[Return to Kant’s Life]


[1] The Wasianski biography was published first, by Friedrich Nicolovius (Königsberg), who later in 1804 issued all three biographies — Borowski, Jachmann, and Wasianski — together. These biographies have been published as a group numerous times, including Schwarz [1907], Groß [1912] and, more recently, Drescher [1974].

[2] Although not published until 1860, this is material collected in 1804 by S. G. Wald [bio], who was preparing a memorial address for Kant that he gave on 23 April 1804.

[3] There is also a two-volume anonymously published biography [Mellin 1804] that appears to be based primarily on Mortzfeld [1802] and is otherwise unreliable; Borowski [1804, 265-75] discusses the Mellin biography at the end of his own biography.

Apart from the biographers listed above, various other individuals knew Kant and left accounts; some of these are recorded in Reicke [1860], such as Heilsberg, others left information in their letters (most notably Hamann, Hippel, and Scheffner). It is useful to have some sense of when these individuals were in contact with Kant — did they know the young Kant? The old Kant? — and so I offer below a brief overview of this contact: 

Johann Christoph Mortzfeld was a physician in Königsberg; little is known of him and his interactions with Kant.

Christoph Friedrich Heilsberg (1726-1807) [bio], a Lithuanian, was a fellow student with Kant in the early 1740's at the university and later worked in government in Königsberg (his reminiscences are quoted in Reicke [1860]).

Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) [bio] had already spent several years in London before returning to Königsberg and meeting Kant in 1759; they corresponded occasionally and moved in the same social circles; news about Kant often appears in Hamann’s correspondence.

Ludwig Ernst Borowski (1740-1831) [bio] was in Königsberg from 1755-58, and then returned in 1782; he knew Kant during his earliest years as a magister, but presumably wrote his descriptions of Kant only near the very end of Kant’s life (they are not part of the material he wrote in 1792 and shared with Kant).  He is also quoted in Reicke [1860].

Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel (1741-1796) [bio] heard Kant’s lectures during 1758-59, was active in Königsberg politics and held various offices, including that of mayor; he was also a successful, although anonymous author. Hippel and Kant became close friends, and the house Kant purchased in 1784 was just around the corner from Hippel’s.

Johann Georg Scheffner (1736-1820) [bio] was widely connected socially, including in Kant’s circles, and left traces of Kant in his correspondence and autobiography (Leipzig 1816).

Christian Jacob Kraus (1853-1807) [bio] heard Kant’s lectures from 1771-74, and Kant eventually helped Kraus return to Königsberg as the professor of practical philosophy in 1781; they often dined together, and for a few years on a daily basis (his reminiscences are quoted in Reicke [1860]).

Ehregott Andreas Christoph Wasianski (1755-1831) [bio] attended Kant’s lectures beginning in 1773/74, and then remained in Königsberg as a pastor, but apparently had little to do with Kant until 1790, when they renewed their acquaintance. Wasianski became a regular at Kant’s table and eventually something of a caretaker during his last years.

Johann Gottfried Hasse (1759-1806) [bio] arrived in Königsberg as a professor in 1787, but was a guest at Kant’s table only during the last three years.

Samuel Gottlieb Wald (1762-1828) [bio] arrived in Königsberg in 1787 when he became the professor of Greek, and later also a professor of theology.

Reinhold Bernhard Jachmann (1767-1828) [bio] interacted with Kant primarily between 1783-94, as a student and then (presumably) as his amanuensis, after which he left Königsberg and saw Kant only infrequently. Jachmann enjoyed a successful career as a pastor and was an important educational reformer. His older brother, Johann Benjamin [bio], also served for a time as Kant’s amanuensis (from 1784-88), and returned to Königsberg in 1791 to practice medicine.

Friedrich Theodor Rink (1770-1811) [bio] arrived as a student in 1786, leaving with his Magister degree in 1789 to travel and study elsewhere, eventually returning to Königsberg in 1792 as a lecturer in theology, oriental languages, and Greek, teaching alongside Kant until the latter’s retirement, departing for Danzig in 1801.

Christian Friedrich Reusch (1778-1848) [bio] was the son of Kant’s colleague, the physics professor Carl Daniel Reusch. Christian Friedrich studied under Kant beginning in 1794, remained in town and became a regular at Kant’s table, publishing his account in 1848.


[1] Arnoldt [1881, 608] quotes from the Kant family papers – the entries had been preserved in a copy made by Kant’s biographer Wasianski, who presented them at the annual gathering on Kant’s birthday in 1823.

In Anna Regina Kant’s hand we read:

“My son Emanuel was born into this world on the 22nd of April, 1724, on Saturday morning around 5 o’clock, and received the holy baptism on the 23rd.”

“Anno 1724 d. 22ten April Sonnabends des Morgens um 5 Uhr ist mein Sohn Emanuel an diese Welt geboren und hat d. 23ten die heilige Taufe empfangen.”

The baptism occurred in the Kneiphof church — the Dom or cathedral situated at the east end of the island and directly next to the few university buildings. This is where Anna Regina and Johann George were married nine years earlier, on 13 November 1715, by Michael Lilenthal [bio], a professor of theology. Kant’s mother recorded the births of all nine of her children, as well as the deaths of three of them. Immanuel Kant recorded the names of his surviving siblings in the entry on 24 March 1746, in which he also recorded the death of his father. For some reason, he failed to list his sister Anna Louise. The nine-children were as follows:

[1] 1717 (Nov 1): an unnamed still-born daughter.

[2] 1719 (Jul 4): Regina Dorothea.

[3] 1722 (Apr 10): Johann Friedrich, who died at the age of 7 mths on 3 Feb 1723.

[4] 1724 (Apr 22): Immanuel.

[5] 1727 (Jan 2): Maria Elisabeth.

[6] 1728 (Aug 10): Anna Catharina, who died at the age of 28 weeks on 22 Feb 1729.

[7] 1730 (Feb 15): Anna Louise.

[8] 1731 (Sep 15): Catharina Barbara.

[9] 1735 (Nov 28): Johann Heinrich.

Vorländer [1924, ii.385] provides a genealogical table that also includes death, marriages, and offspring (Maria Elisabeth had two sons and three daughters; Johann and three daughters and one son; Anna and Catharina married but remained childless, and Regina appears not to have married).

[2] Included among the 2004 Kant festivities that took place in Kalingrad to mark the 280th anniversary of Kant’s birth was the placing of a commemorative plaque marking his birth home. [Photos at: Immanuel Kant: Information Online]


[1] From the Kant family papers, in Johann George Kant’s hand [Arnoldt 1881, 609]:

“Anno 1737 d. 18 Dezember um 8 Uhr ist meine liebe Frau im Herrn entschlafen. Ihre Krankheit war ein hitziges und giftiges Flussfieber.”

An account of the mother's death is given in Wasianski [1804, 94-95].


[1] Des Freyherrn von Leibnitz kleinere Philosophische Schriften, with a preface by Christian Wolff, and translated into German by Heinrich Köhler (Jena: Mayer, 1740), lxxiv, 464 pp. This included the following writings (titles as printed in the table of contents): (1) Lehrsätze von den Monaden zur Erläuterung der Theodicee, (2) Verthaidigung seiner Harmonie wider Baylen, (3) Geheimniß der Schöpfung nach seiner Dyadik, (4) Mit Herrn D. Clarken gewechselte Schriften, nebst (5) Herrn Thümmigs Antwort auf Herrn Clarkens letztes Schreiben, und (6) Herrn Prof. Köhlers Discurs über das Licht der Natur.


[1] Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 4 books (London: Printed by Eliz. Holt, for Thomas Basset, at the George in Fleetstreet, near St. Dunstan's Church, 1690), was first translated into Latin by Ezekiel Burridge in 1701. Thiele’s was the third edition of this Latin translation and probably the one used by Kant (although it does not appear in Warda [1922]). A German translation appeared in 1757: Versuch vom Menschlichen Verstande, translated by Heinrich Engelhard Polenen (Altenburg: Richter, 1757), and two years earlier Kant’s colleague Georg David Kypke had translated a selection from Locke’s Essay: Johann Lockens Anleitung des menschlichen Verstandes zur Erkentniss der Wahrheit, nebst desselben Abhandlung von den Wunderwerken (Königsberg: Johann Heinrich Hartung, 1755), 176 pp. Kant read Latin easily, however, and we find him referring to the title of the Latin edition, such as in the Blomberg (AA 24: 36) and the an-Wien (AA 24: 796) logic notes. See Brandt [1981] and Pollok [2004].


[1] Full German title: Theodicee, das ist, Versuch von der Güte Gottes, Freyheit des Menschen, und vom Ursprunge des Bösen, bey dieser vierten Ausgabe durchgehends verbessert, auch mit verschiedenen Zusätzen und Anmerkungen vermehrt von Johann Christoph Gottscheden. While listed as the “4th edition,” this appears to be the first with which Gottsched was involved, and the translation was wholly re-done by his wife Luise Adelgunde Victorie Gottsched (1713-1762) — she is identified in the preface as the translator of the short pieces appended to the book, and also as having re-translated Fontanelle’s life of Leibniz that serves as an introduction to the book (pp. 1-64), and is identified as translating the Theodicee in Brown [2012, 211].

Georg Friedrich Richter (1691-1742) may have prepared the translation for the first German edition (Amsterdam: Cornelio Boudestein, 1720). Johann Georg von Eckhart translated Fontanelle's life of Leibniz. The records for a second edition (Amsterdam: Cornelio Boudestein, 1726) name Richter as the translator. A third edition was issued by a new publisher (Hannover: Nicolai Försters und Sohns, 1735) (and Gottsched claims, in his preface, that Richter prepared a new translation for this edition, as well as the annotations, some of which were retained by Gottsched in the 4th edition and marked with an 'R'). Gottsched became involved with the 4th (1744) and 5th (1763) editions (same publisher).

The additional essays by Leibniz included by Gottsched in this 4th edition are: (1) Vernünftige Grundsätze von der Natur und von der Gnade [Principles of Nature and Grace, based on Reason] (pp. 768-81), (2) Neues Lehrgebäude von der Natur und Gemeinschaft der Substanzen [New System of Nature and Communication of Substances] (pp. 782-96), and three elaborations on Leibniz’s System (pp. 797-808): the response to Foucher (1695), to Basnage de Beauval (1696), and a piece appearing in the Journal des savants (Paris, 19 Nov 1696).


[1] Berkeley’s Siris is mentioned in the Metaphysik Herder lectures of 1762-64 (AA 28: 42). The German translation of 1745 is just a selection, and of tar-water itself, not Berkeley’s immaterialism.


[1] From the Kant family papers, in Immanuel Kant’s hand:

In the year 1746, the 24th of March, around 3:30 in the afternoon, my dear father was taken by a blessed death. May God, who did not allow him much joy in this life, allow him now to partake in eternal joy. His surviving children are: Regina Dorothea, Immanuel Kant, Maria Elisabeth, Catharina Barbara, Johann Heinrich. He died from a total exhaustion following a stroke suffered one and a half years earlier. [Arnoldt 1881, 609]

Anno 1746 d. 24 März Nachmittags um halb 4 Uhr ist mein liebster Vater, durch einen seeligen Tod abgefordert worden. Gott der ihm in diesem Leben nicht viel Freude geniessen lassen, lasse ihm davor die ewige Freude zu Theil werden. Seine nachgelassene Kinder sind: / Regina Dorothea / Immanuel Kant / Maria Elisabeth / Catharina Barbara / Johann Heinrich / er starb an einer gänzlichen Entkräftung die auf den Schlag, der ihn anderthalb Jahr vorher befiel, erfolgte.

[2] Although founded in 1700, the Academy had fallen into neglect until Friedrich II assumed the throne in 1740 and initiated the Academy's reorganization, inviting Leonard Euler (1707-1783) to assist in this (Euler arrived in Berlin on 25 July 1741). The first session of the new Academy took place in 1744.

[3] Kant added additional text in 1747 and the book finally appeared in summer 1749 (although with a 1746 date on the title-page). One might have expected Kant to have written something more appropriate (and in Latin) that he could submit as a thesis for a Magister degree from the university. That he instead chose to publish this, and to write it in German, suggests that he was planning a literary career outside of academia.


[1] When Kant left Königsberg is difficult to determine, and early biographers assumed he left in 1746 after his father died. Waschkies [1987, 25-277] has collected evidence that strongly suggests a date after mid-August 1748. [more]


[1] Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist turned mystic; Kant bought and read this work in 1765, and satirically discussed it in his Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766) [writings].


[1] The four volumes were:
Vol. 1: Über die Handlung, die Manufacturen und die andern Quellen des Reichthums und der Macht eines Staats. 1754.
Vol. 2: Philosophische Versuche über die Menschliche Erkenntniß. 1755.
Vol. 3: Sittenlehre der Gesellschaft. 1756.
Vol. 4: Moralische und politische Versuche. 1756.

Original publication: Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, 4 vols (1753). Translated from the English by Hermann Andreas Pistorius (vols. 1 and 3) and Johann Georg Sulzer (vols. 2? and 4?). Kant owned this four-volume set and referred to it in his lectures.

[2] The August 10th date comes from a letter that Kant sent from Königsberg to Herr von Hülsen (AA 10: 2).


[1] Kuehn [1983a, 178] notes that “by 1760 all of Hume’s major philosophical publications, the (anonymous) Treatise excepted, were translated into German.” The Treatise was finally translated into German in 1790-92 by L. H. Jakob [bio]. Hume published his Four Dissertations (1. The Natural History of Religion; 2. Of the Passion; 3. Of Tragedy; 4. Of the Standard of Taste) in 1757, and a German translation appeared in 1759 (Vier Abhandlungen, translated by Johanna Dorothea Sysang. Quedlinburg / Leipzig: Biesterfeld, 1759 [280 p.] [online]). Early interest in Hume was so strong that Mendelssohn was able to report in 1755 that the German translation of the Enquiry was already “in everyone’s hands” [as quoted in Ibid.].

[2] The first edition of this work (1755) was a quite small printing that quickly sold out; more available is the enlarged 2nd edition (Dresden/Leipzig: Walther, 1756).

[3] Kant made use of Lulofs’ text in his lectures on physical geography. In his lecture announcement for SS 1757 (West Winds [writings]) he wrote:

I have drawn from all sources, sought out all information, and besides the information contained in the works of Varenius, Buffon, and Lulofs concerning the general foundations of physical geography [...] [AA 2: 4]

Ich habe aus allen Quellen geschöpft, allen Vorrath aufgesucht und außer demjenigen, was die Werke des Varenius, Buffon und Lulofs von den allgemeinen Gründen der physischen Geographie enthalten [...]

[4] Loss of life from the earthquake — estimated at around 70 thousand — was perhaps higher because it occurred on All Saint’s Day, so that the collapsing churches fell on filled pews. The force of the shock caused church-bells as far away as Paris to ring and a tsunami to sweep across the Atlantic coast. Fires burned in the city for five days.


[1] Correspondence between J. H. Lambert (1728-1777) and Kant began with Lambert's letter of 13 November 1765 [AA 10: 51-54] (although they had already communicated by way of G. C. Reccard [bio], who had recently moved from Berlin to Königsberg). In that letter, Lambert notes the similarity that he and Kant seem to share in their approach to philosophy — having read Kant's Only Possible Argument [writings] — and he suggests that they pool their efforts. Kant quickly replied on 31 December 1765 [AA 10: 54-57], agreeing with Lambert and noting that...

I have finally reached the point where I feel secure about the method that has to be followed if one wants to escape the cognitive fantasy that has us constantly expecting to reach a conclusion, yet just as constantly makes us retrace our steps, a fantasy from which the devastating disunity among supposed philosophers also arises. [...] All of my endeavors are directed mainly at the proper method of metaphysics and thereby also the proper method for philosophy as a whole. [AA 10: 55-56; Zweig transl.]

bin ... endlich dahin gelangt, daß ich mich der Methode versichert halte, die man beobachten muß, wenn man demjenigen Blendwerk des Wissens entgehen will, was da macht, daß man alle Augenblicke glaubt, zur Entscheidung gelangt zu sein, aber ebenso oft seinen Weg wieder zurücknehmen muß, und woraus auch die zerstörende Uneinigkeit der vermeinten Philosophen entspringt; [...] Alle diese Bestrebungen laufen hauptsächlich auf die eigentümliche Methode der Metaphysik und vermittelst derselben auch der gesamten Philosophie hinaus ...


[1] The complete passage reads:

The first impression that an intelligent reader who does not read merely out of vanity or to pass the time acquires of the writings of Mr. J. J. Rousseau is that he has encountered an uncommon acuity of spirit, a noble impetus of genius, and a feeling soul combined in such a high degree as has perhaps never before been possessed by a writer of any age or any people. The impression that follows next is alienation from odd and contrasensical opinions, that depart so far from what is common that one could readily form the suspicion that with his extraordinary talents the author would only demonstrate [crossed out: the force of an enchanting wit] and the magical power of his oratory and make himself an eccentric who would stand out among all competitors in wit as something invitingly newsworthy.

The third thought which one will reach only with difficulty, because it seldom occurs [breaks off]

One must teach youth to honor the common understanding on the basis of moral as well as logical grounds.

I am myself by inclination an investigator. I feel a complete thirst for knowledge and an eager unrest to go further in it as well as satisfaction at every acquisition. There was a time when I believed that this alone could constitute the honor of mankind, and I had contempt for the rabble who know nothing. Rousseau brought me around. This blinding superiority disappeared, I learned to honor human beings, and I would find myself far more useless than the common laborer if I did not believe that this consideration could impart to all others a value in establishing the rights of humanity. [AA 20: 43, 44; Guyer transl. (2005, 7)]

Der Erste Eindruck den ein verstandiger Leser der nicht blos aus Eitelkeit oder zur Zeitkürtzung lieset der Schriften des Hn J. J. Rousseau bekömt ist daß er eine ungemeine Scharfsinnigkeit des Geistes einen edlen Schwung des Genies und eine gefühlvolle Seele in so hohem Grade antrift als vielleicht niemals ein Schriftsteller von welchem Zeitalter oder von welchem Volke er auch sey vereinbart mag besessen haben. Der Eindruck der hernachst folgt ist die Befremdung über seltsame u. wiedersinnische Meinungen die demjenigen was allgemein gangbar ist so sehr entgegenstehen daß man leichtlich auf die Vermuthung geräth der Verfasser habe vermoge seiner ausserordentlichen Talente nur die [44] Zauberkraft der Beredsamkeit beweisen und den Sonderling machen wollen welcher durch eine einnehmende neuigkeit unter allen Nebenbuhlern des Witzes hervorsteche.

Der dritte Gedanke zu welchem man nur schwerlich gelanget weil es nur selten geschieht

Man muß die Jugend lehren den gemeinen Verstand in Ehren zu halten aus so wohl moralischen als logischen Gründen.

Ich bin selbst aus Neigung ein Forscher. Ich fühle den gantzen Durst nach Erkentnis u. die begierige Unruhe darin weiter zu kommen oder auch die Zufriedenheit bey jedem Erwerb. Es war eine Zeit da ich glaubte dieses allein könnte die Ehre der Menschheit machen u. ich verachtete den Pöbel der von nichts weis. Rousseau hat mich zurecht gebracht. Dieser verblendende Vorzug verschwindet, ich lerne die Menschen ehren u. ich würde mich unnützer finden wie den gemeine Arbeiter wenn ich nicht glaubete daß diese Betrachtung allen übrigen einen Werth ertheilen könne, die rechte der Menschheit herzustellen.

Christian Friedrich Puttlich [bio], a student of Kant’s from the 1780s, wrote in his diary entry for 30 April 1785:

“Kant has not decorated his rooms at all, Rousseau’s picture alone hung above his writing desk” [Warda 1905, 280].

“Kant hatte seine Stuben gar nicht ausumöblirt, nur Rousseaus Bildniß hing über seinem Schreibpult.”

Borowski confirmed this in his biography of Kant [1804, 176]:

“Apart from an engraving of J. J. Rousseau in his living room, there was nothing of this sort in his entire house — and this was certainly some gift or other from a friend.”

“Außer J. J. Rousseaus Kupferstiche, der in seinem Wohnzimmer war, befand sich nichts von dieser Art in seinem ganzen Hause — und gewiß war auch dieses irgend ein Geschenk eines Freundes.”

In a note to this passage, Borowski reports that Scheffner (who had read Borowski’s manuscript) confirmed that the engraving was a gift from Ruffmann, a Königsberg bank director who belonged to the circle of friends who gathered at Green’s house for lunch (cf. Jachmann [1804, 81]).

[2] Kant wrote Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime during the summer recess while staying with a friend, the Head Forester Wobser, in his small home in the woods near Moditten, which was about a mile north of Königsberg [Vorländer 1924, i.142]. Kant would often stay here for periods of a week or more during semester recesses.

A descendent of Wobser published a note written by a great-granddaughter of the forester (and signed “Emilie Andersch”):

“Our grandmother on my mother’s side was a Voldenscher, whose father was the head forester Wobeser (our great-grandfather), Kant was his friend, came every Sunday to Moditten and gave as a present to our grandmother (at the time a young girl) a small agate box — which is in my possession” [Michelis 1933, 493].

“Unsere Großmutter mütterlicher Seite hieß Voldenscher, deren Vater der Oberförster Wobeser [sic] war (unser Urgroßvater), Kant war ein Freund desselben, kam jeden Sonntag nach Moditten und schenkte unsere Großmutter (damals junges Mädchen) ein Etui aus Agat — welches in meinem Besitz ist.”


[1] The review was written by Friedrich Gabriel Resewitz and appeared in the influential Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend, 18:69-102 (Letters 280 & 281) that was edited by Lessing, Nicolai, and Mendelssohn; the review appeared in three successive issues (April 26, May 3, and May 10). An indication of Kant's standing in Berlin is given in a November 1764 letter from Krickende to J. G. Scheffner:

“Magister Kant has here [in Berlin] uncommon credit. Sack and Spalding have sung him a true panegyric song, and called him the subtlest philosophical brain, who had the gift to present the most abstract truths in the simplest way and to make them distinct for everyone.” [Qtd. in Kuehn 2001, 142]

[2] A new edition of Spalding’s book, which had originally been published anonymously in 1748, was reviewed by Thomas Abbt [bio] in Briefe, die neueste literatur betreffend (29 March 1764), pp. 3-24, and then Abbt and Moses Mendelssohn [bio] discussed the question of a human vocation a few months later in the same journal, spread over four issues (June 21, June 28, July 5, July 12, 1764): Abbt, “Zweifel über die Bestimmung des Menschen” [Doubts about the human vocation], pp. 3-40, and Mendelssohn, “Orakel, die Bestimmung des Menschen betreffend” [Oracle concerning the human vocation], pp. 41-60.


[1] This dating is uncertain, but a good guess based on the evidence; see Kuehn [2001, 154-55]. Jachmann is the source of the story of Kant’s first encounter with Green [1804, 77-79].

[2] Leibniz was about to publish his detailed exploration of Locke’s Essays on Human Understanding (1690) in 1704 when he learned of Locke’s death, and then either out of courtesy or simple disinterest left the manuscript unpublished, which it remained for the sixty years until being published, in the original French and part of a larger collection: Oeuvres Philosophiques / Latines & Françoises / de feu / Mr. de Leibnitz, edited by Rudolph Eric Raspe, with a preface by Abraham Gotthelf Kästner (Amsterdam/Leipzig: Jean Schreuder, 1765), xvii, 540 pp. + an unpaginated 15 pp. index. The New Essay is printed at pp. 1-496. Kant rarely or never read works in French or English, however, so it is unclear that this was his source of the work. The first German translation appears to have been by Johann Heinrich Friderich Ulrich, in the second of a two-volume translation into German of the Raspe publication: Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Philosophische Werke, nach Raspens Sammlung, vol. 2 (Halle: Johann Christian Hendel, 1780), 653 pp.

[3] See the note to 1761.


[1] See the Address-Calendar für das Königsreich Preussen ... 1770 [1965, 14]. Professor Friedrich Samuel Bock [bio] was the head librarian.


[1] The information on the individuals so honored in Kanter’s shop is not entirely unambiguous. A first list comes from Hamann’s letter to Herder (28 August 1768):

“Kanter will diese Woche seinen Laden beziehen. In der Schreibstube des Ladens werden gemalte Köpfe sein, wovon er Moses Mendelssohn und Ramler von Berlin mitgebracht und hier Scheffner, Willamow, Hippel, Lindner gesammelt. Auch Kant sitzt bereits.”

Of the list of six, Hamann omits himself and Bock, but adds ‘Willamow’, who may indeed belong in the list, and is presumably the Classical poet Johann Gottlieb Willamov (1736-1777) who was born in Mohrungen, attended the university in Königsberg, and began teaching at the Gymnasium in Thorn (Torun) in 1758. Baczko also includes Willamov in the list of dignitaries, as well as adding Bock [Herder 1846, i.155]:

“In dieser Buchhandlung, welches gegenwärtig die Unzer’sche ist, war das Comptoir von Berlins ersten Künstlern, Fritsch, Rohde und Madame Theerbusch mit einigen Gemälden der berühmten Gelehrten Berlins und dann auch durch unsern geschickten Portraitsmaler Becker mit den Bildnissen verschiedener preussischer Gelehrten, Kant, Hamann, Willamov, Lindner, Bock u.a. m. geschmückt.”

And see Gause [1996, iii.274]. Minden, in his survey of Kant images, claims that Becker painted the following portraits for Kanter: Hamann, Kant, Willamov, Lindner, Bock, and Scheffner [1868, 25] — so he adds Willamov to the list and omits Hippel.

The inscription under the painting of Kant reads (in translation):

“Immanuel Kant, born April 22, 1724 / lived with the book dealer Kanter from 1766 until 1769 / was painted for this shop in August 1768 / by the portrait painter Becker, died 1804, the 12th of February.”

This inscription likely stems from 1844, when the book dealer Gräfe und Unzer had the picture restored and displayed in their rooms. The dates are wrong, however true the image might be, as Kant stayed with Kanter until 1777 [Stark 1994a, 81].


[1] This reflection (#5037, which Adickes dates to 1776-78) was written in Kant’s copy of Baumgarten’s Metaphysica. It reads:

If all I achieve is to convince that we must suspend the treatment of this science until this point has been settled, then the purpose of this writing will have been met.

In the beginning I saw this doctrine as if in a twilight. I attempted quite earnestly to prove propositions and their opposite, not in order to establish a skeptical doctrine, but rather to discover an illusion of the understanding that I suspected underlay them. The year 1769 gave me a great light.

Wenn ich nur so viel erreiche, daß ich überzeuge, man müsse die Bearbeitung dieser Wissenschaft so lange aussetzen, bis man diesen Punkt ausgemacht hat, so hat diese Schrift ihren Zweck erreicht.

Ich sah anfenglich diesen Lehrbegrif wie in einer Dämmerung. Ich versuchte es gantz ernstlich zu beweisen und ihr Gegentheil, nicht um eine Zweifellehre zu errichten, sondern weil ich eine illusion des Verstandes vermuthete, zu entdecken, worin sie stähe. Das Jahr 69 gab mir großes Licht.

Adickes (the Academy editor of the Reflections) believed that “this point” in the first paragraph and “this doctrine” in the second were referring to the same thing, viz., the problem of the antinomies. This “great light” of 1769 appears to mark the beginning of Kant’s journey toward his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), which is supported by his letter to Mendelssohn (16 Aug 1783; AA 10: 345), where he notes that it was “the product of nearly twelve years of reflection.”


[1] Hamann was at that time serving as the editor of the Königsbergsche Gelehrte und Politische Zeitungen. The translation was of the Conclusion to Book One of Hume’s Treatise (Treatise, 1.4.7), and was serialized over the July 5 and July 12 issues under the title “Nachtgedanken eines Skeptikers” [Night Thoughts of a Skeptic]. Because it was unattributed, many mistook it for Hamann’s own writing, since he often contributed material to the paper — although Kant would have been aware of its origins [Kuehn 2001, 198].

[2] Published in two successive issues of the local Königsberg paper: Königsbergsche Gelehrte und Politische Zeitungen (November 22 & 25, 1771). Reprinted in Reinhard Brandt [1981, 59-66]; transl. by James C. Morrison [1995, 163-70]. Schultz was a pastor in Löwenhagen at the time. Although Schultz found some problems with the Dissertation, Kant was positively impressed by his review, and in a letter to Marcus Herz [bio], Kant referred to Schultz as “the best head for philosophy that I know in this region” (21 February 1772; AA 10: 133).


[1] Kant’s former student and later close-friend (and then, later still, his estranged friend) C. J. Kraus [bio] wrote to Wald (regarding the memorial speech for Kant that Wald was preparing in 1804), that:

“I know of only one person that he wanted to marry, as my friend Philippi had told me in 1772, but she was from Königsberg, as far as I know. I can still point out the house where she lived. What Kant once said about this, was that on closer inspection the glitter disappeared, i.e., that Kant did not find there one of his worthy female souls.”

“Ich weiß nur von einer Person, die er, wie mir mein Freund Philippi schon etwa A. 1772 erzählt hat, zu heirathen wünschte; die war aber, soviel ich weiß, eine Königsbergerin. Ich kann noch das Haus zeigen, wo sie wohnte. Was Kant einmal darüber fallen ließ, ging darauf hinaus, daß bei näherer Ansicht das Gleißende sehr geschwunden sei, d.h. daß Kant eine seiner würdige weibliche Seele da nicht gefunden habe.” [Reicke 1860, 12].

The woman in question may have been a Louise Rebecca Ballath, née Fritz (1746-1826, so twenty-two years Kant’s junior), who often boasted that Kant had once loved her [Bobrik 1877, 608; see also Vorländer 1911, 142].

[2] Kant’s appointment letter from Berlin was dated 17 Feb 1766 and the installation order from von Braxein was dated 12 Mar 1766, and he began work on April 9; Kant’s resignation letter was dated 14 Apr 1772 [Warda 1899b]. Kant had petitioned King Frederich II for this position in a letter of 24 October 1765 [#30; AA 10: 48-49], which would “ease my rather difficult subsistence at the university here” [zur Erleichterung meiner sehr mißlichen Subsistenz auf der hiesigen Akademie].

See also Kant’s petition to Freiherr von Fürst u. Kupferberg, the current Oberkurator of the Prussian universities (29 October 1765; #31, AA 10: 49-50); in this latter petition, Kant notes that two other recent Magisters are also seeking the position — Martin Nikuta [bio] and Kant’s former student C. D. Reusch [bio], and then adds that such a position would...

“offer several advantages, such as having so many scholarly resources close at hand, as well as the small salary, which I understand to be 60 rthl., and which would help alleviate my very uncertain academic subsistence here”

“Die erwünschte Gelegenheit, die ich in einem solchen Posten antreffen würde, so viele Hülfsmittel der Wissenschaften bei der Hand zu haben, imbleichen das kleine Gehalt, welches dem Vernehmen nach von 60 rtlr. sein soll, und meiner sher unsicheren akademischen Subsistenz zu einiger Beihülfe dienen würde”.

[3] Actually, of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which had surrounded Prussia on all sides but the sea). Land to the east of the Dvina and Dnieper was ceded to Russia, land to the south to Austria, and land to the west, but excluding the cities of Danzig and Thorn, were ceded to Prussia, with Königsberg now the capital of the province of what was now called East Prussia.

[4] Kant describes his new course on anthropology in an undated letter to Herz from December 1773:

This winter I am giving for the second time a private course of lectures on anthropology, which I am thinking of making into a standard academic discipline. Only my plan is different than usual. I intend to use it to disclose the sources of all the practical sciences, the science of morality, of skill, of human intercourse, of the way to educate and govern human beings, and thus of everything that pertains to the practical I shall seek to discuss phenomena and their laws rather than the foundations of the possibility of human thinking in general. Hence the subtle and, to my view, eternally futile inquiries as to the manner in which bodily organs are connected with thought I omit entirely. I include so many observations of ordinary life that my auditors have constant occasion to compare their ordinary experience with my remarks and thus, from beginning to end, find the lectures entertaining and never dry. In my spare time, I am trying to prepare a preliminary study for the students out of this very pleasant empirical study, an analysis of the nature of skill (prudence) and even wisdom that, along with physical geography and distinct from all other learning, can be called knowledge of the world. [AA 10: 145-46; Zweig transl.]

Ich lese in diesem Winter zum zweyten mal ein collegium privatum der Anthropologie welches ich ietzt zu einer ordentlichen academischen disciplin zu machen gedenke. Allein mein Plan ist gantz anders. Die Absicht die ich habe ist durch dieselbe die Quellen aller Wissenschaften die der Sitten der Geschiklichkeit des Umganges der Methode Menschen zu bilden u. zu regiren mithin alles Praktischen zu eröfnen. Da suche ich alsdenn mehr Phänomena u. ihre Gesetze als die erst Gründe der Möglichkeit der modification der menschlichen Natur überhaupt. Daher die subtile u. in meinen Augen auf ewig vergebliche Untersuchung über die Art wie die organe des Korper mit den Gedanken in Verbindung stehen ganz wegfällt. Ich bin unabläßig so bei der Beobachtung selbst im geminen Leben daß meine [146] Zuhörer vom ersten Anfange bis zu Ende niemals eine trokene sondern durch den Anlaß den sie haben unaufhörlich ihre gewöhnliche Erfahrung mit meinen Bemerkungen zu vergleichen iederzeit eine unterhaltende Beschäftigung habe. Ich arbeite in Zwischenzeiten daran, aus dieser in meinen Augen sehr angenehmen Beobachtungslehre eine Vorübung der Geschiklichkeit der Klugheit und selbst der Weisheit vor die academische Jugend zu machen welche nebst der physischen geographie von aller andern Unterweisung unterschieden ist und die Kenntnis der Welt heissen kan.


[1] This was Blumenbach’s dissertation presented to the medical faculty at Göttingen.


[1] Johann Friedrich Schiller, a cousin to Friedrich Schiller the playwright, was the London agent for the Weidmann publishing house in Leipzig. It is remarkable that this translation appeared so quickly, published in the same year as the original English, although there were complaints about the German style and the haste is perhaps reflected in the 1778 second edition that included a 140 pp. appendix providing “Additions and Improvements” to the first edition. Christian Garve was eventually asked to correct the “undeutsche” language of the Schiller translation [Willenberg 2008, 92]. The first volume of the Garve translation appeared in 1794: Untersuchung über die Natur und die Ursachen des Nationalreichthums, transl. into German by Christian Garve, 4 vols. (Breslau: Wilhelm Gottlieb Korn, 1794-96).

Kant’s colleague C. J. Kraus [bio] is thought to have been the first in Germany to lecture on Smith’s economic theories, offering a course of lectures on the Wealth of Nations for SS 1797, seemingly on the heels of this new translation and suggesting that the first translation might have become a rarity. Rare or not, however, it would be surprising if Kant was not familiar with this early translation, given his interest in Smith (for instance, see the 9 July 1771 letter from Herz to Kant, where the suggestion was that Smith was a favorite author of Kant’s).


[1] Kant appears to have read this book shortly after it was published. In a letter of early April 1778 to Marcus Herz, Kant writes:

Tetens, in his sweeping work on human nature, made some penetrating points; but it certainly looks as if for the most part he let his work be pubished just as he wrote it down, without corrections.” [AA 10: 232]

Tetens, in seinem weitläuftigen Werke über die menschl. Natur, hat viel scharfsinniges gesagt; aber er hat ohne Zweifel so wie er schrieb es auch drucken zum wenigsten stehen lassen.”

And in a May 17, 1779, letter from Hamann to Herder:

“Kant is hard at work on his Moral of Pure Reason and Tetens lies open constantly before him.”

“Kant arbeitet frisch darauf los an seiner Moral der reinen Vernunft und Tetens liegt immer vor ihm.”

The context of the letter suggests that Hamann had been to visit Kant that very day.

[2] This new version appeared in J. J. Engel, Der Philosoph für die Welt (Leipzig, 1777), ii.125-64.


[1] The play was first performed in Berlin in 1783. Kant presumably read the play shortly after it was published; from Hamann’s letter to Herder (17 May 1779) we read:

“I need to run over to Professor Kant's to bring him the 10 printers’ sheets of Nathan.”

“Muß jetzt zum Professor Kant laufen, um die 10 Bogen des Nathans zu überbringen.”


[1] Kant’s fellow townsman J. G. Hamann had also translated Hume’s Dialogues, and it was this translation that he likely read; Schreiter's translation was already in the press, however, and so Hamann withheld his translation from publication [Dahlstrom 2007, 1612]. Hamann’s biographer and editor C. H. Gildemeister writes, in his essay on Hamann and Kant:

“Kant liked Hamann’s translation of Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion very much, reading it with interest several times. He regretted that their publication was later prevented by another, inferior translation.”

“An der Uebersetzung Hamann’s von Hume’s Dialogen über die natürliche Religion fand Kant großes Gefallen und las sie mit Interesse mehrere Male durch. Daß ihr Erscheinen im Druck später durch eine andere schlechtere Uebersetzung verhindert wurde, bedauerte er sehr.” [Gildemeister 1873, 6: 55]

Hippel wrote to the Riga publisher J.F. Hartnoch (29 July 1780) that he had translated nearly half of Hume’s Dialogues, working from the 2nd edition, and that he would give it to Kant and Hippel for their review and to Prof. Kreutzfeld to compare with the English, adding that:

“The dialogue is full of poetic beauty, and with Mr. Green I do not consider the book at all dangerous, but rather translate it as a fifty-year-old clergyman in Swabia for the good of my outspoken fellow clergymen and countrymen, who turn Judaism and Christianity into nothing but natural religion and, with neither knowledge nor honesty, slip in so much evidence for the latter into the bargain.”

“Der Dialog ist voller poetischen Schönheiten, und ich halte das Buch mit Hrrn Green für nicht gar gefährlich, sondern übersetze es vielmehr als ein funfzigjähriger Geistlicher in Schwaben zum Besten meiner freimüthigen Amtsbrüder und Landsleute, welche Judenthum und Christenthum in nichts als natürliche Religion verwandeln und ohne Kenntniß noch Ehrlichkeit so viel von der Evidenz der letztern ins Gelag hineinreden.”


[1] Kant had finished writing the Prolegomena — a work he had conceived of shortly after publication of the Critique of Pure Reason (see, for instance, Kant’s letter to Herz sometime after 11 May 1781 (AA 10: 269), but which was further motivated and shaped by the Garve/Feder review appearing in January 1782. Kant completed the Prolegomena in August 1782 (as reported in Hamann’s letter to Herder, 25 Aug 1782) but it was not published until the following spring.

[2] As printed in Warda [1905, 279]:

“Ich versuchte nach dem philosophischen Gange zu gehen u. glaubte es würde noch Eis, Schee oder viel Wasser u. also schlecht zu gehen seyn, allein wie sehr verwunderte ich mich mit innrer Freude, als ich den Gang so trocken wie af der Diele fand. Ich begegnete viele Leute u. auch den herrn Prof. Kant, der einsam in gedanken vertieft, auch hier wandelte .... Um 6 Uhr kam ich nach Hause.”

I offer this “Kant-sighting” not as something extraordinary but rather as just the opposite, as exemplary of what was presumably a commonplace in Kant’s schedule during these later years. Heinrich Heine offered us a famous, if not entirely accurate, image of Kant’s walking routine:

Philosophers Walk

The Philosopher's Walk

He lived the mechanically-ordered, almost abstract life of an old bachelor, in a quiet and out-of-the-way street in Königsberg, an old city on the north-east border of Germany. I do not believe that the large clock of the cathedral did its daily work with less passion and with greater regularity than its countryman, Immanuel Kant. To rise, drink coffee, write, deliver lectures, eat, take walks, everything has its appointed time; and the neighbors knew that it was exactly half-past three when Kant, in his grey coat and with the Spanish cane in his hand, stepped out of his door and walked towards the Small Linden Avenue, which is still called after him, ‘The Philosopher’s Walk’. Eight times he walked up and down there, at all seasons of the year; and when the weather was unfavorable or grey clouds portended rain, his old servant, Lampe, might be seen wandering anxiously behind him, with a long umbrella under his arm, like a picture of Providence. [Stuckenberg translation]

This walk, which on maps of the period is called the ‘Philosophische Damm’, runs in a straight-line along the southern edge of the Vorderste Vorstadt (this is the neighborhood where Kant spent his childhood), towards the Friedrichsburg Fort to the northwest. One might think that the walk was named in honor of Kant’s famous walks, but it actually bore that name long before his day; cf. Hoffheinz [1879, 605] and La Martinière [1746, 1034], both of which appear to be relying on Hartknoch [1684, 395].


[1] Schultz wrote this at Kant’s request and with his consultation. Kant sent a copy of his book to Schultz (3 August 1781) with a brief letter referring to Schultz’s review of Kant’s 1770 Dissertation, asking if he might look over the new book and evaluate it.

[2] Lewis White Beck, Mr. Boswell Dines with Professor Kant: Being a Part of James Boswell's Journal, until Now Unknown, Found in the Castle of Balmeanach on the Isle of Muck in the Inner Hebrides; prepared for the press by a Gentleman; and made public by permission of the owerner of the manuscript, the late Master of Muck. (Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1979). Reprint: (Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 1995). See the book review by Rudolf Malter (Kant-Studien, 74 (1983): 355-57).

[3] As reported in Hamann’s letter to Scheffner (19-20 September 1784):

“Kant has sent off his manuscript of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.”

The book will be published the following April (1785).


[1] Jacobi’s Letters to Moses Mendelssohn concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza (1785) began a controversy that came to be dubbed the Pantheismusstreit (or “pantheism controversity”). Jacobi had claimed that the great Lessing had, in a meeting of July 1780, admitted to him that he was a Spinozist — a bold admission, since at the time this was equivalent to atheism. After Lessing’s death, Jacobi entered a private debate with Lessing’s close friend Moses Mendelssohn, who could not believe that Lessing would have made such a claim; it is this correspondence that Jacobi chose to publish in 1785. The ensuing public discussion grew to such proportions that it was eventually expected that Kant would weigh in on the matter, with each party to the dispute feeling a rightful claim to his support. What resulted was his 1786 “What is Orientation in Thinking?” [writings].

[2] The Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, published in Jena from 1785 to 1804, soon became an important literary venue for the defense and promotion of the new Critical philosophy. This was a four-page daily — Monday through Saturday, and some days with a double issue — featuring book reviews and other brief items, and quickly became the most widely read journal of its day for book reviews. Schütz claimed (in a letter to Kant, 23 June 1788) that more than 2000 copies are printed, with an estimated 40,000 readers. Kant’s review of Herder appeared in the very first week of publication (issue #4, January 6).

[3] Schultz’s anonymous review was published in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (December 13, 1785), pp. 247-49. Ulrich had hoped Kant would review his book (see his 21 April 1785 letter to Kant; AA 10: 402), but Kant passed this task on to Schultz.

Among other things, Ulrich tried to reconcile Kant and Leibniz, argued that the Critique should not limit knowledge to objects of possible experience, and questioned whether the table of categories was exhaustive. Schultz’s review of Ulrich was remarkably sympathetic: “he found his own doubts reflected in many of the author’s doubts” and noted that these doubts “directly concern the main foundation of the entire Kantian doctrine and that the latter, no matter how much it contains of what is excellent, important, and indubitably certain, does not yet carry the sort of apodictic conviction that would be necessary to an unrestricted acceptance of what is really its main purpose.” Schultz regretted that Ulrich had not examined the transcendental deduction more carefully, since it lies at the very heart of Kant’s system, but that “perhaps it was only its obscurity that prevented him from doing so, an obscurity that occurs primarily here, in this part of the Critique that should be the clearest, if the Kantian system is to afford complete conviction.” Schultz closed by suggesting an equivocation in Kant’s use of ‘experience’: sometimes he seems to mean a judgement of perception (a subjective empirical judgement valid only for me) and sometimes he seems to mean a judgement of experience (an objective empirical judgement valid for everyone); if it is the former, then the deduction appears to be false, if the latter, then it is trivial.

Kant was understandably upset by this review, but it motivated him to re-write the deduction for his second edition of the Critique (1787) — see also Kant’s long note to the preface of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science [writings], where he publicly answers Schultz (AA 4: 474-76), in part by demoting the transcendental deduction.


[1] These eight “letters” were later published, with an additional four letters, as a book: Briefe über die Kantische Philosophie (Leipzig, 1790), and an additional volume was published in 1792. In these letters, Reinhold focused on certain positive features of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, in particular the space that it cleared for our moral and religious lives (a point not readily noted by Kant’s early readers).

[1] Johann Bering [bio], an earlier follower of Kant, reports on this ban in a letter to Kant dated 21 September 1786 [AA 10: 465]; Bering was particularly sensitive to this because he was the only Marburg professor lecturing on Kant at the time. The ban was lifted in October 1787, a year after a letter signed by eight professors (including Bering) supporting academic freedom in general, and Kant’s philosophy somewhat. Details of the case are discussed at AA 13: 182-86.


[1] Jacobi includes an appendix to this work — “Ueber den Transcendentalen Idealismus” (pp. 209-30) — in which he makes the famous complaint that “For several years now I have had to keep starting over with the Critique of Pure Reason because I keep running into the problem that without that assumption [of the thing-in-itself] I cannot enter the system, and with that assumption I cannot stay inside” [1787, 222-23].

This complaint is part of a larger argument that phenomenal objects cannot be the cause of our representations of things (because they are themselves simply representations), but nor can the thing-in-itself (the transcendental object) be the cause of our representations, as this would violate the claim that we can have no knowledge of the thing-in-itself).


[1] Johann Christoph Wöllner (1732-1800) – described by Friedrich II as “a deceitful and intriguing parson” – had replaced von Zedlitz [bio] just the week before, on 3 July 1788. Wöllner’s power over Prussian cultural affairs lasted until Friedrich Wilhelm II’s death in 1797.


[1] Borowski [1804, 40], Rink [1805, 60], Warda [1901, 413].  [more]

[2] Kant followed these events with great interest and sympathy for the revolutionaries; see Kuehn [2001, 340-43]. Metzger wrote in his brief memoire of Kant [1804,14] that Kant ...

“... for many years defended with great frankness and fearlessness his principles, which were favorable to the French Revolution, against anyone (including men of the highest offices in the state) — whether he did so during his last years I do not know. There was a time in Königsberg when everyone who judged mildly, and not even with approval, was called a Jacobin and was blacklisted. Kant was not deterred by this to speak at noble tables for the goals of the revolution, and they had so much respect for the man that they did not hold his views against him.”


[1] Most of Lithuania and western Ukraine was ceded to Russia; Danzig, Thorn, and “Great Poland” was ceded to Prussia.


[1] Muirhead [1927, 430] tells us that:

“In 1795 [it should read ‘1794’] Prof. F. A. Nitsch, who had attended Kant’s lectures in Konigsberg and was one of his favourite pupils, delivered public lectures in London on ‘The Analysis of the Mental Faculties as established in the Critique of Pure Reason’, and in the following year published A General and Introductory View of Professor Kant’s Principles concerning Man, the World, and the Deity [London: J. Downes, 1796].”

Nitsch was born in Gumbinnen and matriculated at the university as a theology student on October 1, 1785.[1] A notice published in Kant-Studien (1901), vol. 6, p. 125, suggests that his lectures on Kant must have been the first ever to be given in England, and quotes from a published account from that period:

“He began this experiment on March 23 and continued it three times weekly, one hour each day. The entire course was calculated to 36 lectures, for which one payed three Guineas; single lectures cost half a crown.”

“Er fing diesen Versuch den 23. März an und setzte ihn wöchentlich dreimal fort, an jedem Tage eine Stunde. Der ganze Cursus war auf 36 Vorlesungen berechnet, wofür man drei Guineen bezahlte; für einzelne Vorlesungen aber musste man eine halbe Krone erlegen.”

Nitsch corresponded with Kant, of which one exchange of letters survive. Nitsch wrote from London, dated July 25, 1794 [AA 11: 517-19]:


London Ad

“I have the honor of being the first person in London to lecture on the Kantian philosophy, and I shall perhaps be the first to write an introduction to this remarkable system in English, following Reinhold.” [AA 11: 518; Zweig tr.]

Kant’s response on October 31 was friendly and encouraging (in a letter not printed in the Academy volumes of correspondence, but printed in Baum/Malter 1991, which also offers more information about Nitsch’s life and his activities in London).

An anonymous notice of these lectures appeared in the Berlinische Monatschrift (1794, pp. 72-77)[pdf], where we learn that Nitsch landed in London as the Hofmeister to the children of an ambassador who had been in Berlin; this appears to have been the Scottish diplomat, Joseph Ewart, who served as an ambassador to the court in Berlin for several years, leaving Berlin on November 3, 1791, and dying a few month later; Nitsch remained with the widow and children.

By 1797 we find at the end of an advertisement written by the Scottish translator of Kant’s writings, John Richardson, an unsolicited promotion of Nitsch as an able interpreter of Kant’s philosophy, claiming that

“Mr. Nitsch is acknowledged, not only by several of the most distinguished Proessors in Königsberg, where he studied and was afterwards a lecturer, but his eminent master Kant himself, to have a very comprehensive knowledge both of Mathematics and of Critical Philosophy.” (Richardson, The Principles of Critical Philosophy, London, 1797)[pdf]

[1] Erler [1911-12, ii.592]: (October 1) “Nitsch Frdr. August., Gumbinna-Litthuan. theol. cult., filius munere calculatoris in camera domina fungentis”.

[2] Johann Albrecht Euler’s letter of invitation, writing on behalf of the St. Petersburg academy, is dated 29 Aug 1794 (reprinted at AA 11: 522), the official diploma (AA 11: 523) was signed on July 28 (Julian calendar), which would have been August 8 (Gregorian calendar).

[3] The cabinet order (reprinted at AA 11: 525-26) that accused Kant of misusing his philosophy “to distort and disparage many of the cardinal and foundational teachings of the Holy Scriptures and of Christianity” and that promised him “unpleasant measures” if he persisted in such behavior, was issued on October 1, 1794.

Kant responded on Sunday, October 12, the day before the beginning of the winter semester, that he would forgo any further public discussion of religion, both in lecture and in writing:

6. Regarding the second charge, that I am not to be guilty of such distortion and depreciation of Christianity (as has been claimed) in the future, I find that, as Your Majesty's loyal subject, in order not to fall under suspicion, it will be the surest course for me to abstain entirely from all public lectures on religious topics, whether on natural or revealed religion, and not only from lectures but also from publications. I hereby promise this.” [AA 11: 530; Zweig transl.]

“6. Was den zweiten Punkt betrifft, mir keine dergleichen (angeschuldigte) Entstellung und Herabwürdigung des Christenthums künftighin zu Schulden kommen zu lassen, so finde ich, um als Ew. Majestät treuer Unterthan darüber in keinen Verdacht zu gerathen, das Sicherste, daß ich mich fernerhin aller öffentlichen Vorträge in Sachen der Religion, es sey der natürlichen oder der geoffenbarten, in Vorlesungen sowohl als in Schriften völlig enthalte und mich hiemit dazu verbinde.”

This is a pledge that Kant is said to have kept until the death of Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1797 — and yet we know from the Vigilantius notes [see] from the metaphysics lectures of that semester that Kant did indeed lecture on natural theology, some 36 pages worth, although we unfortunately have only the very end of the discussion.


[1] Johann Ernst Schultz [bio], a professor of theology at Königsberg and the 1st Court Chaplain, announced lectures on Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Unaided Reason for SS 1795 and WS 1795/96, although we should assume the lectures for the second semester did not take place, given this order, which arrived two weeks before the start of the semester.

[2] The remainder of Lithuania and Ukraine went to Russia, Warsaw and Mozovia went to Prussia. the Cracow region went to Austria.


[1] With the king's death, Kant views himself as freed from his promise not to publish on religious subjects. He would soon send his Conflict of the Faculties [writings] to the publisher.


[1] The king and his entourage arrived in Königsberg two days earlier on Sunday, June 3. J. F. Abegg offers an account of the event in his travel diary [Abegg 1976, 153-55].


[1] Immanuel Kant’s vermischte Schriften, edited by Johann Heinrich Tieftrunk [bio] (Halle: Renger, 1799), cxxviii, 676; iv, 700; vi, 594; this was the first authorized edition of Kant’s shorter writings. Kant wrote to Tieftrunk (13 October 1797; AA 12: 207-8) that he was to omit everything published before 1770 — a wish that was not honored. 


[1] The date comes from Wasianski [1804, 121]. Hasse [1804, 38] claimed Feburary 1803, but his text is generally less reliable, and he also is not as well placed as Wasianski to know this. Lampe had been in Kant’s employ since 1761. As for Kant’s abilities, Wasianski describes a rather disoriented Kant on the morning of 1 February 1802, and comments how he still wanted to drink his morning tea undisturbed “ob er gleich jetzt nicht mehr las oder schrieb” [1804, 121]


[1] A brief notice in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (12 July 1803), vol. 3, col. 662:

“(From Königsberg.) — Kant, whom I have visited nearly once a week for many years, has been enfeebled for quite some time. His memory has left him almost completely. Now that his eyes have failed him for reading, he will go to bed before six in the afternoon, even on the longest days. He is in his 80th year and is a complete skeleton, despite the rustic food that he still tolerates, such as white peas with pigs-feet, which he must have at least once a week. An excellent man, who is hardly recognizable outwardly. I wish I had kept a diary about him; it would contain the strangest and most entertaining things.”

“(A. Königsberg.) — Kant, bei dem ich seit vielen Jahren fast jede Woche ein Mal bin, kann es sehr lange nicht mehr machen. Das Gedächtnis hat ihn so gut wie gänzlich verlassen. Er geht, nachdem ihm auch die Augen ihren Dienst beim Lesen versagen, jetzt in den längsten Tagen schon vor 6 Uhr Nachmittages zu Bette. Er ist im 80sten Jahre; bei der derbsten Nahrung, die er noch verträgt, z. B. weiße Erbsen mit Schweinsfüßen, die er wenigstens wöchentlich ein Mal haben muß, ist er doch ein völliges Gerippe. Ein vortreflicher Mensch, den man auswärts noch gar nicht kennt! Ich wünschte mire ein Tagebuch über ihn gehalten zu haben; es wurde die sonderbarsten und unterhaltendsten Sachen enthalten.”

[2] In the “Miscellany” column of the Monday, 26 March 1804 issue of Der Freimüthige, oder, Ernst und Scherz, a Berlin daily, we read:

“Kant left behind a sister who is very similar to him and almost the same age as he was. They loved each other very much as children; his higher education had separated them; during his life he had no contact with her at all: the second childhood of old age reunited them. She spent the last six months with him; he held her in high esteem, but when she was spoken of, he always had to reflect for a long time before it became clear to him that she was his sister." [pp. 243-44]

“Kant hat eine Schwester nachgelassen, die ihm sehr ähnlich und fast eben so alt ist, als er war. Sie hatten sich als Kinder sehr geliebt; seine höhere Bildung hatte sie getrennt; während seines eigentlichen Lebens hatte er gar keinen Umgang mit ihr: die zweite Kindheit des hohen Alters vereinigte sie wieder. Sie brachte das letzte halbe Jahr mit ihm zu; er schätzte sie sehr, aber, wenn von ihr gesprochen wurde, mußte er sich immer lange besinnen, ehe es ihm deutlich wurde, sie sei seine Schwester.”


Kant's Death

Notice of
Kant's death

[1] Wasianski [bio] was present at the death, along with Kant’s sister and her son, Vigilantius [bio], and Kant’s servant Johann Kaufmann (this was the new servant; Martin Lampe [bio] had been let go a few years earlier)[Wasianski 1804, 112-13, 122, 216-17; Jachmann 1804, 180]. Wasianski wrote:

“the mechanism faltered and the machine stopped moving. His death was a cessation of life and not a violent act of nature.” [1804, 217]

“der Machanismus stockte und die letzte Bewegung der Maschine hörte auf. Sein Tod war ein Aufhören des Lebens und nicht ein gewaltsamer Act der Natur.”

Kant’s obituary (presumably written by Biester) appeared in the Neue Berlinische Monatsschrift (April 1804), pp. 277-91. [see]

[Return to Kant’s Life]