KANT IN THE CLASSROOM     Materials to aid the study of Kant’s lectures

Kant’s Writings
Academy Edition
Kant’s Life


> Students


Kant’s Lectures
The Student Notes

Königsberg Schools
Kant’s Career [classes at the Coll. Frid.]
Student Life at the University
Student Finances
> Composition of the Student Population
The Hofmeister

Composition of the Student Population

“Königsberg’s cultural catchment area during the second half of the 18th century can be defined geographically as the one- to two-hundred kilometer wide and roughly one-thousand-three-hundred kilometer long strip along the Baltic Sea, from the mouth of the Oder to the Gulf of Bothnia, with Königsberg’s power to draw clearly falling off with the distance.”

— Heinz Ischreyt [1995, 42]

1. Geographic, Social, and Economic Backgrounds

2. Religious Affiliation

3. Disciplinary Affiliation

Information on student enrollment numbers can be found in the “University” pages: a table of Five-Year Average Enrollments during the 18th century, and a set of graph displaying this data as well as estimated enrollment figures at Königsberg with actual matriculation numbers.

Geographic, Social, and Economic Backgrounds [top]

Prior to the Reformation, most university students were preparing for a life in the church, and university life was rather like that at a monastery. The professors were expected to remain celibate bachelors living with their likewise celibate students.

This arrangement at the Catholic schools changed rather slowly, since the religious orders filled the schools from their membership. During the 16th and 17th centuries, about 11% of the students at Dillingen came from religious orders (of the 6934 students entered, there was 1 Fürst, 36 Grafs, 100 Barons, 884 simple nobility or Nobiles, 856 from religious orders or Fratres and 5057 other students).

Halle’s student population during its first 50 years consisted of 8% nobility [Eulenburg 1904, 66-67]. The nobility never constituted the majority of the student population, but their presence shaped the nature of student life, and made possible the many exemptions that students enjoyed (until the reforms of the early 19th century).

Children of farmers and hand-workers did not constitute a significant segment of the student population (for instance, there were only only 3 percent at Halle at the end of the 18th century)[Eulenburg 1904, 68]. After the Reformation, sons of clergy, university trained civil servants, and schoolteachers typically constituted the largest groups of students at universities. This distribution primarily reflects those groups preferentially treated in the distribution of scholarships [La Vopa 1988, 28-45].

As for Königsberg, Gause notes that …

… although Kant’s fame drew students from around the world, the second half of the 18th century was no blossoming age of the university. Berlin had much to complain about. The number of students was down. Their lifestyle was somewhat in the middle, between the braggery (Renommisterei) of the Halle students, and the fashion-craze (Modefexerei) of the Leipzig students. According to the judgment of Christian Gottlieb in his Observations of a Traveller on a Part of East and West Prussia (1799) they were diligent, and [with respect to] their manners they could “in fineness match any other German university.”  Although only a few Russians matriculated in Königsberg after the Seven Years War, there remained a smaller but steady stream of Baltic students. Many Baltic families also sent their sons before college to Königsberg schools. … Many families of Curland and also Livland are mentioned several times in the matriculation records, where the fathers gladly sent their sons to study where they had. But in contrast to many students from the Reich, as far as one can see none of the Baltic students settled in Königsberg, but rather all returned to their homeland. That is also true of the best known of them, the poet Lenz. The eighteen-year-old Jakob Michael Lenz, the youngest son of the Pomeranian-born Livland General Superintendent Christian David Lenz, began his studies in Königsberg in 1768, just as both of his older brothers had before him. He attended, however, only Kant’s lectures, to whom he wrote an Ode in 1770, as Kant became a Full Professor, which the Cur- and Livland students printed on satin and gave to their honored teacher. In 1771 Lenz went to Straßburg where he became acquainted with Goethe. [Gause 1996, ii.244-5]

In his “Student Guide” from the late 18th century, Goldbeck wrote that most of the students at Königsberg were inland (Prussian). Of the foreigners, the majority were from Silesia, and the rest from Russia, Liefland, Curland, Poland, Pomerania, and Mark Brandenburg [Goldbeck 1782, 33, 101]. He claimed in the preface to his book that Königsberg was the only Prussian university at which so many foreigners attended (some 100-200), and nearly all Prussian students visited for some part of their studies, noting also that at least half of the Prussian students and a large number of the others had previously attended one of the Königsberg Latin schools [Goldbeck 1782, iv].

Religious Affiliation [top]

Upon matriculation at the university in Königsberg, students needed to swear allegiance to school and country, and to love the true Christian religion. This made matriculation problematic for Catholics, Jews, and even Reformed Protestants, since only Lutherans were thought capable of loving the true Christian religion. Exceptions were made, however, and the rules eventually changed. Reformed students were allowed in after 1740. Abraham Moses Levin was the first Jewish student to enter the Albertina University, matriculating — against considerable local resistance — on 31 Oct 1731,[1] and not until 1766 was the first Jewish student allowed to enroll in a higher faculty (viz. medicine). Jehuda Jakob Hirschberg (1757-1829) was the first Jew to actually graduate, receiving a doctorate in medicine in 1781; prior to this, Jewish medical students had to find another university (Marcus Herz, for instance, received his degree from Halle, having first studied at Königsberg).

Ludwig Baczko [bio], a Catholic, attended the university at Königsberg and made a considerable reputation for himself, but was unable to find employment there, because of his faith.  Kant had initially supported, but then rejected, a bid by a talented former Jewish student of his, Isaac Euchel [bio], to offer classes on the Hebrew Bible.  This was during a semester when Kant was serving as Dean of the philosophy faculty (WS 1785/86),[2] and there was a staffing need in this area.  University regulations prevailed, however, and Euchel — already a leader in the Jewish Haskala (Enlightenment) in Prussia — was not allowed to teach. 

The names of a small handful of Jewish students attending Kant’s lectures have come down to us, the most famous being Marcus Herz [bio], who was only the third Jewish student to matriculate at the university.  Herz became a prominent member of Mendelssohn’s circle in Berlin, where he gave highly-celebrated lectures on Kant; his wife Henriette (née Lemos) ran an important salon.  Other students included Michael Friedländer [bio] (matriculated 15 Oct 1782), his tutor Isaac Euchel (matriculated 2 April 1782), Aron Isaak Joel [bio], Ruben Elchanan (or Elkana; matriculated 25 May 1778),[3] David Salomon Theodor (matriculated 5 Aug 1779), Lazar Friedmann (matriculated 29 Mar 1784), and Heymann Goldschmidt (matriculated 29 Mar 1784).  We also have student anthropology notes from Isaac Naumburg [bio].[4]  Of the nineteen students who signed and published a poem honoring the beginning of Kant’s first term as university rector (SS 1786; poem dated April 23; AA 12:404), five came from this group of Jewish students: Euchel, Friedländer, Friedmann, Goldschmidt, and Theodor.  The social situation for these Jewish students must have been exceptionally trying (see, for instance, the anecdote of Mendelssohn’s surprise visit to Kant’s classroom). 

Between 1731 and 1812, 112 Jewish students matriculated at the university, four-fifths to study medicine.[5]  About one-fourth grew up in Königsberg, and many others came from Poland and Lithuania.  Along with the aristocracy, Jewish students had to pay twice the normal matriculation fee (of two Reichsthaler and a few Gröschen).[6]

[1] Krüger [1966, 91]. This was over half a century after the first Jewish students were matriculated at a Prussian university (two at Frankfurt/Oder in 1678, one at Halle in 1695, and one at Duisburg in 1708). Königsberg was the last of the four Prussian universities to admit Jewish students, but by the end of the 18th century the majority of Jewish students in Prussia were at Königsberg [Richarz 1974, 33-36, 55-56; Ajzensztejn 1994, 358-61].

[2] Richarz [1974, 57] claims this occurred while Kant was rector (SS 1786), but Kant’s correspondence indicates this occurred in WS 1785/86.

[3] Elchanan lost his sanity in 1782, for which some blamed Kant, having "fed the undisciplined industriousness, or rather conceitedness, of this unhappy young man" [Hamann, as qtd. in Kuehn 2001, 275]. Elchanan later traveled to England, met Priestley, returned to Königsberg, and converted to Christianity. See Plessing's letter to Kant (16 January 1787; #287, AA 10:475)

[4] Other Jewish students: Leo (mentioned in Kant's letter to Mendelssohn, 7 Feb 1766, AA 10:67-68).

[5] Krüger [1966, 91] begins his list of 114 students with Salomon Fürst (c.1660-c.1725; matriculated 9 Nov 1712), but Fürst appears to have worked as a translator at the university, and wasn't a student at all; likewise with Heinrich Friedländer (matriculated 5 Oct 1809), who appears to have been an English instructor.  Krüger elsewhere notes that there were 112 students from 1731-1812 [1966, 55].  Prior to reforms following the 1786 change in crown, it appears that all Jewish students were enrolled in the medical faculty, after which the study of law became available to them — although career opportunities in law remained virtually non-existent.

[6] On Jewish students at Königsberg, see Krüger [1966], Richarz [1974], Ajzensztejn [1994], and Dietzsch [1994], as well as Gause [1996, ii.246-47].  See also Vorländer’s discussion of Kant’s view of Judaism [1924, ii.73-80].  A brief discussion of the Jewish population in Königsberg can be found in Manthey [2005, 630-43], and Dietzsch provides an especially interesting chapter of his Kant biography on “Kant und die Königsberger Juden” [2003, 171-201].

Disciplinary Affiliation [top]

Before matriculating with the rector at the university, students needed to first enroll with one of the higher faculties, as well as sit for an entrance exam given by the dean of the philosophy faculty.  Usually the affiliation with the higher faculty is shown in the matriculation entry, but not always.  Students were expected to attend classes in the philosophy faculty prior to, or while beginning studies in, one of the higher faculties.  All of this makes an accurate assessment of the distribution of students across the disciplines problematic.  At the same time, certain generalities are clear.  Theology enjoyed the largest number of students, then law, with medicine a distant third.  Philosophy was the most heavily attended of the four because of its role of providing a general education for all of the students.  These numbers are also supported by the number of faculty in each discipline: philosophy always had the most and medicine the fewest.  The status of the disciplines is perhaps also reflected in the salaries: the senior professor in theology received 1000 marks per year, while the senior professors in law and medicine received only 800 marks [Goldbeck 1782, 26]. Kant’s starting salary as full professor of logic and metaphysics was 750 marks (= 166 rthl., 60 gr.). [more]

Of the 3307 students matriculating at Königsberg during the period 1717-1723, 42% belonged to the philosophy faculty, 32% to theology, 23% to law, and 3% to medicine [Gause 1996, ii.113n].

In 1744, when the university was celebrating it 200th anniversary, its total enrollment was claimed to be 1032 students.[1]  Of these, over one-third were foreigners (including 133 Germans from Kurland and Livland, 119 Poles, 62 Lithuanians, and assorted Scandinavians, Russians, and a few Western Europeans).  Of the 1032 students, 591 (57%) belonged to the Theology Faculty, 428 (42%) to the Law Faculty, and 13 (1%) to the Medical Faculty [Gause 1996, ii.140].

By the end of the century, we see a drop in theology enrollments and a rise in law.  Also, as philosophy became recognized as the faculty for training school teachers, students aiming towards a teaching career were likewise drawn away from theology (the old training grounds for school teachers).  Paulsen gives figures for total student enrollment for all Prussian universities in 1805: law (1036; 60%), theology (555; 32%), and medicine (144; 8%).

Hartung’s [1825, 272] figures for Königsberg during SS 1825: from a total enrollment of 392 students, 106 (27%) were in theology, 169 (43%) were in law, 43 (11%) were in medicine, and 74 (19%) were in philosophy.

[1] These matriculation numbers, which appear to originate with Pisanski [1886, 472n] are much higher than what Eulenburg would allow, and must surely be viewed as spurious.  Actual student matriculations, as given by Hartung [1825, 13], were as follows: 1738 (113), 1739 (108), 1740 (182), 1741 (99), 1742 (137), 1743 (161), 1744 (187), 1745 (158), 1746 (139), 1747 (149).  These average 143.3 students per year, and if we assume a three-year average stay for students, then we would expect a total enrollment of about 430 students, which is a bit higher than Eulenburg’s estimates, but considerably lower than Pisanski’s figure.  Not all of the entries in the Matrikel were students, since it was intended as a registry for all citizens of the university, and this included faculty, as well as the local printers, pharmacists, surgeons, and assorted others.  It is here where one might expect a burst of "honorary" academic citizens around a jubilee year; the numbers (as provided in Erler [1710]) are as follows (I include here the actual student numbers, as well as the difference): 1738 (129-113=16), 1739 (122-108=14), 1740 (200-182=18), 1741 (199-99[sic]=100), 1742 (154-137=17), 1743 (188-161=27), 1744 (222-187=35), 1745 (181-158=23), 1746 (149-139=10), 1747 (166-149=17).  Even with these non-students counted, and assuming a rather longer tenure for them, we don't come close to Pisanski's number.