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

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> Kant’s Lectures

The Student Notes

Kant’s Textbooks

“In general he proceeded — as is known — always along his own trains of thought, and used the textbooks only formally, and never as a canon.” [more]

— Stephan Wannowski (1749-1812) [qtd. in Reicke 1860, 41]

1. Textbooks used by Kant as a student
2. The use of textbooks at the university
3. List of textbooks used by Kant


Textbooks used by Kant as a student [top]

Determining which textbooks Kant might have used as a student requires knowing which courses he attended and the textbooks used in those classes, and with both of these the evidence is rather limited (see the brief discussion of his professors). Oberhausen and Pozzo [1999, xxii-xxiv] consider this question with respect to what text Kant might have studied in his logic class. Martin Knutzen [bio] (SS 1734-WS 1745/46) probably used Wolff’s Deutsche Logik until SS 1746, when he began using his own Elementa philosophiae rationalis seu logicae (Königsberg/Leipzig: Hartung, 1747); K. H. Rappolt [bio] used Wolff; K. G. Marquardt [bio] (a defender of pre-established harmony) used his own Elementa philosophiae rationalis (Königsberg/Danzig: Stelterianis, 1733); K. A. Christiani [bio] used Thümmig’s two-volume Institutiones philosophiae Wolfianae, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt/Leipzig: Renger, 1729, 1736); J. D. Kypke [bio] (the full professor of logic and metaphysics, and thus the professor offering the course of lectures Kant could have attended free of charge) used F. C. Baumeister’s Institutiones philosophiae rationalis (Wittemberg: J. J. Ahlfeld, 1735), but also the Aristotelian text Cursus philosophicus of the former Königsberg professor Paul Rabe [bio] (the full title in English: “Philosophical Course or First Compendium of the Philosophical Sciences, Dialectics, Analytics, Politics, Comprehending also Ethics, Physics and Metaphysics. Deduced from the Most Evident Principle of Right Reason Following the Scientific Method” [Kuehn 2001, 74-75]).

During his next to last year at the Collegium fridericianum, Kant would have been exposed to Wolff’s Auszug aus den Anfangsgründe aller mathematischen Wissenschaften text (WS 1738/39, SS 1739) in the elective mathematics class that he attended; this was the same text that Kant (and seemingly every other university instructor) used in his own mathematics lectures. 

The only textbook found in Kant’s library that stemmed from his student years was the Wolffian Marquardt’s book on astronomy.


The use of textbooks at the university [top]

The government in Berlin took a lively interest in the textbooks used (or not used) at the university. Professors were required to work from some published textbook in their lectures, and they were chastised by the minister in Berlin if they did not. Similarly, students were expected to own the textbooks used in the courses they attended (as decreed on 31 March 1781)[1], although we have some evidence that students were not always showing up to class with the textbooks (unlike the universal practice in colleges of the 21st century). For instance, Purgstall wrote (during summer semester 1795):

Kant is reading from an old Logic, by Meyer [bio], if I’m not mistaken. He always brings the book along. It looks so old and soiled, I believe that he has brought it daily to class with him for forty years. All the blank leaves are covered with writing in a small hand, and besides, many of the printed pages have leaves pasted on them, and lines are frequently crossed out, so that, as you might imagine, scarcely anything of Meyer’s Logic is left. Not one of his auditors brings the book, and they merely write down what he says. But he does not seem to notice this, and faithfully follows his author from chapter to chapter, and corrects everything, or rather rewords everything, but so innocently that it is clear he makes little of his discoveries. [Hügelmann 1879; repr. Malter 1990, 418-21] [more]

An edict from Minister von Zedlitz [bio] (dated 25 Dec 1775) mentioned that “the professors at Königsberg need to choose their textbooks with better care — from this censure I exempt Kant and Reusch,” and then singled out Magisters Weymann [bio] and Wlochatius [bio], forbidding them to teach Crusius’ philosophy, “the lack of value of which has been long agreed upon by the more enlightened scholars.”[2]

Another edict from Minister von Zedlitz and at the special request of the King (dated 16 October 1778) notes that many of the instructors at Königsberg are lecturing from their own notes, rather than from a textbook. He goes on to mention several professors by name:

Prof. Christiani [bio] [lecturing] on general practical philosophy, in which he should be acquanted with [the textbooks of] Feder and Wolff; Prof. Buck [bio] on experimental physics, and also a special course on theoretical physics, on which he is surely familiar with Erxleben’s text. Dr. Pisanski [bio] on Latin Style, on which Heineccius and others have written quite well. All of these are reading from their own notes. The worst textbook is certainly better than none, and professors may, if they possess so much wisdom, improve upon their authors to the extent that they can, but the reading from notes must simply be stopped. From this we nevertheless make exception of Professor Kant and his course on Physical Geography, for which no appropriate textbook is yet available.

There was considerable latitude in the actual practice, as we know from Kant’s case. His anthropology lectures, for instance, which he offered every winter semester beginning with 1772/73, list Baumgarten’s Metaphysica as a text; this is the same text used by Kant in his metaphysics lectures. In the anthropology lectures, he made light use of the “Empirical Psychology” sections of the text, and this was used only in roughly the first half of the course (in his published Anthropology, this corresponds to “Book One: On the Cognitive Powers”). So just as with his lectures on physical geography, Kant is lecturing on anthropology without a textbook, after the first half of the semester. When we look at the student notes from the various disciplines, we discover a great deal of material that has little to do with the official text, and a common thread in contemporary accounts of Kant’s teaching is that he used his textbooks more as jumping-off points for his own discusson and reflection. For instance, L. E. Borowski [bio] wrote that...

The textbook upon which he more or less based his lectures was never followed closely, and only such that he arranged his own teaching according to the ordering of the author. The fullness of his learning often led him into digressions, that were still always quite interesting. When he noticed that he had strayed too far, he would quickly cut himself off with an “and so forth” or “and so on,” and return again to the main subject. He often brought a special, hand-written notebook, besides his textbook, whose margins were filled with notes. [Borowski 1804, 186] [more]

Das Kompendium, welches er etwa zum Grunde legte, befolgte er nie strenge und nur in so fern, daß er seine Belehrungen nach der Ordnung des Autors anreihete. Oft führte ihn die Fülle seiner Kenntnisse auf Abschweifungen, die aber doch immer sehr interessant waren, von der Haputsache. Wenn er bemerkte, daß er zu weit ausgewichen war, brach er geschwind mit einem “Und so weiter” oder “Und so fortan” ab und kehrte zur Hauptsache zurück. Oft brachte er ein besonderes handschriftliches Heft außer dem Kompendium mit. In diesem hatte er sich Marginalien beigezeichnet.

Christian Friedrich Jensch, offered a similar report from Kant’s early years:

How interesting Kant was in his lectures. He would enter the room in a sort of enthusiasm, saying: we left off here or there. He had memorized the main ideas so deeply and vividly that the entire hour was lived in these alone; often he took little notice of the textbook over which he was lecturing. [Abegg 1976, 251-52; repr. Malter 1990, 73] [more]

And finally R. B. Jachmann [bio], reporting from the 1780’s and 1790’s:

His delivery was entirely free, and in many hours he made no use of a notebook at all, but instead was guided by notes written in the margins of his textbook. He would often bring only a small piece of paper into the lecture on which he had jotted down his thoughts in small, abbreviated writing. For logic he used Meier, for metaphysics he used Baumgarten; but he used these books for little more than ordering the topics, and they occasionally gave him an opportunity to demonstrate the illicitness of their claims. [Jachmann 1804, 27-28] [more]

Seine Vorträge waren ganz frei. In vielen Stunden bediente er sich nicht einmal eines Heftes, sondern er hatte sich auf dem Rande seiner Lehrbücher Einiges notirt, das ihm [28] zum Leitfaden diente. Oft brachte er nur ein ganz kleines Blättchen in die Stunde mit, worauf er seine Gedanken in kleiner abgekürzter Schrift verzeichnet hatte. Die Logik las er über meier, die Metaphysik über Baumgarten; aber er benutzte diese Bücher zu nichts weiterm, als daß er ihrer Haupteintheilung folgte, und das er bisweilen Gelegenheit nahm, das Unstatthafte ihrer Behauptungen zu beweisen.

As is clear from the above, Kant was not given to simply reading from a textbook or set of notes, nor did he recite his lectures from rote memory.


[1] Bornhak 1900, 132.

[2] Quoted in Arnoldt [1908-9, v.248]. On the controversy surrounding the teaching of Crusius [bio], see Arnoldt [1908-9, v.248-49] and Oberhausen/Pozzo [1999, xxv-xxvi].


Professors would often write their own textbooks — at Göttingen this was expected of the full professors — and several of Kant’s colleagues at Königsberg did just this.[1] Yet Kant never wrote any textbooks, which seems like a remarkable omission for a philosopher of his abilities and with his commitment to teaching. While he lectured from his own notes for his annual lectures on physical geography, he never bothered to publish these as a textbook (the publication edited by Rink in 1802 notwithstanding). In the letter to Mendelssohn of 16 August 1783, in which he discusses the recently published Critique and laments its cold reception, Kant mentions that ...

I still hope to work out, eventually, a textbook for metaphysics, according to the critical principles I mentioned; it will have all the brevity of a handbook and be useful for academic lectures. I hope to finish it sometime or other, perhaps in the distant future. [AA 10: 346; Zweig transl.]

Vor dieser Zeit dencke ich indessen doch ein Lehrbuch der Metaphysik nach obigen critischen Grundsätzen und zwar mit aller Kürze eines Handbuchs, zum Behuf academischer Vorlesungen, nach und nach auszuarbeiten und in einer nicht zu bestimmenden, vielleicht ziemlich entferneten Zeit, fertig zu schaffen

This was not his Prolegomena, which otherwise seems like an introductory text to Kant’s metaphysics, since it was already written (published that year), and in any event his preface to that work begins: “These Prolegomena are not for the use of pupils but of future teachers...” — not a promising opening line for a textbook.

Five years earlier, in a letter to Marcus Herz (28 August 1778), Kant makes an apparent reference to the (still unfinished) Critique of Pure Reason as a Handbuch, a term normally understood as a textbook to be used in the classroom. Once published, it doesn’t appear that Kant ever understood the Critique to be appropriate as a textbook, although his colleague K. L. Pörschke [bio] used it in his metaphysics lectures (beginning with SS 1788). It didn’t take long before various followers, most notably Johann Kiesewetter [bio] in Berlin and Carl Schmid [bio] at Jena, published more appropriate texts for lecturing on Kant’s philosophy.


[1] Werner Stark has prepared a list [Marburg website] of textbooks published by Königsberg professors during the 18th century.


List of textbooks used by Kant [top]

The following is a list of all the textbooks for which we have evidence of Kant using in his lectures: a total of eighteen. Of these eighteen, only six have been located by Kant scholars over the years and, of these, three were destroyed or lost during World War II: Achenwall on natural law (and only the 2nd volume of Achenwall had ever been located), Eberhard on natural theology, and Baumgarten’s introduction to practical philosophy), although fortunately Kant’s annotations to these books had already been transcribed and printed in the Academy edition (vols. 18-19). The three textbooks yet extant are two separate editions of Baumgarten’s Metaphysica (3rd and 4th, although it appears only the latter was actually used by Kant in the classroom) and Meier’s Vernunftlehre. Kant’s annotations to Meier are printed in AA 16 and his annotations to the 4th edition Baumgarten are printed in AA 17-18; the annotations in the 3rd edition Baumgarten are currently (2014) being prepared for publication.

Following each title is a link to the description for that course of lectures, where a fuller discussion of each textbook can be found.


Achenwall, Gottfried, Jus naturae in usum auditorum, pars posterior, Books 2-4, 5th ed. (Göttingen: Bossiegel, 1763; 11750), xvi, 256 pp. [Natural Law]

This textbook was published in two volumes (pars prior and pars posterior), and Kant lectured on both volumes, although Kant scholars have had access only to his copy of the second volume. The first part consists of a long introductory section as well as Book 1 (Liber I. Ius Naturale strictissime dictum), and with about 300 consecutively numbered paragraphs (§§); the second part consists of Books 2-4, with 288 numbered paragraphs, the numbering continuing across the three books. The table of contents printed at AA 19:325-32 gives the contents of both parts, but only the second part (Books 2-4) is reprinted (AA 19:325-442). Kant’s annotations are preserved at AA 19:325-613 (only a handful of Kant’s reflections on philosophy of law are on loose sheets; most were written in the textbook).

Kant’s copy of the second volume was not interleaved with blank sheets. It belonged to the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Königsberg (catalog: F140), and was lost during World War II, presumably destroyed, although the marginalia had already been transcribed by Adickes and Berger and are published at AA 19:325-613.

Basedow, Johann Bernhard, Das Methodenbuch für Väter und Mütter der Familien und Völker (Bremen & Altona: Cramer, 11770), 666 pp. 21772, 31773 (Dessau/Leipzig: Fritsch), 384 pp. [Pedagogy]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Baumeister, Friedrich Christian, Institutiones metaphysicae (Wittenberg: S. G. Zimmermann, 1736). 21762 (638 pp.) [Metaphysics]

Kant’s copy is unknown, including which edition he might have owned.

Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb, Metaphysica, 4th ed. (Halle: Carl Hermann Hemmerde, 1757), liii, 432 pp. [Anthropology, Metaphysics, Natural Theology]

The 4th edition is the last edition that Baumgarten completed. It includes: Prefaces to editions 1, 2, and 3, pp. viii-xliii; Synopsis, xliv-liii; Index, pp. 407-32

Kant’s copy of the 4th edition is housed at the University Library at Tartu; Kant’s annotations are printed at AA 15:5-54 and 17:5-226. Adickes [1926, vii] describes this volume as being 11.5 cm x 18 cm, and 4 cm thick. Both this and the 3rd edition copy were bound with interleaved blank pages, upon which Kant wrote comments (as well as those in the margins of the printed pages).

Kant’s copy of the 3rd edition (Halle, 1750) is housed at the University Library at Gdansk; Kant’s annotations — as of 2013 unpublished — do not appear, however, to have been written in the context of his lecturing activity.

 — , Initia philosophiae practicae primae acroamatice 3rd ed. (Halae Magdeburgicae, 1760). [Moral Philosophy]

Kant’s annotations are preserved at AA 19:7-91; Kant’s copy was presumably destroyed during WW II; it was not interleaved with blank pages.

 — , Ethica philosophica (Halae Magdeburgicae, 1740). 21751, 31763. [Moral Philosophy]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Bock, Friedrich Samuel, Lehrbuch der Erziehungskunst, zum Gebrauch für christliche Eltern und künftige Jugendlehrer (Königsberg/Leipzig: Gottlieb Lebrecht Hartung, 1780), 303 pp. [Pedagogy]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Eberhard, Johann August, Vorbereitung zur natürlichen Theologie zum Gebrauch akademischer Vorlesungen (Halle, 1781), 107 pp. [Natural Theology]

Kant’s annotations are preserved at AA 19:325-422; Kant’s copy was presumably destroyed during WW II.

Eberhard, Johann Peter, Erste Gründe der Naturlehre (Halle: Renger, 1753), 702 pp. 31767 (748 pp.), 41774 (808 pp.). [Physics]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Erxleben, Johann Christian Polykarp, Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre (Göttingen: Dieterich, 1772), 648 pp. 21777 (632 pp.), 31784, with additions by C. G. Lichtenberg, xlvii, 727 pp. [Physics]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Feder, Johann Georg Heinrich, Grundriß der Philosophischen Wissenschaften nebst der nöthigen Geschichte, zum Gebrauch seiner Zuhörer (Coburg: Findeisen, 1767), 368 pp. 21769 (368 pp.). [Encyclopedia]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Karsten, Wenceslaus Johann Gustav, Anleitung zur gemeinnützlichen Kenntniß der Natur, besonders für angehende Aerzte, Cameralisten und Oeconomen (Halle: Renger, 1783), xxiv, 792 pp. [Physics]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Meier, Georg Friedrich, Vernunftlehre (Halle: Johann Justinus Gebauer, 1752), 834 pp. 21762 (834 pp.). [Logic]

 —, Auszug aus der Vernunftlehre (Halle: Johann Justinus Gebauer, 1752), 155 pp. 21760 (160 pp.). [Logic]

Kant’s copy of the 1752 edition is housed at the University Library at Dorpat/Tartu; his annotations are reprinted in AA 16.

Meiners, Christoph, Historia doctrinae de uno vero Deo omnium rerum auctore atque rectore (Lemgoviae: Meyer, 1780), 548 pp. [Natural Theology]

Wallérius, Johann Gottschalk, Mineralogy, Oder Mineralreich, von Ihm eingeteilt und beschrieben. Ins Deutsche übersetz von Johann Daniel Denso. Zweyte verbesserte und vermehrte Auglage (Berlin: 1763). [Mineralogy]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Wolff, Christian, Der Anfangsgründe aller mathematischen Wissenschaften, 4 parts (Frankfurt/Leipzig, 1750, 11710). [Mathematics?]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

 — , Auszug aus den Anfangsgründe aller mathematischen Wissenschaften, Zu bequemerem Gebrauche der Anfänger, Auf Begehren verfertiget (Halle: 1749, 11713). [Mathematics?]

Kant’s copy is unknown.

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 19 Jun 2014
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu