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Natural Theology Notes

1. Summary Table of the Natural Theology Notes
2. Earlier Scholarship on the Notes
3. Dating the Notes
4. Textbook used in Kant’s Natural Theology Lectures
5. Content of the Notes
6. The Manuscripts

Five sets of notes are available on natural (or rational, or philosophical) theology, but all appear to stem from Kant’s lectures of WS 1783/84, except for a brief additional set of notes (eight manuscript pages) appended to Mrongovius 3, which comes from a later semester. Kreimendahl [1988, 326-28] is persuaded that an-Coing and Mrongovius 3 are both copies of a common set of notes (originating in the 1783/84 lectures), and agrees with Beyer that an-Pölitz 2 and Volckmann 4 stem from a different set of notes, although from the same lectures. See the Natural Theology lectures.

The Natural Theology Notes [top]

Manuscript Location A Date Published Translations

(1) an-Coing

NA (Marburg?) - 1783/84 Coing*; Kreimendahl (rpt. Coing)  

(2) an-Pölitz 2

NA (Leipzig) 1783/84 Pölitz; AA 28:991-1126 (rpt. Pölitz) Wood/Clark; Wood/di Giovanni; Esposito; Fink/Nicolas

(3) Magath

Bad Homburg + 1783/84? AA 29:1053-77 (var. of Pölitz)  

(4) Mrongovius 3

NA (Danzig);
Halle (copy)
1783/84, 1785/86? Beyer (c)(var. of Pölitz); AA 28:1229-1319, 1323-31(c) Mrongovius; Fugate/Hymers

(5) Volckmann 4

NA (Göttingen);
Halle (copy)
+ 1783/84 Beyer (c)(var. of Pölitz); AA 28:1131-1225(c)  

Abbreviations: A: availability [ = the set of notes (either as manuscript or in printed form) appears to be complete, + = a large fragment of the original text is still available, - = only a small fragment of the original text is available, (no sign) = none of the original text is available], * = only part of the available text was printed, AA = Akademie-Ausgabe, an = anonymous, (c) = published from a copy, Kön = Königsberg, NA () = not available (last known location), rpt. = reprint of, var = published as a variant reading.

Bibliography: Beyer: Kurt Beyer, Kants Vorlesungen über die philosophische Religionslehre (Halle: Akademischer Verlag, 1937). Coing: Johann Franz Coing, Die vornehmsten Wahrheiten der natürlichen Religion vorgetragen und gegen die neueren Einwürfe (Leipzig, 1788). Esposito: Immanuel Kant, Lezioni di filosofia della religione, translated into Italian by Costantino Esposito (Naples: Bibliopolis, 1988). Fink/Nicolas: Immanuel Kant, Leçons sur la théorie philosophique de la religion, translated into French, and with an introduction by Fink and Nicolas (Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1993). Fugate/Hymers: Courtney D. Fugate and John Hymers, eds. (2016). Johann August Eberhard, Preparation for Natural Theology. With Kant’s Notes and the Rational Theology Transcript (London/Oxford/New York/New Delhi/Sidney: Bloomsbury, 2016). Kreimendahl: Lothar Kreimendahl, “Kants Kolleg über Rationaltheologie. Fragmente einer bislang unbekannten Vorlesungsnachschrift” in Kant-Studien 79 (1988):318-28. Mrongovius: Immanuel Kant, Philosophical Treatise on Religion and Ethics, translated into Polish by Krzysztof Celestyn Mrongovius (Danzig: Szrota, 1854). Pölitz: Immanuel Kant, Vorlesungen über die philosophische Religionslehre, anon. edited by Karl H. Ludwig Pölitz (Leipzig: Carl Friedrich Franz, 1817). Wood/di Giovanni: Immanuel Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, transl. and edited by Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Wood/Clark: Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Philosophical Theology, translated by Allen W. Wood and Gertrude M. Clark, with an Introduction and Notes by Allen Wood (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978).

Earlier Scholarship on the Notes [list of notes] [top]

Karl Heinrich Ludwig Pölitz (1772-1838)[bio] published a compilation ...

Erich Adickes (1866-1928) had access to an-Pölitz (in its 1817 published form), and the original manuscripts of Volckmann, Magath, and Mrongovius [1911a, 41; 1928, AA 18:504n]; he briefly discusses these manuscripts in his notes to Reflexionen #6206 [AA 18:489] and #6215 [AA 18:503-4].

Rudolf Baumbach (born 7 March 1892), a student of Paul Menzer’s at Halle, made copies of Mrongovius 3 and Volckmann 4 while writing his dissertation on “The Irrational in Kant’s Philosophy of Religion” [Heidelberg 1929].  These copies are now our only source of the text, since the original manuscripts were stolen from the safe of the Gotha Library in 1928 [Beyer 1937, vii; Zelazny/Stark 1987, 282].  The Baumbach copies have the text arranged in columns for comparison, and give exact page numbers for the Pölitz text and the Volckmann ms.  Beyer also had access to a detailed description of the original Mongrovius and Volckmann manuscripts prepared by Joseph Schmitz, who later died in France in 1916 during the war.

Kurt Beyer, another of Menzer’s students, had access to three of these sets (the published an-Pölitz 2 and Baumbach’s copies of Volckmann 4 and Mrongovius 3) in preparing his 1937 publication of Kant’s philosophical theology lectures [1937, vii-viii].  See also Lehmann [1972; AA 28:1360-62].

In comparing an-Pölitz with Volckmann, Beyer notes that they are wholly different in the first part (the same content, but entirely different style), but then after p. 54 (line 3) — as printed in Beyer — they stand in close (but usually not verbatim) agreement.  Either Volckmann wrote his own notes at first, and then later relied on copying out an older set of notes, or else he copied out two separate sets of notes.  In any event, Volckmann would then insert text in the latter half that appear to be his own additions from the lectures he was attending [Beyer 1937, 214-20].  Mrongovius, other than the four sheet introduction at the end that likely came from a later set of lectures, appears to have the same source as an-Pölitz [223].  Volckmann and Mrongovius resemble one another closely, and both mention the author (Baumgarten) and cite paragraphs far more frequently than an-Pölitz [228]; this is most likely due to Pölitz’s editoral intrusions, however, as suggested by his editing of the metaphysics notes.

In summary, Beyer [1937, 228] finds an-Pölitz to be the most polished, Volckmann the most complete, and Mrongovius the closest to the classroom.  He also provides a syllable count of the three texts, showing Volckmann the longest (107,000), then an-Pölitz (97,000) then Mrongovius (70,000).  Of this, Mrongovius has more marginalia (8,000 syllables) than Volckmann (1,000) — the marginalia in the Rink manuscript that Pölitz edited were either ignored or else silently inserted into the text, and Pölitz mentions no marginalia.  Volckmann is missing more text (35,000) than Mrongovius (1,000) — these figures are estimated from the corresponding text in an-Pölitz.

Kant discussed natural theology at the end of each of his course of lectures on metaphysics (corresponding to §§800-1000 of the metaphysics textbook), but he also offered semester long discussions on the subject four times: SS 1774, WS 1783/84, WS 1785/86, and SS 1787.  Kant used the fourth part of Baumgarten’s Metaphysics as his text the first time he taught this, and then later in combination with Johann August Eberhard’s Vorbereitung zur natürlichen Theologie [Halle, 1781].  Kant’s copy of the Eberhard book was lost during World War II, but Kant’s marginalia had already been transcribed and published by Adickes (AA 18:489-606). Kant’s 4th edition copy of Baumgarten’s Metaphysica is extant and housed at Dorpat, with the marginalia published by Adickes (AA 17:5-226).

Dating the Notes [list of notes] [top]

All five sets appear to stem from the same semester (although Volckmann makes use, in part, of a later set of lectures); consequently the dating of all five can be discussed together.  Kant taught this course four times: 1774, 1783/84, 1785/86, 1787, with 1783/84 being a particularly well-attended course of lectures, according to J. G. Hamann (Kant “is now lecturing on philosophical theology to an amazing throng of auditors” – Letter to Herder, 26 October 1783).

Several indicators point to 1783/84 as the source lectures.  The terminus post quem appears to be 1783 for any of four reasons: First, all sets of notes refer to Baumgarten and Eberhard by name, as well as by ‘the author,’ and while Baumgarten had been long available, Eberhard’s text was published only in 1781 — thus ruling out 1774 as a possible source semester.  Second, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, mentioned in the introduction to the section on physico-theology, was published in 1779 with a German translation first appearing in 1781.  Third, apparent citations from the Critique of Pure Reason suggest a post-1781 date.  And finally, a reference to Sonnerat’s Reise nach Ostindien und China auf Befehl des Königs unternommen vom Jahre 1774/81 (publ. 1783) makes 1783/84 the earliest possible semester.

The terminus ante quem is suggested by dates written on the manuscripts.  The title page of Volckmann bears the date “13 November 1783” — which is problematic if understood as the first day of classes, since it comes a month late (Kant normally began a course like this on a Thursday, which November 13 was, but the semester would have begun a month earlier on Monday, October 13, and so the first lecture on natural theology should have been October 16).  Beyer [1937, 230-1] speculates that November 13 could have been Volckmann’s last day to attend class, and that he began copying from the other set of notes after that — this would fit well with the actual break in the notes. [Adickes 1911a, 41-2; Wood 1986, 15].

Textbook used in Kant’s Natural Theology Lectures [list of notes] [top]

Kant used Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten’s Metaphysica, 4th ed. [Halle: 1757] as the textbook in his metaphysics lectures, and the last major section, on natural theology, as the text for his Natural Theology lectures (see the Metaphysics notes for more information on the Baumgarten text) — along with texts by Eberhard and Meiners, although these appear to have played a more marginal role. The Baumgarten text consists off one-thousand numbered sections (§§) with the following outline for the last section:

V. Natural Theology (§§800-1000)

(a) introduction to natural theology (§§800-2)

(b) the concept of God (§§803-925): existence, intellect, and will.

(c) divine action (§§926-1000): creation, its end, providence, decrees, and revelation.

Beyer [1937, 234] notes that the lectures do not follow the divisions of the textbooks (neither Baumgarten nor Eberhard), and that Kant’s treatment of Eberhard is almost exclusively polemical.

Content of the Notes [list of notes] [top]

Part One: Transcendental Theology

§1: Ontotheology

§2: Cosmotheology

§3: Physico-theology

Part Two: Moral Theology

§1: On the moral characteristics of God

§2: On the nature and certainty of moral belief

§3: On God according to his causality

§4: On revelation

Appendix: On the History of Natural Theology


(1) anonymous-Coing [list of notes] [top]

Physical Description and History

“Rational-Theologie”.  No further information on the title and year.  See Kreimendahl [1988] and Brandt [1992].  All our information on this manuscript comes from a polemical 1788 book by Johann Franz Coing [bio], a professor at Marburg, who reports that he was loaned the manuscript roughly half a year earlier and was able to leaf through it [1788, 73]. Kreimendahl notes that if the manuscript’s owner was a former Königsberg student who had transferred to Marburg, then the matriculation records limit the possibilities to two: Carolus Wannowski and Johannes Guilielmus Schrammig, both matriculating in Marburg on 9 October 1787. Wannowski had matriculated at Königsberg as a theology student on 6 October 1784,[1] and Johann Wilhelm Schramm matriculated 18 October 1783.[2]

Kreimendahl [1988, 326-27] views the passages as most closely related to Mrongovius 3, and that these two manuscripts likely stem from a common text, noting that (1) this manuscript likely had the title “Rational-Theologie (Coing always refers to it as this, and only the Mrongovius also has this title); (2) neither of these manuscripts include section-numbers, (3) both are of similar length, and (4) the variants in the text group them together, and the other three in a second group.

[1] Erler [1911-12, ii.584]: (6 Oct 1784) “Wannowski Car., Nouogrod. Polon., e gymnasio Slucensi, filius pastoris ecclesiastici, theol. stud.”.

[2] Erler [1911-12, ii.578]: (18 Oct 1783) “Schramm Joh. Wilh., Anclam. Pomer.”.


(1) Ms: lost.


(1) Coing [1788].  Coing quotes two brief passages from the manuscript: the first at pp. 74-76 and the second at pp. 83-85.

(2) Kreimendahl [1988, 323-26].  Includes a reprint of the fragments in Coing [1788].


WS 1783/84.

(2) anonymous-Pölitz 2 [list of notes] [top]

Other Names

P [Beyer 1937; Kreimendahl 1988], Philosophische Religionslehre nach Pölitz [Lehmann 1972]

Physical Description and History

“Philosophische Religionshlehre”?  Pölitz [bio] claims that these notes “were written down in Kant’s lecture hall and were purchased from the estate of a former colleague of Kant’s” [1821, iii].  In his 2nd edition preface, Pölitz reveals his own editorial identity, as well as that of his colleague: Friedrich Theodor Rink [bio], a former student of Kant’s, and later a table-guest and faculty colleague.  Rink moved to Danzig in 1801 to direct the gymnasium, where he spent the remainder of his life.  Having edited Kant’s notes on physical geography [writings] and education [writings], as well as his Progress of Metaphysics [writings], Rink had ample access to lecture note manuscripts.  In any event, the notes are not based on lectures that Rink himself might have heard; Kant last gave this set of lectures in SS 1787 — the only semester Rink might have attended (he matriculated at the university on April 1, 1786),[1] although we have no reason to believe he did.

The auction catalog of Rink’s library included a set of lecture notes on natural theology (but no mention of the other notes published by Pölitz).  Pölitz also claims that the set of notes was complete, and that he published them unaltered.

[1] Erler [1911-12, ii.594]: (1 Apr 1786) “Rinck Frdr. Theodor., Slava-Pomer., theol. cult.”.


(1) Ms: lost (presumably while at the printer’s in preparation of the Pölitz publication).


(1) Pölitz [1817].

(2) Mrongovius [1854]. Translation into Polish of a selection.

(3) Beyer [1937, 38-213].  Beyer gives variant readings from Volckmann 4 and Mrongovius 3.

(4) Lehmann [1972; AA 28:991-1126].  Based on the Pölitz [and Beyer?] transcripts.

(5) Wood/Clark [1978].  Translation into English of Pölitz [1817], corresponding to AA 28:993-1126.

(6) Wood/di Giovanni [1996].  Translation into English of Pölitz [1817], corresponding to AA 28:993-1126.  Minor revisions to Wood/Clark [1978].


WS 1783/84 [Adickes 1911a, 41; Wood 1986, 15].


Wood [1996, 336] describes the notes as primarily a commentary on Baumgarten’s Metaphysics, §§815-982, although the introductory section refers mainly to J. A. Eberhard’s Vorbereitung zur natürlichen Theologie (1781).  Christoph Meiners’ Historia doctrinae de uno vero Deo (1780) is discussed in a brief appendix on the history of natural theology [AA 28:1122-26].

Beyer [1937, ix] notes that this text includes various copying errors not present in Volckmann and Mrongovius (e.g., ‘Tier’ instead of ‘Tor’, ‘Mechanismus’ instead of ‘Manichäismus’, ‘sinnlich’ instead of ‘symbolisch’), suggesting either transcriptional errors on the part of Pölitz, or copy errors by a previous writer (which would also indicate the primacy of the other two manuscripts).

(3) Magath [list of notes] [top]

Other Names

Vernunft-Theologie Magath Varianten [Lehmann 1983], M [Kreimendahl 1988].

Physical Description and History

“Vorlesungen / über / die Vernunft-Theologie / von / M. Immanuel Kant, / Professor der Logik und Metaphysik / in Königsberg / Grosz Klitten / geschrieben von J. L. Magath, 1785.”

This 135 pp. manuscript is complete, with many abbreviations, ornamental script, and pagination on left and right margins [Lehmann 1983; 29:1098].  Johann Ludwig Magath (1764-1812) matriculated at the Albertina on 16 April 1782.[1] Dieter Henrich rediscovered this manuscript in 1981.

[1] Erler [1911-12, ii.570]: (16 Apr 1782) “Magath Joh. Ludov., Regiomonte-Boruss.”.


(1) Ms: Bad Homburg (Germany), Stadtarchiv [Phs 34].


(1) Lehmann [1983; AA 29:1053-77].  These are variants to be read alongside AA 28:993-1126 (reprint of Pölitz [1817]).


Lehmann reads the title page as indicating that Magath attended the 1785/86 lectures [1983; 29:1098]. But, of course, the title page only reads “geschrieben,” so Magath may have simply copied out these notes in 1785.  Later Lehmann suggests that Magath could have heard the lectures in WS 1783/84, and finished copying the notes in 1785 [1983; 29:1100].  In any event, Lehmann decided to publish the text as a variant of an-Pölitz 2, which makes sense only if these texts are viewed as sharing a common textual source.

(4) Mrongovius 3 [list of notes] [top]

Other Names

D [or] Danziger [Beyer 1937; Kreimendahl 1988], Danziger Rationaltheologie nach Baumbach [Lehmann 1972].

Physical Description and History

The following comes from Beyer [1937, xi-xii], which in turn comes from the description given by Joseph Schmitz.  “Rational-Theologie / von Prof. HErrn Prof. Immanuel Kant / den 19. Jul. 1784”. [At the end of the ms]: “geendigt d. 19 August 1784”.

Günther [1909, 214 (see entry)] offers this description: 68 sheets, 17.5 x 21 cm, earlier signature: XIV B. q. 120.  Sheet 1: “Rational-Theologie von Herrn Prof. Imanuel Kant, d. 19. Jul. 1784”.  Written by C. C. Mrongovius.  At the end (sheet 63b): “Geendigt d. 19. August 1784”.  Sheet 65: “Rational-Theologie v. H. Pr. Kant.  Vorerinnerung” (incomplete).  In another hand, on sheet 64: “Unsterblichkeit,” a poem by H. G. Köhler, which begins: “Ists ein Geschenk”.

The title is written with a fine point; in larger writing, the word “HErrn” and the date were added, with “HErrn” written closely to “Prof.”  Contemporary pagination, with sheets numbered later, presumably by a librarian.  On the inner side of the envelope containing the notes, in two hands (one of which wrote the body of the notes) an essay on the horse and donkey that stemmed from a course by Karl Gottfried Hagen [bio].

The notes consist of 68 sheets total — 9 signatures of 16pp each, with letters of the alphabet ordering the signatures  The religion notes are on sheets 1-58. (On sheet 64, the last page of that signature, is a poem by H. G. Köhler, “Unsterblichkeit.”  The following signature (sheets 65-68; AA 28:1323-31) has a fragmentary text, written on larger paper, with the title “Rational theologie v. H. Pr. Kant Vorerinnerung” — this is an introduction that must have been written down from a later course of lectures (as Adickes has also argued; see 1911a, 41, and AA 18:504), and Beyer speculates that the author originally hoped to include this on the first page of the other notes, but when the lecture extended beyond the space available on the page, the writer added it at the end.

The text has many gaps and is hastily written, difficult to read, and filled with abbreviations.  The whole appears to have been written by a single hand, with the exception of the poem and the essay on the inside cover.  The many marginalia, which end at p. 48, all appear to be later additions, although by the same hand.

This manuscript is shorter than either an-Pölitz or Volckmann, suggesting to Beyer that Mrongovius either was written in the lecture hall or else is a copy made directly at home. The gaps in the text could be explained by the notetaker missing certain lectures. In any event, Beyer sees this text (of the three he reviewed) as standing closest to Kant’s lecture.

The original manuscript, described above, was stolen in 1928, and only a copy now remains (see the discussion at the top of this page).  Christoph Coelestin Mrongovius [bio] matriculated on March 21, 1782.[1] See also his notes on moral philosophy (WS 1784/85), metaphysics (WS 1782/83), anthropology (WS 1784/85), physics (SS 1785), and logic (SS 1784).

[1] Erler [1911-12, ii.569]: (21 Mar 1782) “Mrongovius Christoph. Coelestin., Hohenst[ein]. Boruss.”.


(1) Ms: Gdansk/Poland, Biblioteka PAN [Ms. 2216].  Stolen in 1928 while on loan to the Gotha Library, and now lost.

(2) Copy of ms (handwritten by Rudolph Baumbach): Halle UB [Yc 4 8°].


(1) Mrongovius [1854]; reprint in Zelazny [2006].  Translation of the notes into Polish.

(2) Beyer [1937].  Published as a variant reading to Pölitz [1817].

(3) Lehmann [1972; AA 28:1229-1319, 28:1323-31].  This is a transcription of the copy in Halle.

(4) Zelazny [2006, 53-199].  Photomechanical reprint of Mrongovius [1854], with facing German text.

(5) Eberhard [2016, 131-218].  Translation into English of AA 28:1229-1319.


The dates given in the manuscript are not suggestive of the original semester dates (July 19 — which was also Mrongovius’s 20th birthday — fell on a Monday, August 19 fell on a Thursday, and neither would be appropriate for the beginning or end of a semester).  Adickes argues that the main body of notes originate from the same semester as an-Pölitz 2 and Volckmann, viz., WS 1783/84.  The dates could easily fit the summer recess, which usually lasted one month, and thus refer not to the lectures, but to when Mrongovius was able to prepare a clean copy of the notes.  In the preface to his translation of the notes, Mrongovius notes that Kant’s “oral lectures were written down by some auditors, from which manuscripts this present work originated” [Zelazny 2006, 43].

The 8pp “Vorerinnerung” at the end of the manuscript is thought to have come from Kant’s next course of lectures on rational theology (WS 1785/86) — Mrongovius [bio] would have been in his 8th semester at the university.

(5) Volckmann 4 [list of notes] [top]

Other Names

V [Beyer 1937; Kreimendahl 1988], Natürliche Theologie Volckmann nach Baumbach [Lehmann 1972].

Physical Description and History

“Collegium naturale Theologicum / Dom. Excellent. Profess. H. Kant / calamo exceptum / a Studioso Theologiae / Johanne Guilielmo Volckmann / Koenigsberg den 13ten November / 1783”. [Beyer (1937, x) reads: ‘Profes.’ and ‘Guililmo’ and ‘13.’.]  The manuscript consisted of unbound, paginated signatures, written in ink.  The writing was uniformly neat, with very few abbreviations and corrections.  Marginalia are from the same hand, except for those on pp. 17 and 19.  The first four signatures were 16 pages each.  The first page was unnumbered and two consecutive pages were both numbered ‘23’, so the last page of the 4th signature is 61 (instead of the expected 64).  Signatures 5 through 8 were missing (i.e., 64 pages, or through p. 125 as actually paginated).  Signature 9 is missing the middle sheet (pp. 132-135 as actually paginated).  Signature 10, consisting of 12 pages, is also missing (pp. 142-53 as actually paginated).  This is followed by 5 signatures of 4pp each (pp. 154-73), two more 16pp signatures (pp. 174-205), and a final 8pp signature of which only the first four pages are filled with text (pp. 206-209).  Catchwords are used on all but pages 10, 12, and 43.  The text follows the an-Politz closely, and the missing text (80 of 212 manuscript pages) is easily discoverable there. (This description, which presumably stems from the description given by Joseph Schmitz, comes from Beyer [1937, x].) Volckmann also lacks the appendix on the “History of Natural Theology” (based on Meiners’s Historia doctrinae de uno vero Deo) that is present in an-Pölitz [AA 28:1122-26].  The manuscript was on loan to the Kant Commission when Adickes inspected it [1911a, 41].

Johann Wilhelm Volckmann [bio] matriculated on 13 August 1782.[1] See his other notes on logic, metaphysics (WS 1784/85), and physical geography (SS 1785).

Beyer concludes that this manuscript must have been prepared from two sources: the text often matches an-Pölitz verbatim, and there are passages that appear to have been copied from the Critique of Pure Reason, matching the text even in the use of parentheses (this would preclude the possibility that Kant was quoting himself in class, as Adickes pointed out).

The original manuscript, described above, was stolen in 1928, and only a copy now remains (see the discussion at the top of this page).

[1] Erler [1911-12, ii.571]: (13 Aug 1782) “Volckmann Joh. Wilh., Regiomonte-Boruss.”.


(1) Ms: originally in private possession.  Stolen in 1928 while on loan to the Gotha Library.

(2) Copy of ms (handwritten by Rudolph Baumbach): Halle, UB [Yc 4 8°].


(1) Beyer [1937].  Published as a variant reading to Pölitz [1817].

(2) Lehmann [1972; AA 28:1131-1225]. Transcription of the copy in Halle.


WS 1783/84 [Adickes 1911a, 41-2]. The date given on the title page is unusual, since it is the Thursday of the fourth week of the semester.  Thursday is the usual day for beginning a course like this, but typically Kant began promptly in the first week.