicht erreichen, aber Maimon gab sein Kriterium der

Verstandeseinsicht nicht auf, sondern stellte einen unendlichen Fortschritt auf dieses Ziel hin in Aussicht.

1. The Argument

Maimons philosophy is imbued with mathematics. To him, only mathematics is

knowledge proper, and he develops his theses in discussion of mathematical

examples. However, even mathematics does not satisfy his criteria of rationality.1

Maimons main concern is intelligibility. His criterion of rationality is insight of the understanding as opposed to intuition and imagination. Intelligibility is specified to analytic and synthetic criteria, which form the bases for two

comprehensive philosophical programs, one of which is more demanding than

the other. The first criterion is logical truth, and the program consists in the

reduction of all synthetic propositions to analytical ones, concepts of substance

to concepts of function. The less demanding criterion was Maimons Principle

(or Law) of Determinability. The principle formulates the conditions of a real

synthesis. In real synthesis a new object is produced, from which new consequences follow, that follow neither from the original subject nor from the

predicate concepts alone, but only from their synthesis. Thus a triangle has certain consequences (e. g., that the sum of its internal angles equals two right

angles), whereas the Pythagorean Theorem is a consequence of the synthesis of

triangle and right angle. This criterion does not dispense with intuition,

There have been a number of cursory discussions of Maimons philosophy of mathematics, but the only serious analysis is Lachterman, 1992.

84

Gideon Freudenthal

nor does it substitute analytic for synthetic judgments, but it accepts the (temporary) reality of synthetic judgments (a priori). Both criteria presuppose one

supreme concept from which they proceed either analytically or synthetically.

The central motif of Maimons philosophy is hence that proper knowledge

must be based on the understanding. Intuition is not only opaque to reason but

may also deceive us. Maimon learned this lesson from The Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides, his early source of philosophical education. Maimonides discusses asymptotes. The imagination (or intuition) shows that these two lines

must intersect; the understanding proves that this is false. Which source of

knowledge do we trust, the imagination (or intuition) or the understanding? In

his commentary, Maimon emphasizes the prerogative of reason over imagination as that which alone establishes the preeminence of man over beasts, and

supplies three pages of discussion with a simplified version of Apollonius

proof accompanied by a diagram. He was evidently very proud of this proof,

mentioning it also in his Lebensgeschichte.2

Maimons philosophical program was not successful in either version.

Mathematics depends on axioms, postulates, and natural numbers, which are

not the product of the understanding but are imposed on us in intuition. He

therefore concludes that even mathematics is only subjectively necessary and

not objectively necessary and apodeictic. We thus have before us the following

hierarchy: pure logic is objective and apodeictic; arithmetic and, even more so,

geometry are subjectively necessary; mathematical physics is contingent; and

propositions dependent on perception (the surface is red) are not yet knowledge in this form.

The uniqueness of Maimons philosophy consists in upholding these criteria

of rationality, on the one hand, and claiming that they have not been met even

by the best of human knowledge, on the other. The gap between actual and ideal

knowledge is a permanent challenge and because it diminishes through the

progress of knowledge it is also a motivation to further efforts. The complete

fulfillment of the program is the prerogative of the infinite intellect. The present state of mathematics and its gradual transcendence towards the ideal of

the infinite intellect! are the share of the finite intellect. Insisting that our

knowledge is not based on firm ultimate foundations and does not conform to

the criteria of proper knowledge, that it rather begins and stops in the middle

in a mixture of logic and intuition, and also that philosophy his own included! is merely hypothetical, is the core of Maimons anti-Kantian philosophy of

human finitude. The optimistic counterpart is the claim that we proceed

towards ever more objective knowledge. If indeed an isomorphism obtains be2

Maimonides example is the leg of a hyperbola and its asymptote, which is the outline

of the cone itself. See The Guide of the Perplexed I, p. 73. See Apollonius Conica II,

pp. 1, 2, 14. See Maimons commentary in GM, pp. 142149, esp. 146148; Lebensgeschichte I, p. 381; see also GW III, p. 232.

85

tween the knowledge of the finite and the infinite intellect, then we may hope

that we progress in the right direction. But because we cannot know this, our

progress may be an aberration. This is Maimons radical skepticism. The hope

that from the middle we progress towards proper knowledge, and the

skeptical fear that this might be an illusion, designate the opposite poles of

Maimons Rational Dogmatism and skepticism.

2. Construction in Geometry

Kant famously stated that mathematics is so successful because it constructs its

concepts in intuition (CpR, A 714/ B742).3 Does it really?

In an optimistic presentation of his project, Maimon compares construction

in mathematics to creation, man to God:

God, as an infinite power of representation [Vorstellungsvermgen], from all

eternity, thinks himself as all possible essences [Wesen], that is, he thinks himself as

limited in every possible way. He does not think as we do, discursively; rather, his

thoughts are at one and the same time presentations/complete exhibitions [Darstellungen]. If someone objects that we have no concept of such a way of thinking,

my answer is: We do in fact have a concept of it, since we possess it in part. We

think and at the same time exhibit all mathematical concepts as real objects [reelle

Objekte] by construction a priori. In this, we are similar to God (Progressen,

p. 20).

Our cognition stands in the same relation to the objects of mathematics as the

infinite intellect to all objects of nature. This intellect thinks human beings as

we think triangles. In fact, it resolves all objects to real definitions, to the

rules of their construction (Bruno, p. 54; Tr, p. 377). To the infinite intellect all

mathematical truth is analytic (KU, p. 76; Tr, pp. 61, 181).

Now, if we could replace the object (in intuition) with rules of construction

(of the understanding) and forsake intuition, at least know that our operations

in intuition correspond to logical operations, then, at least in this respect, we

would be similar to God for whom thinking and creating are one and the

same. The attempts to fulfill this promise taught Maimon that in geometry construction depends on givens in intuition, not on the concept alone (Logik,

p. 125; Kat, pp. 163164; Tr, pp. 105106).

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Gideon Freudenthal

The inquiry as to whether geometry can construct its objects and dispense with

intuition reasonably begins with the straight line and the circle. This is so because Euclid introduces these two objects with postulates and then constructs

all other objects from these. If their construction requires intuition, then all of

geometry depends on intuition. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant claims that

[w]e cannot think a line without drawing it in thought, or a circle without

describing it (CpR, B 154). However, Kant does not explain by what rule we

can think or draw the straight line. In order to construct an object we need a

construction rule and a definition to which the constructed object should conform. How, then, do we distinguish drawing a straight line from drawing a

curve if we have neither an adequate definition nor a construction rule for the

former? Kant never answers the question. As if making a pun on Kants assertion [w]e cannot think a line without drawing it in thought, in which understanding and intuition seem confused, Maimon presents this rationalist alternative:

For the understanding to think a line, it must draw it in thought, but to present a

line in intuition, it must be imagined as already drawn. For the intuition of a line,

only consciousness of the apprehension (of the taking together of mutually external parts) is required, whereas in order to comprehend [begreifen] a line, a real definition [Sacherklrung] is required, i.e. the explanation of the way it arises [die

Erklrung der Entstehungsart] (Tr, pp. 3536).

line (an equation), neither synthesizing the successive perceptions of the parts,

nor imagining the motion of a point. Like Kant, Maimon has no rule of construction for the straight line and cannot construct it.

2.2. The Proof that the Straight Line is shortest between two Points

To substantiate his claim that geometry is based on synthetic judgments a priori,

Kant argued:

[T]he straight line between two points is the shortest is a synthetic proposition, for

my concept of the straight contains nothing of quantity, but only a quality. The

concept of the shortest is therefore entirely additional to it, and cannot be extracted out of the concept of the straight line by any analysis. Help must here be gotten

from intuition, by means of which alone the synthesis is possible (CpR, B 16).

Maimon, who wishes to demonstrate that intuition is but confused knowledge, attempts to prove that this proposition is in fact analytic, i. e. that the

property shortest between two points can be inferred from the definition of a

straight line.

87

The proof proceeds from Maimons interpretation of Christian Wolffs definition of a straight line. The definition states that the straight line is the line,

the parts of which are similar to the whole. Maimon interprets this as stating

that all parts have the same direction. If we abstract from the magnitude, the

parts of a line can be distinguished from each other only by their direction

(Richtung) or their position (Lage). But if this is so, then a straight line

(abstracted from its magnitude!) has no parts or is one line only, since it is defined by its singular direction. A not-straight line is in fact several lines individuated by the change of direction. This reduction of a perceptual quality

(straight) to quantity (one, several) contradicts, of course, Kants view

that the concept of the straight contains nothing of quantity, but only a quality (CpR, B 16). Now, Kant leveled the criticism that we cannot define direction without using straight (AA XI, pp. 5354) and that the definition is,

therefore, circular. Maimon answered that no better definition than Wolffs has

been proposed (Tr, p. 68), and he ventured to prove that the predicate shortest

between two points is implied by the subject term straight line. If successful,

this proves that the allegedly synthetic proposition, a straight line is the shortest between two points, is in fact analytic.

Suppose that between points A and C there is one (i.e. straight) line segment

and also the line segments AB and BC . The broken line ABC forms a triangle

with the sides: AB , BC , and AC . Euclids Elements I, prop. 20 proves that two

sides of a triangle are longer than the third, and hence AB + BC > AC . Now,

since any multilateral figure can be analyzed into triangles to which Euclids I,

prop. 20 applies, it follows that several line segments, i. e. all other line seg

ments between points A and C are longer than the unique [straight] line AC

(Tr, pp. 6567).

However, curved lines are not considered by Euclid. Maimon attempts to

apply Euclids proposition also to curved lines. The proof proceeds, as Maimon

says, per substitutionem: the curve between two points is substituted by a broken straight line, which can be resolved into triangles to which Elements I,

prop. 20 apply (Tr, pp. 6566, 68). The equivalence between a curved and a broken line was widely accepted; in fact, it was part of the definition of the curved

line. Christian Wolff, whose definition of a straight line Maimon adopted (a line

the parts of which are similar to the whole), defined in a complementary way

the curved line as the line the parts of which are not similar to the whole line or

can be well distinguished from it, and which is compounded of infinitely

small straight lines or a many-sided polygon of infinitely many and infinitely

small sides (Wolff, 1978, pp. 749, 460461).

Maimons proof depends on the substitution of the polygon for the curved

line salva veritate. However, in his discussion of the circles construction Maimon discovered that these are not equivalent.

88

Gideon Freudenthal

Kant considers the definition and the construction of a circle in the context of

his discussion of definition in general. He maintains that only in mathematics

do we encounter appropriate definitions. The example is the circle (CpR, A

234/B 287).

Kant refers to the construction of the circle by turning a segment around

one of its ends.4 This is the real definition of the circle and it proves not only

that the concept is free of contradiction, but also that the object defined is possible, in contradistinction to Leibnizs decahedron or Kants biangle. The latter

objects can be flawlessly defined and yet prove impossible: they cannot be constructed. Here, in contrast, the possibility [of a circle] is [] given in the definition of the circle, in that it is actually constructed by means of the definition

itself.5

However, this definition is not the Euclidean definition of the circle. In

Euclid, the definition reads: A circle is a plane figure contained by one line

such that all the straight lines falling upon it from one point among those lying

within the figure are equal to one another (Elements I, def. 15). The definition

demands that the circumference of the circle be one line, i. e. continuous. It is

hence not enough to show that every point or all points considered on the

circumference are equidistant from the center, but it is required that all points

on the continuous line are equidistant, or all radii be equal.

Kants definition does not mention this differentia specifica of the circle; it

rather seems implied because the same radius constructs all points on the circumference. This construction certainly appeals to the imagination, but it also

involves paradoxes that were known since antiquity and discussed again by

Galileo and others (including Abraham Gotthelf Kstner, a mathematical authority recognized by Kant), e. g. the rota Aristotelis.6 If we do not presuppose

that motion constructs continuous lines (straight or curved), then we have to

prove that the line so constructed is continuous. This Kant explicitly denies:

In the concept of a circular line, nothing more is thought than that all straight lines

drawn from it to a single point (the centre) are equal: this is a merely logical function of the universality of the judgement in which the concept of a line constitutes

the subject and refers merely to each [eine jede] of the lines, not to the totality [das

All] of the lines that can be described on a plane to a given point; if it did not, then

4

5

6

Letter to Marcus Herz, May 26, 1789: Correspondence, p. 315; AA XI, p. 53. See also

the letter to Reinhold of May 19, 1789: Correspondence, p. 306; AA XI, p. 43.

Letter to Marcus Herz, May 26, 1789: Correspondence, p. 315; AA XI, p. 53. Cf. Letter to Reinhold, May 19, 1789: Correspondence, p. 306; AA XI, p. 43.

For Maimons discussion of the rota Aristotelis, see Tr, pp. 230238 and my Definition and construction in Freudenthal, 2006. A revised version of this extended essay

will appear in my forthcoming book on Maimons philosophy.

89

every line would with equal right be an idea of the understanding [this is Maimons

term GF], because they all contain lines (as parts) that can be thought between

any two arbitrary [nur denkbaren] points in them, whose number equally goes to

infinity (Letter to Hertz, May 26, 1789: AA XI, pp. 5253).

Discussing the construction of a circle, Maimon proceeds from Euclids and not

from the alleged real definition of a circle by motion. We assign a point and

mark around it equidistant points. For simplicitys sake, let these points be also

equidistant from each other. All these point do not form the one line required, they must be connected. Every two points can be uniquely connected only

by a straight line (applying postulate 1 and 2 of the Elements). The apexes of the

figure are equidistant from the center, but the figure is not a circle but a regular

polygon. Maimon therefore says: A regular polygon is in respect to a circle

[] [a] concept (PhWb, pp. 162, 170, 172).

The attempt to construct the elementary objects of geometry and to prove

that the straight line is shortest between two points showed that the duality

of understanding and intuition appears here also in this form; in intuition, spatial objects appear continuous but we have no concept of the understanding for

them. The rationalist alternative to Kants treatment of geometry failed in three

points: it failed to replace the property straight given in intuition with a concept of the understanding. It also failed to prove that the straight line is the

shortest between two points; this, too, is obvious in intuition but cannot be

proven by the understanding. Finally, it failed to construct a continuous circle

from its concept. Whereas Kant accepted geometrical practice and, therefore,

also intuition as authoritative, Maimon upheld criteria of rationality that he

could not satisfy. Because axioms and postulates are not transparent to reason

but are imposed on intuition, geometry cannot be accepted as objectively necessary. It is merely subjectively so.

3. Number

Maimon devotes incomparably less space to arithmetic than to geometry. This is

true with regard to both explicit discussions of the foundations of arithmetic in

comparison to those of geometry and references to arithmetic (respectively geometry) as exemplifying philosophical issues. Geometry is ubiquitous in Maimons

writings, arithmetic rare. Maimon (and not only Maimon, but also others of his

contemporaries) often writes mathematics when he means, in fact, geometry.

Maimon does not explicitly define the concept of number. We find only an

informal elucidation of the concept and a few casual references. The elucidation

follows Maimons philosophical objectives to dispense with intuition. Number

should not be understood as a collection of units (given in intuition), but

rather as ratios of magnitudes. Concepts of ratio and relations in general are

pure concepts of the understanding and independent of intuition.

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Gideon Freudenthal

I view the understanding as merely a capacity for thought, that is, for producing

pure concepts by means of judging. No real objects are given to it as material for it

to work on. Its objects are merely logical and they only become real objects in the

first place by means of thought. It is an error to believe that things (real objects)

must be prior to their relations. The concepts of the numbers are merely relations

and do not presuppose real objects because these relations are the objects themselves. For example, the number 2 expresses a ratio [Verhltnis] of 2 :1 at the same

time as it expresses the object of this relation []. These pure concepts of the

understanding and relations (that always come in pairs) define one another reciprocally, i. e., in a circle (Tr, p. 191; cf. Logik, pp. 115116).

The origin of the idea that this relation, in fact: a correlation (2 :1; 1: 2) is analytic is in Aristotles Categories 10. Aristotle discusses there correlation as one

kind of opposition. The idea is that, if one of the members and the specific

correlation are known, then the other member is determined. If x is the double

of y, then y is the half of x. In his first book, Maimon claimed that propositions

based on correlatives are identical, in later years that they are not strictly identical, but nevertheless analytical (Tr, p. 37; cf. Kat, p. 66).

It is clear that in the above Maimon does not define the number 2, for this

would be an obvious petitio principii: 2 in the expression 2 :1 would be used

to define 2 as a cardinal number. Moreover, Maimon also refers without further ado to intuition in order to introduce the numbers 1 to 10, and also for

addition of any two numbers between 1 and 9. He concedes that the proposition 3 + 2 = 5 is given to me in intuition (Tr, p. 323), as Kant claimed. The propositions of arithmetic that do not exceed the base of the number system (10 in

the case of the decimal system) are synthetic, cannot be proven, and are to be

counted among the principles (Grundstze) since they are known by no analysis but immediately synthetically in intuition (KU, pp. 176177; cf. also Bacon

pp. 182183; Logik, pp. 273274).7

What remains of the claim that number is a ratio is that it should be

understood as the ratio of specific number to the absolute unit, not as the

multitude of units as in Euclid (Elements VI, def. 2) even if it is so constructed. Like his predecessors in the seventeenth century, Maimon insists that the

unit (in Maimons terms: the absolute unit) is 1, an abstract number (the

ancient unit is not a number because it is not a multitude), that can be thought

and does not refer to whatever may be called one in intuition.8 It is not that by

virtue of which each of the things that exist is called one (Elements VI, def. 1)

but a symbol of the absolute unit in thought. Whereas natural numbers can be

7

8

In German geometry books of the eighteenth century Euclids axioms and postulates

were put together under the heading Grundstze.

Here and subsequently I follow Klein, 1968. On the distinction between the one as

the unit of arithmetic and one counted object, see especially pp. 3940, 49, 54.

91

understood as counting units of some kind, the ratio of two numbers or magnitudes is given by the quotient, which is indifferent to the nature of the magnitudes compared. The absolute unit in thought cannot be divided in infinity as a

unit (object) in intuition. Number is not affected by the nature of what it is

applied to (Tr, pp. 35051, 35354; KU, p. 29). Because of the failure to construct numbers from ratios on the one hand and the interpretation of number as

a ratio and not as a multitude of units on the other, we find in Maimon discussions in which number seems to conform both to the ancient and to the

modern concept of number. Maimons conception is very similar to the views of

John Wallis (see Klein, 1968, pp. 211224; esp. 220222).

Consider the analogous case of cause and effect which Maimon mentions but does not elaborate. These, too, are correlative terms, and therefore, as

Hume and Maimon observed: analytic.9 The proposition x is the cause of y

implies logically the proposition y is the effect of x. However, the correlative

terms cause and effect do not replace physics; specific causal relations cannot

be derived from them. They rather subsume single regularities under a universal

category. Apart from their application to concrete cases cause and effect have

no meaning (Tr, p. 368).

Thus, Maimon does not construct the individual numbers from the notion

of number as a ratio any more than he constructs specific physical connections

from the pure concept of cause. Rather, he begins with the natural numbers

given in intuition we count fingers and add small numbers by means of grouping single representations in intuition and observes that they fall under the

category of correlatives. The common property of 1, 2, 3 is that they stand

for ratios to 1, not for a quantity. The numbers and the objects numbered are

thus strictly severed:

It is not the number but that which is subsumed under the concept of a number

that can be greater or lesser [grer oder kleiner], i. e. be subsumed under a greater

or lesser number. Hence the concept of magnitude has no meaning whatever in

pure arithmetic, abstracted from its usage. It is not a number, but that which can be

counted which is a magnitude, and is determined by a specific number. Likewise, it

is not an arbitrarily assumed unit that is at the basis of a number, but the absolute

unit, which as such cannot be constructed but merely thought. The doctrine of

fractions, which is based on an arbitrarily assumed unit, has no place in arithmetic.

We thus see that the concepts of unity and number on which arithmetic is based

presuppose the concept of a continuous magnitude (which is the object of geometry), without which they have no meaning. (KU, p. 26; cf. Tr, pp. 353354; Logik,

pp. 115116).

The exclusion of fractions from arithmetic and the reference to geometry sound

strange, but here too, Maimon reflects the transition to the modern concept of

number, apparent also in Wallis and Wolff. Wallis hesitated to include fractions

9

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Gideon Freudenthal

among the numbers and referred to geometry to justify the divisibility of the

unit, and he, too, conceived number as a ratio. Whether Maimon was acquainted with Wallis or not, he was certainly acquainted with Christian Wolffs textbook of mathematics; in fact, Maimon wrote a Hebrew textbook on the basis of

Wolffs Latin textbook.10 And in Wolff we find similar views to Wallis. On the

basis of Euclids definition, it cannot even be proven that one itself is a number, observed Christian Wolff (1734, Zahl, p. 1345). Wolff, too, defines in a

way similar to Wallis number as everything that refers to unity as a straight

line to another (1732, def. VIII, p. 18). In Scholion II to this definition Wolff

explains what the advantage of this definition is that [n]umber is to be defined

in general so that it be valid for integers as well as fractions, for rational as well

as irrational numbers (1732, def. VIII sch. II, p. 18). And the advantage of a

general definition is that we can apply arithmetical operations to lines: The

utility of this shows when we apply algebra to geometry (Wolff, 1734, Zahl,

pp. 13451346).

Maimon differs from Wolff in some respects. For him number is the ratio

not of continuous magnitudes, but of a number to the absolute unit, distinguished from a unit given in intuition and that can be infinitely divided

(Tr, pp. 350351, 353354; KU, p. 29). Moreover, Maimon does not recognize

irrational numbers as numbers. The reason is that an irrational number cannot

be constructed; it cannot be definitely given although it can be approached ever

more. It is, therefore, not an object, but an idea. And yet, we can operate with

this concept by moving from the object to its real definition, to the rule of its

production. When we have the rule of a series we can produce the series. We

cannot present an infinite series in intuition, but we can by all means think the

rule of its production and substitute it for the series itself, and thus also dispense

with the intuition of time. Moreover, convergent series and objects (numbers)

may be substituted for each other (Tr, pp. 227228). If we substitute real definition for objects, we can accept also irrational numbers although their construction cannot be completed. 2 is, therefore, not a possible object, but it is

a possible concept (i. e. it does not contain a contradiction).11 Thinking of 2 as

a number, i. e. as an object, means thinking of it both as a convergent and

non-convergent series, as rational and irrational, and this thought contains a

contradiction, since it is both an object and not an object at the same time

(Tr, p. 164). This impossibility applies to the number, not to the magnitude. The

magnitude itself can be constructed as a geometrical magnitude (Tr, pp. 374

375). Moreover, although it is contradictorily determined as an object of arith10

11

The textbook was not printed; the manuscript seems lost. Lebensgeschichte II, p. 236.

In this it is different from -a. The latter is a contradictory concept because the product of two identical numbers cannot be negative; see Tr, pp. 5860, 361362. And yet,

Maimon does not reject even the use of -a, because it enables the consistent application of mathematical rules without restrictions.

93

metic, we can know its ratio to other magnitudes (Lebensgeschichte II, p. 43).

Finally, and most important: the value of 2 can be ever more approximated.

Although 2 is therefore not a number, i. e. not an object, it is not nothing, it is

an idea (Tr, p. 229).

We have seen that numbers can be interpreted as ratios, but they cannot be

constructed from ratios. Intuition cannot be dispensed with entirely. Purely

relational thought is apparently the privilege of the infinite intellect. A year

after the publication of the Transcendentalphilosophie, Maimon conceded that

only God can construct number from ratio, matter from its form alone:

The infinite intellect, may He be exalted, actualizes by means of the forms of the

understanding their subjects which are the objects of knowledge (mv>klvt). But

this possibility will become clear by the example of the objects of arithmetic,

because the numbers are nothing but known ratios, I wish to say the forms of

knowledge and their subjects. But the finite intellect must necessarily distinguish

in its knowledge the form of apprehension from the object apprehended itself, not

an essential but at least a formal distinction, namely that with it [the finite intellect]

the form of apprehension is an apprehended ratio; and the apprehended object,

although it is in itself also an apprehended ratio, nevertheless it is for it [the finite

intellect] the subject of the ratio [nv>X hir?], since it [the finite intellect] does not

apprehend this ratio clearly [deutlich] (GM, pp. 107108).

There is, hence, an important difference between what numbers are and how

they are known to the finite intellect. Whatever is given as an object is not clearly apprehended. If it were, it would be a pure relational concept not an intuition. A finite intellect cannot apprehend without unclear rests, i. e. without intuition, i. e. without given objects, which resist analysis, and it cannot construct numbers from mere ratios. A few years later Maimon finally answered

the question concerning form and matter of number first raised in his

Transcendentalphilosophie: the ratios between the objects of mathematics are

the form of their knowledge, but their matter determines them as specific

objects (Logik, p. 115).12 Differently put, to human beings number (matter)

must be given in intuition, the ratios of numbers (including n :1) are the form by

which they are thought by the understanding. The infinite intellect constructs

the object from pure relations with nothing given to it. This gap between the

finite and the infinite intellect can be reduced but not closed.

12

number? It is not an a posteriori object (something given), because it is merely a determinate way of thinking an object. It is not an a priori form because it is not a condition

of an object. It is not an a posteriori form because this has no meaning at all, as each

form can be nothing other than an a priori condition. What is it then? (Tr, p. 424).

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Gideon Freudenthal

4. Differentials

Maimon valued the infinitesimal calculus even more than arithmetic. In fact,

Maimon ascribed to the calculus a quasi-religious meaning. The differential calculus is a sparkle of divinity and a patent of nobility testifying to the origin

of the human spirit in the pure intelligences (Logik, p. 266). The concepts of

the infinite in mathematics teach man to transcend his finitude, to assume the

perspective of an infinite intellect. The interest behind the engagement with the

mathematical infinite is the same that also directs man to contemplate God,

universe, immortal soul, etc. (KU, pp. 163165). The ideas of the infinitely

large in mathematics, Maimon says elsewhere, are sublime (PhWb, Erhaben, pp. 3031).

But above all, the infinitesimal calculus was essential to Maimons reformed

monadology, or as he expressed himself to his improved Leibnizianism

(Baco and Kant, p. 121). He attributed the close connection between monadology and the calculus to Leibniz himself: in the Transcendentalphilosophie he suggests that the great Leibniz came upon the discovery of the differential calculus through his system of the Monadology; in his Progressen he reverses the

assertion: Leibniz is here said to have come upon his monadology through his

calculus.13

Before turning to the calculus, we should consider what philosophical problems

the calculus should help solve. Maimons concept of differentials appears

according to context in two versions. In the epistemological context (in his

critique of Kant), Maimon speaks of differentials of sensations, in the ontological context (in his critique of Maimonides and the philosophy of Kalam) of

elements of bodies. In Maimons monadology, the world consists of individual substances, which are forces of representation differing from each other by

the degree of this force;14 these two versions are thus not alternatives but rather

complementary perspectives.15 If this is accepted, then the dualism of mind and

matter disappears and is replaced by the degrees of the forces of representation

within consciousness. That the same individual substance represents different

external bodies means that the same force of representation determines itself

13

14

15

See GM, pp. 8, 126127, 136137.

Achim Engstler argues that the function of the differentials is the solution of the

quid juris? question and not, as Kuntze suggested, to explain different representations of the same cognitive faculty; see Engstler, 1990, pp. 143 and 47 ff., 167. I suggest

that these are two aspects of the same philosophy.

95

in different ways. The dualism between the continuum of the forms of intuition space and time and the discrete the individual substances assumes

the form that the interaction of the individual substances appears in (human)

consciousness as an unclear continuous representation, as matter or space.

Kants quid juris question is here part of a much more comprehensive problem: in Aristotelian language the question is how form relates to matter,

and the question is posed within consciousness itself. Specifically, it is no longer

a matter of how concepts are applied to the totally heterogeneous intuitions,

but how clear representations (pure concepts of discrete substances) are applied

to confused representations (continuous intuitions, both a priori and a posteriori):

If we want to consider the matter more carefully, we will find that the question

quid juris? is one and the same as the important question that has occupied all

previous philosophy, namely the explanation of the community [Gemeinschaft]

between soul and body, or again, as the explanation of the worlds arising (with

respect to its matter) from an intelligence. For, we ourselves as well as the things

outside of us (insofar as we are conscious of them) can be nothing other than our

representations themselves, representations that are rightly divided into two principal classes. 1) The forms, i. e. the representation of the universal modes of our

operations [Arten unserer Operationen], which must be in us a priori. 2) The matter, or the representation of particular objects that is given to us a posteriori and

that, in connection with the first, yields consciousness of particular objects [].

How can the understanding subject something (the given object) to its power (to

its rules) that is not in its power? In the Kantian system, namely where sensibility

and understanding are two totally different sources of our cognition, this question

is insoluble as I have shown; on the other hand in the Leibnizian-Wolffian system,

both flow from one and the same cognitive source [Erkenntnisquelle] (the difference lies only in the degree of completeness of this cognition) and so the question

is easily resolved (Tr, pp. 6263, 191192; cf. p. 362).16

4.2. Indivisibilia

The concepts of the understanding, the categories, apply to the differentials,

which are the principles of the sensual world but not sensual themselves.17 Maimon himself seems to have been well-informed about the calculus. He mentions

and quotes Newton and Leibniz, evidently studied Euler,18 and he also com-

16

17

18

Cassirer calls this more comprehensive question an berraschende and khne Wendung (Cassirer, 1920, pp. 128129). Kant summarizes Maimons conception in his

letter to Hertz of May 26, 1789; see Correspondence, pp. 311316.

GM, p. 18; Tr, pp. 355356; Bacon, p. 193.

See Lebensgeschichte II, p. 246: I taught Eulers Algebra to a young man; cf. Wolff,

1813, p. 89.

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Gideon Freudenthal

pares the style of presentation in Kstners and Clairaults textbooks.19 And yet,

when discussing it in connection with his metaphysics, he uses indiscriminately

infinitely small [magnitudes], differentials, fluxions, and indivisibilia

(Tr, p. 274; KU, pp. 159160, 209210). When discussing the circles construction Maimon referred to the antique method of exhaustion, and when discussing the conceptual problems of the infinite he repeatedly refers to Euclid X.1,

not to contemporary discussions.20 Euclid X.1 (with the porism) reads:

Two unequal magnitudes being set out, if from the greater there is subtracted a

magnitude greater than its half, and from that which is left a magnitude greater

than its half, and if this process be repeated continually, there will be left some

magnitude which will be less than the magnitude set out. And the theorem can

similarly be proved even if the parts subtracted are halves (Elements III, pp. 14, 15).

Maimon distinguishes between a magnitude smaller than any given magnitude as here in Euclid and a magnitude smaller than any magnitude that

can be thought. The first involves no contradiction, the second does; the former suffices for the mathematician, the latter is of concern to the philosopher

(KU, p. 164). Infinitesimals are limit-concepts (Grenzbegriffe), or ideas,

i.e. representations, which cannot be fully presented as an object, the complete

presentations of which we can nevertheless approach ever more in infinity

(KU, p. 155).21 We see that the same considerations apply to the infinitesimal as

to 2. The question whether the limit belongs to the class or not is frequently

discussed by Maimon, and his answers vary. Is the infinitesimally small cosine

of a right angle still a cosine? The only reason we are nevertheless able to designate these states (that quanta can never reach) is because they are limit

concepts, i.e. a merely symbolic infinitely small []. The symbolic infinite is

merely an invention of mathematicians that lends generality to their claims

(Tr, p. 353; cf. Tr, pp. 165, 286288). No object corresponds to the concept

(Tr, p. 412). The dilemma is this: if the infinitesimal is an object, a magnitude (in

intuition), it must be infinitely divisible. The concept of an infinitely small line

is contradictory (Tr, p. 288). If it is not a magnitude in intuition, then the integral cannot be a finite magnitude and the concept loses its function. At times,

Maimon suggests that the differential is a magnitude, at times that it is not a

determined magnitude (the area is not composed of lines) but a ratio of magnitudes (Tr, pp. 352355), at times that it designates a changing numerical ratio

(Tr, pp. 373374), at times that it is merely a fiction, a concept useful to understand phenomena but with no ontological import. Maimon himself remarked

that elucidating philosophical notions by means of the calculus may appear to

19

20

21

See KU, pp. 164, 209, 213; Tr, p. 353.

See Tr, pp. 9, 82, 118, 192, 373, 377. Compare the discussion of five kinds of ideas and

the different meanings of fluxions in KU, pp. 160161.

97

be clarifying the obscure by what is even more obscure (Tr, pp. 2728). In order

to maintain that the infinitesimal is a magnitude, Maimon tacitly changes the

traditional definition of magnitude. Instead of that which can be augmented

and diminished, Maimon substitutes either [] or. Magnitude is that of

which something either larger or smaller can be thought; consequently what is

omni dabili majus as well as what is omni dabili minus, i.e. the infinitely large

and the infinitely small, is a magnitude (Tr, p. 353). In this, the differential is

similar to the absolute unit in arithmetic which is treated as an object of pure

arithmetic itself because it can be augmented even if it cannot be diminished,

and both should not be thought of as actual (in intuition) but as symbols

(Tr, pp. 353534). Conceiving an infinitesimal magnitude as actual (in intuition)

originates neither in reason nor in sensibility but in imagination (Einbildungskraft). The understanding thinks a rule, imagination presents it as an object

(Logik, pp. 204206), the understanding thinks discrete entities, imagination

presents a continuum (Logik, pp. 218219). This may be at times helpful in

mathematical practice (Tr, pp. 274275; Bacon, p. 282), but it is not true. Philosophical analysis exposes this mistake. Finally (probably following one of Leibnizs suggestions), Maimon also considers infinitesimals as fictions:22

The method of indivisibles, the infinite series, the differential calculus and such like

necessarily lead to contradiction if they are considered to be more than mere

methods. Imagination palters with us and presents its fictions as real objects. But

reason does not mind this and declares them to be what they really are: mere fictions (Logik, pp. 205206).

We have seen that Maimon suggested conceiving of some rules or ratios as concepts of objects, with the proviso that they be understood as fictions. The

same should also apply to philosophy. What does fiction mean? Fiction

[Erdichtung] in its most general meaning is an operation of the imagination

[Einbildungskraft] by which a not objectively necessary unity of the manifold

of an object is produced (PhWb, p. 36).

In our context fiction refers, more specifically, to conceiving something as

an object which cannot be given as an object: [a]n object which in some respect

is variable according to rule may be considered as if it arrives at the highest

grade of its variation, i.e. as if it were the same and not the same object at the

22

Bendavid suggested that infinitesimals are qualities, not quantities. Maimon first

accepted this suggestion (Tr, pp. 291292); later he rejected it (Tr, pp. 355356).

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Gideon Freudenthal

both a convergent and non-convergent series, a rational and irrational number,

and both an object and not an object at the same time (Tr, p. 164). And yet,

the method of fictions is productive (and deceptive) not only in mathematics,

but also in physics: the parallelogram of forces, the backbone of mechanics of

point masses, is a good example (Pemberton, pp. 198201).23

These considerations should also apply in philosophy. Leibnizs monadology appears inconsistent since it seems to claim that an infinitely divisible

body is compounded of indivisible monads. But what if his philosophy is to be

understood as a methodus invidisibilium, i.e. as a method and not a dogmatic

ontology? On this view, monads are understood as concepts defined by the

theory of which they form part and applied to determine relations of bodies and

yet as fictions in an ontological perspective (Progressen, pp. 2930)? Moroever, what if Leibniz didnt conceive of monads as things-in-themselves but

as fictions and merely retained the traditional ontological modus loquendi (Progressen, p. 56), if they are not real objects but merely what differential magnitudes are in mathematics, limits of ratios (Streifereien, p. 271)?24 We learn two

lessons. The first is that la rigueur metaphysique ontological language can be

understood as fictional. The second lesson is more important. Philosophy can

lay claim to truth in the same way that the sciences do; its concepts and theories

are developed to account for phenomena, and they are ascribed validity according to their success. They are not supposed to offer absolute knowledge of the

first and last elements of reality. This is the prerogative of the infinite intellect.25

4.4. Taking Stock

The central motif of Maimons philosophy is his insistence that proper knowledge must be based on the understanding. Intuition is not only opaque to reason but may also deceive us. If knowledge dependent on this medium is valid,

23

24

25

successive accelerations and assuming the time each such force acts as infinitely

small; But then the conception of a compound motion is a mere idea or fiction

which our presentation may approach ever closer but never fully reach (Pemberton,

pp. 200201).

On Maimons method of fictions and its critique by Reinhold, see Breazeale, 2003.

Engstler maintains that this interpretation undermines Maimons claim to have solved

the quid juris question: [w]enn Maimon die Differentiale nmlich tatschlich als

Begriffe fiktiver Elemente auffate, wre seine Theorie nicht in der Lage, die Mglichkeit objektiv gltiger empirischer Urteile zu erklren, und sie bte mithin auch keine

Lsung des Problems quid juris (Engstler, 1990, p. 140). This is so if philosophy

claims absolute truth, or truth more valid than ascribed to the differential equations of

classical mechanics. I argue that Maimons unique stance is that he ascribes them the

same validity, neither more nor less.

99

then it is the task of philosophy to analyze it and show that it can be reformulated in terms of the understanding. Maimons attempts to reduce intuition to the

understanding and objects to ratios and construction rules were not successful.

The conclusion he draws from his failure to prove that the straight line is shortest is rather surprising:

By contrast [to Kant GF], I pose the question in the following way. Since all a

priori cognition must be analytic, and can be derived from the principle of contradiction, how can we make those propositions that are synthetic due to a lack in our

cognition into analytic ones? [] I do not want to take on the task of developing

all such propositions in this way in order to make them satisfy my requirement; it

is enough that I hold it not to be impossible (Tr, pp. 17879, my emphasis; cf. Tr,

p. 323).26

Absolute knowledge of the infinite intellect assumes two forms, producing

objects from relations and producing concepts of objects (respectively objects)

by synthesis of more general concepts and specific difference. The former program failed. The latter, synthetic program is repeatedly alluded to in the construction of geometrical objects. Maimon maintains that if there are synthetic

judgments a priori, there must also be a principle of reason such judgments.

This is his Principle of Determinability.27 The principle examines the construction of concepts top-down, i. e. by further determination of given general

objects. The procedure conforms to Aristotles notion of definition by genus

proximum and differentia specifica. In geometry, this means that objects should

not be constructed from more elementary objects but, to the contrary, from

more complex ones, not by composition, but by specification, in fact by determination according to the Law of Determinability. The necessity and universality required for science could be attained, so Maimon believed, if we could

subordinate all objects of human knowledge to one and the same concept.

(Progressen, pp. 4243). With this suggestion, Maimon presents an entirely

different and new notion not only of construction, but also of a conceptual

system, philosophy included.

Take, for example, the construction by conic sections. From a general algebraic definition we can infer the properties not only of the circle but also of

26

27

The universality of the mathematical truths certainly must have an objective ground,

i. e., to an infinite understanding the proposition must be analytic; but we cannot have

any insight into this ground (Tr, p. 181).

On Maimons principle of determinability, see Schechter, 2003.

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Gideon Freudenthal

all other objects that fall under this general definition, as well as the relations

among these (Progressen, p. 42). Moreover, we also obtain rules of construction

for these objects from this definition:

Thus in ordinary geometry the circle e. g. is defined as a line all parts of which are

equally distant from a certain point (the center). The consequences to be drawn

from this concept are only valid for the circle, not also for other curved lines. In

higher geometry, the circle is determined as a curved line of the second order by a

general equation. The consequences to be drawn from this equation are therefore

valid not only for the circle, but for all lines of this order, etc. (Ueber die Schwrmerei, p. 44).28

parabola

point

hyperbola

circle

ellipse

straight line

Fig. 1

Consider a simple case: a circular cone cut by a plane. The boundary curve of

the intersection is a conic section. According to the angle of intersection, this

conic section is an ellipse, a circle, a parabola or a hyperbola, yes even a point; a

straight line and intersecting straight lines can be thus produced. If the plane

intersects the apex of the cone parallel to its napes it produces a straight line

(or intersecting lines), if it intersects the vertex of the cone parallel to its base, it

produces a point.

We see here genetic definitions or construction rules by genus proximum

and differentia specifica. In this way the relations between these different objects are transparent (especially in the algebraic representation). But in the case

28

Kant, too, once considered the construction of a circle as a conic section. Moreover, he

also noted that then a property that Euclid proved for the circle (Elements III, p. 35)

can be proved for all conic sections. However, he does not draw from this example

consequences concerning mathematics but rather that physics has to conform to the

geometrical properties of space as proven in geometry. See Prolegomena, 38; AA IV,

pp. 320321.

101

of the finite mind, the petitio principii is obvious: In order to construct the circle

and the straight line as conic sections, we need a cone (and a plane). In order to

construct a cone, we need a circle and a straight line.29 The attempt to construct

geometry ab ovo fails either way.

Conceiving the entire fabric of human knowledge as constructed top-down

requires that we begin with the most general concept of a determined object,

know all its possible determinations, use them as specific differences, and thus

produce the more specific concepts, and so on to the most specific concepts. If

this were possible, the principle of determinability would serve as the rule of

construction of all further objects. A project of this kind fails for two reasons.

First, the most general concept, the I or consciousness in general (Bewutsein berhaupt),30 analogous to space in geometry, remains for the finite

intellect an unattainable idea.31 Second, the principle does not produce all possible determinations, but is only a criterion by which we judge whether a given

determination is proper or produces a category mistake. The principle shows

that right-angle triangle is a possible synthesis (but, sweet triangle is not),

but it cannot suggest right angle as a specific predication of an angle. There

is nothing in the concept angle that suggests that right angle is a property

distinct from all other inclinations of two straight lines.

How, then, can philosophy proceed? We should note, says Maimon:

that both the primitive consciousness of a constituent part of a synthesis [] as

well as the consciousness of the complete synthesis are mere ideas, i. e. they are the

two limit-concepts of a synthesis, in that without synthesis no consciousness is

possible, but the consciousness of the completed synthesis grasps the infinite in itself, and is consequently impossible for a limited cognitive faculty []. So we

begin in the middle with our cognition of things and stop in the middle again. It is

the same as, for example, in calculating with our number system, where we

proceed according to the very same rules both forwards and backwards in relation

to an extended magnitude (through decimal fractions) []. The absolutely first in

the consciousness of a thing is a mere idea that we reach by infinitely decreasing it,

i.e. that we never reach in intuition (Tr, pp. 350351).

29

30

31

In fact, this is the definition of a cone in Elements XI, def. 18: When a right triangle

with one side of those about the right angle remains fixed is carried round and restored again to the same position from which it began to be moved, the figure so comprehended is a cone. Appollonius definition of the cone involves the rotation of a

straight line around the circumference of a given circle.

See the references in Bergmann, 1967, pp. 164166.

Tr, p. 193; Logik, 243245. Object as such (Gegenstand berhaupt) is the subject

matter of logic.

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Gideon Freudenthal

The analogy Maimon draws here between philosophy and arithmetic is not at

all accidental. He conceives philosophy as a science, a science a priori of the

form of knowledge, distinguished from mathematics by its greater generality:

Philosophy is the idea of a science of the possibility of a system [das Ganze] of

knowledge, i. e. its object is merely the form of a science or of a whole of knowledge. Here the difference between philosophy and mathematics (which are both pure

sciences a priori) becomes obvious. The object of (pure) philosophy which abstracts from determined subjects is only the form or the way in which a system of knowledge in general is possible. Also [the object of] mathematics, as a science, which

refers to determined objects (albeit a priori), is the possibility of a system, but not

a system of knowledge in general [berhaupt], but a system of knowledge of the

determined objects of mathematics (Kat, pp. 120121; cf. p. 118).

Two important consequences follow from this beginning and stopping in the

middle: the hypothetical and uncertain nature of metaphysics, and the infinite

quest for truth. As is often the case, Maimon attributes his own views to the

philosophers he discusses. In Maimons interpretation, Kant assumes the apodeictic truth of Newtonian science and mathematics as an answer to the question quid facti, and then develops his transcendental philosophy as a hypothesis to account for the possibility of such knowledge:

Mr. Kant takes experience as an indubitable fact as the basis of his critical system

and demonstrates hypothetically from there the reality of the principal concepts

and propositions a priori (Obereits Widerruf, p. 108: GW III, p. 420).32

This sounds like an ironical commentary on Kants announcement in the preface to the second edition of Critique of Pure Reason that he will first present

his Copernican turn as a hypothesis in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, but then prove it apodeictically

not hypothetically (CpR, B xxiii). Maimon himself accepts only logical inference as apodeictically not hypothetically; all the rest is as hypothetical as

science is (in his interpretation). However, the ever better approximation of

intuition by mathematics and physics suggests that we may proceed in the right

direction.

If philosophy never reaches a secure beginning or end but begins and stops

in the hypothetical middle, however, then it follows that the progress of inquiry

continues forever and also retains its hypothetical character. This is the deep

meaning Maimon ascribes to a Talmudic quote which he repeatedly used and

with which he also closed his Transcendentalphilosophie:

Our Talmudists (who, from time to time, have certainly expressed thoughts worthy of a Plato) say, the students of wisdom find no rest, neither in this life nor yet

32

See also Antwort auf Obereit, pp. 102103: GW III, pp. 458459; Streifereien,

pp. 203204, 207.

103

in the life to come, to which they relate, in their own way, the words of the Psalmists: They go from strength to strength, to appear before the Almighty in Zion

(Tr, p. 444).

Or not.33

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33

This essay has been written during my stay at the Max-Planck-Institute for the

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