We study Kant’s life as a professor because of his importance as a philosopher, and the main point of contact here are his lecture notes. These notes offer a great wealth of material that spans his teaching career from the Herder notes of the 1760s to the Vigilantius notes of the mid-1790s. While fragments from other disciplines remain unpublished, all but the notes from physical geography have been published in the Academy edition of Kant’s writings, and a large number of translations into English have recently become available in the Cambridge edition of Kant’s works.[see] (A list of published notes can be found here; a combined list of all the known sets of notes can be found here.)
|SUMMARY OF MANUSCRIPTS AVAILABLE|
|Available student notes (i.e., extant manuscripts or copied text), are indicated chronologically and by discipline in the overview table of lectures found on the introductory page to “Kant’s Lectures.” Student notes that are firmly dated are indicated with an ‘N’, otherwise with an ‘Ñ’.|
These notes are useful for several reasons:
• They clarify or develop points made in his 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.
Before using these notes, however, one needs to consider three nested questions:
(1) How reliable are the Academy edition transcriptions [see] of the various sets of notes?
(2) Assuming reliable transcriptions, how reliable are these notes in reflecting what Kant said in the lectures?
(3) Assuming reliable notes, when did Kant say these things? That is, for any given set of notes (or with compilations, for any given passage in a set of notes) what is the source-lecture?
If we cannot trust the Academy edition transcription of the notes, for instance, or if we are not sure how accurately these notes reflect what Kant said in the classroom or in what semester he said them, then we are hard pressed to make much use of the notes at all.
The Academy edition (or translations based on it) is generally one’s only access to these notes (but see the lists of published and still unpublished notes). As regards the reliability of its transcriptions, we need to distinguish between those volumes prepared by the late editor, Gerhard Lehmann (namely, vols. 24, 27, 28, and 29) and the more recent work by Reinhard Brandt and Werner Stark. The latter is a model of careful and well considered scholarship; the former is more problematic. The Academy volumes prepared by Lehmann are reliable insofar as they do not grossly misrepresent what can be found in the manuscripts, and reading these volumes will provide a rough sense of what is actually in the notes. Unfortunately, there are so many errors in transcription and presentation that a detailed use of the notes is often problematic — see the discussions of the individual sets of notes (here the metaphysics notes have received the most detailed treatment).
Descriptions of the Notes
In a world without limits of time or space, one might expect a more thorough description of each of the manuscripts than is provided in the lists of disciplines above. What is found instead is work-to-date — already too detailed for the tastes and needs of many, but still suffering from important gaps.
Descriptions of the notes are grouped by discipline (Anthropology, Encyclopedia, etc.) and ordered alphabetically within each discipline. Please consult the Composite List for an overview of all the manuscripts, or click on one of the disciplines (above) for a list of the notes in that discipline.
Each manuscript is given an entry with the following kinds of information (when available or appropriate):
(1) Other names or designations of the manuscript used by previous scholars (knowing this is critical when making use of older literature; these have been collected into a list of Variant Names);
(2) A physical description and history of the manuscript (what it looks like, where it came from);
(3) Information on its location (either present, or the last known location — giving the city, the library or archive, and the cataloging signature when appropriate), as well as the location of copies or films that we know about;
(4) Publication information (transcriptions as well as translations — here the bibliography must be consulted for a full citation);
(5) Dating (the best guess of current scholarship on when the source lecture occurred); and
(6) Contents (which topics are covered in the notes, as well as their completeness, and whether the manuscript is ancestrally related to other notes).
In the overview tables of the various sets of notes, a publication of a set of notes is listed as a “fragment” whenever it includes only a minor portion of the available manuscript; it makes no claims as to the extent of the manuscript itself (some manuscripts appear to cover the semester material quite thoroughly; others are quite brief) or of the available text (in the case of reprints and translations).