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Karl Ludwig Pörschke (1752-1812)

[This is a draft 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).]

Karl Ludwig Pörschke was born in Molsehen (near Königsberg) on 10 January 1752 and died in Königsberg on 24 September 1812, of a stroke.  He was a student and later close colleague of Kant’s, and a professor of considerable ability and wide-ranging interests.  His most significant writings are on aesthetics, and in general they show strong Kantian influences yet with a certain distance from Kant, and in later years he came to admire Fichte’s work.

Pörschke studied at the Collegium Fridericianum in Königsberg, then at the university, matriculating on 24 September 1768, where he attended Kant’s lectures (taking the logic lectures six times and metaphysics five) and also studied philology and the natural sciences.  He left to study at Halle and Göttingen in 1785,[1] and received his magister degree from Könisgberg in 1787, habilitating with a dissertation on the "prototypes of the practical arts," in which he argued that artists should neither imitate nature nor follow rules, but instead look to the models of classical antiquity.  He began offering lectures with the winter semester of 1787-88, and after seven years was promoted to associate professor of philosophy (25 November 1794), giving his first public lecture the following summer on Homer’s Iliad.  He was promoted to full professor of poetry on 27 May 1803, to which he added the full professor of pedagogy and history in 1806, and the full professor of practical philosophy in 1809.  He married in 1790.

Pörschke was a successful lecturer over a wide range of disciplines.  He lectured on logic nearly every semester (first with J. J. Ebert’s text, then exclusively with the Kantian L. H. Jakob’s text), and only slightly less often on metaphysics (using a text by J. A. H. Ulrich) and aesthetics (using J. A. Eberhard’s text, until his own was published, although he still used Eberhard on occasion).  He was the first in Königsberg to lecture on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, beginning with his second semester (SS 1788), and when Kant retired from teaching, Pörschke added regular courses on anthropology (using Jakob’s empirical psychology text) and physical geography (using a text by G. H. Millar).  One or two courses each semester was on the Greeks, sometimes Homer, but usually Plato or Xenophon.  Other lecture topics included moral philosophy (Eberhard), natural law (Achenwall, Jakob), history of philosophy (Eberhard), pedagogy (J. H. G. Heusinger), and German style (J. C. Adelung).  Kant would have students attend Pörschke’s lectures as preparation for taking his own.

During Kant’s last years, Pörschke was a close friend and regular dinner guest, and Kant named him as a possible executor of his will.  Pörschke also had to take care not to share all of his writings with Kant, as much of this deviated from the master’s own system.  Pörschke told Abegg (1798) that he regarded Fichte as the greatest philosophical spirit (Geist) in Germany.  Fichte in fact lived with Pörschke and his wife during his second visit to Königsberg (December 1806 - Summer 1807) while he and much of the Berlin court were in flight from Napoleon’s troops.  Fichte gave lectures during WS 06/07, irritating the students in Königsberg about as much as he had in Jena, such that one night they tried to throw a rock through Fichte’s bedroom window, knocking out instead the window where Pörschke’s ill wife was asleep.


De protyporum in artibus utilitat (Königsberg: Driest, 1787).

Gedanken über etliche Gegenstände der Philosophie des Schönen, 2 vols. (Libau: Friedrich, 1794-96).

Vorbereitungen zu einem populären Naturrechte (Königsberg: Nicolovius, 1795).

Einleitung in die Moral (Libau: Friedrich, 1797).

Briefe über die Metaphysik der Natur (Königsberg: Nicolovius, 1800).

Über Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Königsberg: Nicolovius, 1801).

Anthropologische Abhandlungen (Königsberg, 1801).

De Platonis sententia, poetas e republica bene constituta esse expellendos (Königsberg 1803).

Rede am Allerhöchtsten Geburtstage Ihrer Majestät Louise Auguste Wilhelmine Amalie, Königin von Preussen; am 10ten May 1808 (Königsberg, 1808).

Further Reading

Abegg, Walter and Jolanda, eds., Johann Friedrich Abegg, Reisetagebuch von 1798 (Insel Verlag, 1976), pp. 183-85, 196, 246-47.

Adickes, Erich, German Kantian Bibliography (New York: Burt Franklin, 1970), pp. 214, 280-81, 375-76, 489.

APB, vol. 2, p. 511 (Lehnerdt).

Arnoldt, Emil, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. by Otto Schöndörffer, 11 vols. (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1906-11), vol. 5, pp. 326, 432.

ADB, vol. 26, pp. 442-44 (Carl von Prantl).

Gause, Fritz, Die Geschichte der Stadt Königsberg in Preussen, 2nd enlarged ed., 3 vols. (Köln, 1996), vol. 2, pp.  241, 309.

Hamberger/Meusel (1798) vol. 6, p. 140; (1803) vol. 10, p. 427; (1805) vol. 11, p. 619; (1811) vol. 15, p. 67; (1823) vol. 19, p. 166.

Jöcher/Adelung (1819), vol. 6, cols. 465-66.

Metzger, Johann Daniel, Über die Universität zu Königsberg.  Ein Nachtrag zu Arnoldt und Goldbeck (Königsberg, 1804), pp. 67-68.

Vorlander, Karl, Immanuel Kant.  Der Mann und das Werk (Leipzig, 1924), vol. 2, pp. 64, 139, 300.

[1] See the letter from J. E. Biester (bio) to Kant dated 8 November 1785: “I shall recommend Herr Pörschke to the minister, as you suggest, and I have no doubt that he will gladly approve the proposal, since it came originally from you” (#251, AA 10:417).  We do not have Kant’s letter to Biester, but the proposal was perhaps that Pörschke be offered a teaching position at Königsberg.  The minister in question would have been von Zedlitz (bio), for whom Biester was a personal secretary.  In any event, Pörschke did not return to Königsberg until 1987, and then only as a lecturer.

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