Today I'm reading Solomon Maimon's fascinating autobiography and he relates a great story about what happened after he sent Kant a manuscript for his first book Transcendental Philosophy. Kant wrote him back a fantastically glowing letter full of praise. After repeating some of the letter Maimon writes,
It may easily be imagined how important and agreeable to me was the approbation of this great thinker, and especially this testimony that I had understood him well. For there are some arrogant Kantians, who believe themselves to be sole proprietors of the Critical Philosophy, and therefore dispose of every objection, even though not intended as a refutation, but as a fuller elaboration of this philosophy, by the mere assertion without proof, that the author has failed to understand Kant. Now these gentlemen were no longer in a position to bring this charge against my book, inasmuch, as by the testimony of the founder of the Critical Philosophy himself, I had a better right than they to make use of this argument.
A couple of thoughts: (1) This is like a real life version of that scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen is irritated by a pompous windbag in front of him who keeps going on about Marshall McLuhan. When he complains to Annie, the guy turns around and arrogantly announces that he teaches a class on McLuhan. Then Woody Allen produces McLuhan in the flesh, who proceeds to take the piss out of the hapless professor. Here Maimon is Woody Allen, Kant McLuhan, and the Kantians of the day the irritating professor in line in front of Maimon. (2) This was kind of a synchronicity. A few days ago in THIS POST I was thinking about various ways to be philosophically obnoxious, and one of the key ones is to take it as a priori that anyone who disagrees with your favorite philosopher therefore misunderstands that philosopher. It's really weird to see how old this very tendency is, that in fact early disciples of Kant employed it. And how nice it is to see that Kant helped disarm it, providing such strong support to some of his earliest and most incisive critics. Can anyone imagine Heidegger or Derrida doing such a thing? I realize that great philosophers can be nasty people, and this is depressing. But it is likewise joyful when great philosophers show genuine humanity. Remember that at this point Maimon was an unknown Polish Jewish autodidact living in poverty in Berlin. For Kant, during the time he was teaching a ton of classes and writing the Third Critique, to read and study Maimon's manuscript and write a public letter (at that point in history it was common for letters to be publicized, cf. the Hume-Rousseau imbroglio) of such powerful praise is really a testament to his humanity.