These pages aim to provide most of what is needed when using the student lecture notes from Immanuel Kant’s classroom. This includes information on the notes themselves, as well as material for understanding their context, primarily the nature of university studies in 18th century Prussia and the academic lives of the professors and students. My intention is to enable an intelligent use of Kant’s many lecture notes without having first to wander through a labyrinth of secondary literature in order to decide such basic issues as the dating and provenance of the manuscripts.
Navigating this site is done with the lists at the top of each page. Topics in the middle column (Universities, Students, Professors, Kant’s Lectures, The Student Notes) all have sub-pages, which appear in the right-hand column once you click on the topic. To help stay oriented, the topic name of the page you are visiting is always in > white (with the sub-topic in > red). Otherwise, check the Site Index page, sorted by topic, which lists all the pages on this website. Links to external web sites will open a new window — otherwise, use your browser’s “Back”-button to return from visited pages — and links marked as [bio], [writings], and [glossary] will open a small window with either the person’s Biography, the relevant entry from Kant’s Writings, or the relevant entry from the Glossary.
Two good starting points for considering the lectures: (1) A list by discipline describing Kant’s different lecture courses (List: Kant’s Lectures by Discipline), and (2) a long table displaying, semester by semester, any information still available regarding the lectures (Table: Kant’s Lectures by Semester). Both of these are listed as sub-topics under Kant’s Lectures in the middle-column at the top.
Those readers interested in Kant, but not in the student notes, will find most useful the General Reference pages listed in the far-left column — in particular the chronologies of Kant’s Life and Kant’s Writings, and the overview of the Academy Edition of Kant’s writings.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is one of the most influential philosophers of the modern period. He was also a highly successful and engaging lecturer during his forty years of teaching at the university in Königsberg (the Albertus-Universität). As Lewis White Beck once observed, Kant was the first great philosopher of the modern period to have also been a university professor. His gifts as a lecturer — apart from any fame due to his new critical philosophy — won him a wide following of students and informal auditors, many of whom took notes of the lectures. This website is designed to fill a basic gap in reference materials for Kant scholars, for whom there is currently no reference work containing the most basic information on the notes’ historical context, their material features, and how they fit into Kant’s wider philosophical project.
The goal of these pages has been to collect together, correct, supplement, and re-work basic information scattered in the German scholarly literature, much of which comes from the late 19th century and is often unavailable or inaccessible to an English-speaking audience.
Kant’s lectures cover a wide-range of disciplines — from standard philosophical courses on logic, metaphysics, ethics and related areas such as natural law and rational theology, to popular lectures on physical geography and anthropology, as well as lectures on philosophical encyclopedia, pedagogy, theoretical physics, and mathematics. Scholars from across these disciplines are engaged with Kant’s published writings and, to a lesser extent, with his lectures, although use of the lecture material has been growing as they become more available.
The value of these student notes lies in several directions:
• They clarify or develop points made in Kant’s major published writings.
• They consider topics not discussed in any of the published writings.
• They provide much of the philosophical context against which these writings were to be understood.
• They offer a new perspective into Kant’s intellectual development.
• They round out our understanding of Kant’s life and personality.
• Finally, they are much more accessible to the non-specialist, as would have been fitting for a classroom presentation.
Availability of the lecture notes has been improving, both in the original German as well as in translation. Four sets of notes (or compilations) were published during Kant’s lifetime: on anthropology [writings] (which Kant himself supervised through the press), on logic [writings] (edited by G. B. Jäsche), on physical geography [writings] (separate and quite different editions prepared by Rink and Vollmer), and on pedagogy [writings] (again edited by Rink). After Kant’s death, notes were published by various individuals on rational theology [Pölitz 1817], metaphysics [Pölitz 1821; Kowalewski 1924], anthropology [Bergk 1831; Kowalewski 1924], ethics [Menzer 1924], and logic [Kowalewski 1924]. More recently, most of the available notes have appeared as part IV [1966-83, 1998, 2009] of Kant’s gesammelte Schriften, published by the Berlin (and then Göttingen) Academy of Sciences, with the exception of some of the notes on physical geography (currently being edited for publication as volume 26).
We have evidence of 164 lecture note manuscripts, and 126 of these are still available (either complete or as fragments, sometimes only as copies). Of these, 100 have been published (in full text or as variant readings of a closely related manuscript, but many only as fragments). See the list of published notes.
Translations into English are available of the four sets of material published during Kant’s lifetime, as well as of Paul Menzer’s 1924 volume on ethics (translated by Infield in 1930), Pölitz’s 1817 volume on rational theology (translated by Wood and Clark in 1978). Most recently, an ambitious translation project of Kant’s writings pursued by Cambridge University Press has in just the past few years made available new translations of notes on logic, metaphysics, ethics, rational theology, and anthropology, much of this for the first time. So far, thirty of the available sets of notes have been translated into English (at least in part).
Information on the notes has been rather scattered, sometimes unreliable, and primarily in German. The increasing availability of the various lecture notes in English translation brings with it an increasing need for background information on the notes themselves by a primarily-English reading audience; and while some of these translations offer some of the needed information, there is still an unfortunate amount of misinformation, with no single guide for orienting oneself among this wealth of material.
Information from the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century is scattered throughout the writings of Rudolf Reicke [bio], Emil Arnoldt [bio], Benno Erdmann [bio], Max Heinze, Arthur Warda [bio], Otto Schlapp [bio], Erich Adickes [bio], Paul Menzer, Wilhelm Krauß, Kurt Beyer and others (see the Bibliography) but few of these texts are readily available and, when found, they are accessible only to scholars with a reasonably good command of German. Apart from that, much of the information in this literature needs to be corrected or updated.
More recent information on the notes can be found in volumes 24 (logic), 25 (anthropology), 26 (physical geography), 27 (ethics and natural law), 28 (metaphysics and philosophy of religion), and 29 (philosophical encyclopedia, mathematics, and physics, as well as additional notes on ethics, metaphysics, logic, and rational theology) of the Academy edition of Kant’s gesammelte Schriften. Volumes 25 (1998, edited by Reinhard Brandt and Werner Stark) and 26 (2009/2020, edited by Werner Stark and in collaboration with Reinhard Brandt), with their excellent introductions, are models of clarity and thoroughness. The previous volumes were edited by the late Gerhard Lehmann (1900-87), and these introductions, while often helpful, are just as often misleading and filled with inaccuracies, as well as being poorly organized. So, other than the anthropology and physical geography notes, what few readily available tools we have for assessing Kant’s lecture notes are incomplete, misleading, and/or difficult to use. My hope is that these few web pages will help remedy this deficiency.