[Index of Biographies]

Johann Gottfried Karl Christian Kiesewetter (1766-1819)

[This is a version of an article in The Dictionary of Eighteenth Century German Philosophers, 3 vols., edited by Manfred Kuehn and Heiner Klemme (London/New York: Continuum, 2010).]

Johann Gottfried Karl Christian Kiesewetter, the son of a school teacher, was born on 4 November 1766 in Berlin, where he also died at the age of 52 on 9 July 1819, after an illness of several years.  His importance lies primarily in his association with Immanuel Kant and in his many publications popularizing Kant’s philosophy; for Kant, he also served as a well-positioned source of Berlin court gossip.

Kiesewetter studied at the Grauen Kloster Gymnasium in Berlin where his academic abilities attracted the attention of the court, resulting in Frederick II granting a stipend for him to attend the university at Halle, where he enrolled in 1780 and studied theology (under J. S. Semler [bio], J. A. Nösselt [bio], Niemeyer, and Knapp), mathematics (W. J. G. Karsten [bio] and G. S. Klügel [bio]), philology (F. A. Wolf) and philosophy (under L. H. Jakob [bio] and J. A. Eberhard [bio]).  His academic gifts soon won him a post teaching mathematics at the local Orphanage School.  It was in Jakob’s lectures that Kiesewetter became acquainted with Kant’s philosophy, and he eventually requested permission and assistance from the newly crowned king, Friedrich Wilhelm II, for relocating to Königsberg.  He was given 300 thaler and free travel to Königsberg, where he matriculated on 10 Nov 1788 (Kant received a 60% raise in salary at this time, by special order of the king, and Flittner claims this was tied to Kiesewetter’s visit).  Kiesewetter attended Kant’s lectures, as well as his weekly orals, and was eventually included among Kant’s regular table guests, where he made the acquaintance of C. J. Kraus [bio] and others in Kant’s circle.  He also began serving as Kant’s copyist (it is in his hand that we find the manuscript of the first introduction to Kant’s Critique of Judgment).  During this time he wrote to an acquaintance that he “has found a second father in Professor Kant” (qtd. in Malter 1990, 342).  Together with Kant’s later biographer, R. B. Jachmann [bio], Kiesewetter presented a poem to Kant on the occasion of his birthday that spring (22 April 1789; reprinted at AA 12:407).

Kiesewetter stayed in Königsberg for just two semesters, leaving for Berlin on or shortly after 15 October 1789, where he assumed a post as tutor to the three younger children of the King (Auguste, and the two boys Heinrich and Wilhelm).  What would become an extensive correspondence with Kant began on 19 November 1789 (#391; AA 11:107), after his return to Berlin, and in this letter we learn that he would be correcting proofs for the Critique of Judgment, which was being printed in Berlin by the publisher Lagarde (Kant had already asked Lagarde to hire Kiesewetter for this purpose).  Kiesewetter received his magister degree the next summer from Halle (2 June 1790), after which he made a second visit to Königsberg (during September and October); several important “Reflections” in Kant’s Nachlass are linked to this visit (cf. ##5661-5663, 6311-6317; AA 18:318-23, 607-29).

Once back in Berlin, Kiesewetter offered private lectures on Kant’s philosophy, as well as an annual public set of logic lectures that Wöllner (the minister of education) required of him, although he received no salary for this other than his payment for working as a tutor in the royal household.  Finally, in 1793, he was appointed professor of mathematics and philosophy at the Pepinière (the Collegium medico-chirurgicum in Berlin), and in 1798 professor of logic at the Military Academy, all the while lecturing primarily on mathematics and logic.

In 1804 Kiesewetter conducted an official tour through Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy inspecting the educational programs of their military schools, and was on hand to witness the eruption of Vesuvius in August.  He visited Königsberg yet a third time in 1807, keeping ahead of Napolean’s troops, and would have emigrated to Russia but for the Treaty of Tilsit.  He volunteered with the Prussian army during the wars of liberation in 1813, but became ill near Weimar and returned to Berlin, remaining incapacitated by this illness until his death in 1819.

Kiesewetter is occasionally mentioned as having taught logic and mathematics to the military strategist Carl von Clausewitz when the latter began his studies at the Military Academy in 1801.  Kiesewetter exposed him to Kant’s philosophy in particular, and there has been considerable discussion as to the extent and effect of this Kantian influence.

Publication of Kiesewetter’s logic textbook (1791), complete with an effusive dedication to Kant, nearly led to a break with his mentor, who believed Kiesewetter had plagiarized from his lectures, and in any event had kept the publication secret from him.  Both Kiesewetter and the publisher Lagarde proclaimed their innocence in letters to Kant (July 3 and 5, 1791; AA 11:265-9).

Kiesewetter was clearly a gifted teacher and a prolific author, writing numerous Kant-inspired textbooks, although much of this was rehashed earlier work; and while his popularizations, especially his Versuch (1795), sold quite well, they often sacrificed accuracy in pursuit of clarity, and in the end did little to advance the Kantian cause, insofar as they merely won over “a mass of incompetent adherents” (Adickes).


Über den ersten Grundsatz der Moralphilosophie, 2 vols. (Leipzig, Eisleben, and Halle: Dreyssig, 1788, 1790).  2nd ed. : (Berlin: Carl Matzdorff, 1791).

Grundriß einer reinen allgemeinen Logik, nach Kantischen Grundsätzen (Berlin: Lagarde, 1791).  2nd rev. ed.: 1795 (vol. 1), 1796 (vol. 2).  3rd rev. ed.: 1802 (vol. 1), 1826 (vol. 2).  4th ed.: 1824 (vol. 1).

Versuch einer faßlichen Darstellung der wichtigsten Wahrheiten der neuern Philosophie, für Uneingeweihte.  Nebst einem Anhange, der einen gedrängten Auszug aus Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft, und die Erklärung der wichtigsten darin vorkommenden Ausdrücke der Schule, enthält (Berlin: Wilhelm Oehmigke, 1795).  Rev. 2nd ed.: 1798.  Rev. 3rd ed. in two volumes: 1803.  Part Two: Versuch einer fasslichen Darstellung der Kantischen Kritik der Urtheilskraft (1803).  The 4th ed. (1824) was edited by Flittner as a single volume.

Prüfung der Herderschen Metakritik zur Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in welcher zugleich mehrere schwierige Stellen in der Kritik der reinen Vernunft erläutert werden, 2 vols. (Berlin: Quien, 1799-1800).

Reise durch einen Theil Deutschlands, der Schweiz, Italiens und des südlichen Frankreichs nach Paris. Erinnerungen aus den denkwürdigen Jahren 1813, 1814 und 1815, 2 vols. (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1816).

Other Relevant Works

(with R. B. Jachmann), Unserm verehrungswürdigsten Lehrer dem Herrn Professor Immanuel Kant, zur Feyer Seines 66sten Geburtstages geweiht von R. B. Jachmann u. J. G. C. Kiesewetter. Den 22. April 1789 (Königsberg: Kanter, 1789).

"Über Vorurtheil" in Deutsche Monatsschrift (Dec. 1790), vol. 3, pp. 349-56.

"Über Erkenntniss der Gottheit" in Deutsche Monatsschrift (June 1792), vol. 2, pp. 144-61.

"Über die Opfer" in Deutsche Monatsschrift (Nov. 1792), vol. 3, pp. 255-69.

"Über das Erkenntnisvermögen der Thiere und der Gottheit" in Kosmanns Magazin für kritische und populäre Philosophie, vol. 1 (1792).

(co-ed. with K. F. Fischer), Neue philosophische Bibliothek, 1st Heft (Berlin, 1794).

"Einige Gedanken über die Schwärmerey" in Kosmanns Magazin für kritische und populäre Philosophie, vol. 2 (1794).

Gedrängte Auszug aus Kants Prolegomena (Berlin, 1796).

"Über Sprüchwörter überhaupt, nebst einer Auswahl Russischer Sprüchwörter" in the Berlinische Archiv der Zeit (Sept 1796).

Logik zum Gebrauch für Schulen (Berlin: Lagarde, 1797); 2nd rev. ed.: (Leipzig, 1814).

Über den furchtbaren Kometen (Berlin, 1798).

Die ersten Anfansgründe der reinen Mathematik (Berlin: Quien, 1799); 2nd rev. ed.: 1804.  3rd rev. ed. (Berlin: Nauck, 1811); 4th rev. ed.: 1818 (2 vols. plus a 3rd vol. of explanations).

"Über die Erzeugung der Begriffe, in Bezug auf Taubstumme" in Berlinische Monatsschrift (Nov. 1801), pp. 321-37.

Erläuterungen der ersten Anfangsgründe der reinen Mathematik, zum Gebrauch für den Unterricht (Berlin, 1802).  3rd rev. ed.: 1811.

Faßliche Darstellung der Erfahrungsseelenlehre für Nichtstudierende (Hamburg, 1806).  2nd rev. ed. published as: Kurzer Abriss der Erfahrungs-Seelenlehre, zum Gebrauch für den Unterricht (Berlin 1814).

Kurzer Abriss der Erfahrungslehre zum Gebrauch für den Unterricht (Berlin 1806).

Lehrbuch der Hodegetik, oder kurze Anweisung zum Studiren (Berlin, 1811).

Further Reading

ADB, vol. 15, p. 730 (Carl von Prantl).

Adickes, Erich, German Kantian Bibliography (New York, 1893-96).

DLL, vol. 8, col. 1153 (Ingrid Bigler).

Flittner, Christian Gottfried, "Biographie Johann Gottfied Christian Kiesewetter’s," in: Johann Gottfried Karl Christian Kiesewetter’s Darstellung der wichtigsten Wahrheiten der kritischen Philosophie, 4th improved edition (Berlin: Flittner’sche Buchhandlung, 1824), pp. xiii-xxi.  Reprint (Brussels: Aetas Kantiana, 1968).

Gause, Fritz, Die Geschichte der Stadt Königsberg in Preussen, 2nd enlarged ed., 3 vols. (Köln, 1996), vol. 2, p. 258.

Hahlweg, Werner, "Philosophie und Theorie bei Clausewitz," in: Clausewitz-Gesellschaft (ed.), Freiheit ohne Krieg? Beiträge zur Strategie-Diskussion der Gegenwart im Spiegel der Theorie von Carl von Clausewitz (Bonn: Dümmler, 1980), pp. 325-332.

Hamberger/Meusel (1796) vol. 2, p. 361; (1797) vol. 4, pp. 86-87; (1803) vol. 10, p. 76; (1805), vol. 11, p. 424; (1810) vol. 14, pp. 286-87; (1821) vol. 18, pp. 335-36; (1834) vol. 23, pp. 129-30.

Malter, Rudolf, ed., Immanuel Kant in Rede und Gespräch (Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1990).

NDB, vol. 11, p. 597 (Friedbert Holz).

Lehmann, Gerhard, "Remarks on Kant’s Letter to Kiesewetter (27.3.1790)" in Kant-Studien, vol. 55, pp. 244-49 (1964).

Pisanski, Georg Christoph, Entwurf einer preussischen Literargeschichte in vier Bucher, ed. by Rudolf Philippi (Königsberg, 1886), p. 538.

Schössler, Dietmar, Carl von Clausewitz (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1991), pp. 30-33.

Warda, Arthur, "Eine nachgelassene Arbeit über Kants Naturphilosophie von seinem Schüler Kiesewetter" in: Altpreußische Forschungen 5 (1928): 304-16).

[Index of Biographies]