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

Kant’s Writings
Academy Edition
Kant’s Life

> Universities


> Introduction
Governance and Organization
Kant as Dean, Senator, & Rector
List: Brief Descriptions of German Universities
List: Universities founded before 1815
Table: Average Enrollments [Graphs]
Table: Full Professors

Kant’s Lectures
The Student Notes

Introduction: 18th Century German Universities

“Whoever it was that first hit on the notion of a university and proposed that a public institution of this kind be established, it was not a bad idea to handle the entire content of learning (really, the thinkers devoted to it) like a factory, so to speak, by a division of labor.”

— Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties [Ak. 7:17]

1. Studium Particulare and Studium Generale
2. Early Universities: Nations and Faculties
3. Universitas magistrorum et scholarum
4. Protestant Universities
5. Catholic Universities

Universities are established and maintained for various reasons: To preserve and transmit a prescribed set of beliefs; or to pursue new beliefs and cultivate future researchers; or to train practitioners of what are considered to be socially vital arts (such as medicine, law, and theology); or else to display the wealth and enhance the prestige of the founding prince or bishop.

This description could fit any of several kinds of institutions, however, and the more closely one looks, the more ambiguous the very idea of a university becomes, such that even identifying them so as to count their number is problematic. In Kant’s day, in the 18th century, there existed gymnasia, academies, military schools, and uncountable ephemera, such as informal lecture series held by unaffiliated scholars — consider Marcus Herz (1747-1803), Kant’s former student and a practicing physician, giving private lectures on Kant’s philosophy in Berlin — that often stood in competition with some functional aspect of universities. Rather similar ambiguities persist to this day.

Studium Particulare and Studium Generale [top]

The late medieval period commonly distinguished between those schools founded to serve a local population (the so-called studium particulare), and those open to any member of larger Christendom, or studium generale [Paulsen 1906; Clark 1986, 329]. These latter are what were understood as universities: corporations with specific legal privileges including the right to grant degrees (baccalaureate, masters, doctorate), and given to them jointly by the local or regional secular authority (an emperor, king, graf, etc.) and the universal ecclesiastic authority of the Catholic church.[1] Many later universities began as a studium particulare; Kant’s university at Königsberg, for instance, was founded as a studium particulare in 1541 by Herzog Albrecht, and then made into a university in 1544 (with the older students matriculating directly into the new university, and the younger transferring to the associated pedagogium)[Bornhak 1900, 3].

The universities or higher schools of learning in Europe came about in any of several ways, either as schools attached to a cloister or church, or as an independent society of teachers and pupils (much as any other guild might develop), or as an entity specifically founded and endowed by some regional power. Some of the early schools were devoted to a single discipline, such as medicine in Salerno (founded in the 9th century), or law in Bologna (11th century). Other schools aspired to encompass the entirety of human knowledge, the earliest of this kind emerging in Paris in the mid-12th century, eventually forming itself in 1231 into three “faculties”[2] or guilds: theology, law, and medicine. The fourth faculty of “artistes” or practitioners of the liberal arts, what eventually would be called the philosophy faculty, would be formed later.

The philosophical disciplines typically consisted of the traditional seven liberal arts (the trivium of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), and were viewed as preparatory work for the three higher disciplines whose practical applications in society were the saving of souls (theology), the managing of juridical disputes (law), and the care of the body (medicine). Theology was the pre-eminent faculty, but philosophy was the most heavily attended, as most students passed through here first.

[1] Before the Reformation, all universities obtained their privilege from both the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor; only Catholic universities applied for the papal privilege after the Reformation, of course, the university of Bonn (1786) being the first Catholic school not to do so. All universities still applied for the imperial privilege, until the empire itself was dissolved in 1806 (the university of Berlin was the first to be founded after that, in 1810). There were a few exceptions to this among the German-speaking universities: both Königsberg (1544) and Lemberg (1661) received their privileges from the King of Poland; and Dorpat, at its reconstitution in 1802, received its privilege from the Czar of Russia [Clark 1986, 337-38].

[2] The German Fakultät is here functionally similar to a college or school of an American university (e.g., the College of Arts and Letters, or the School of Engineering).

Early Universities: Nations and Faculties [top]

The university of Paris defined the structure of all the universities later founded in the German-speaking lands. None of these formed in the guild-like manner of the earlier schools of France or Italy, and only a few were founded by a city, the majority being founded by regional authorities. These new German universities were also far more provincial than their older counterparts at Paris, Oxford, Bologna, Salerno, and Padua, as most of their students came from the immediate area and stipends were often available only for these regional students. Indeed, the first of the German universities were founded to answer the need for schooling closer to home, with the house of Luxembourg founding the university of Prague in 1348, and the Hapsburgs founding a university in Vienna in 1365. Universities at Heidelberg (1385), Cologne (1388), and Erfurt (1392) soon followed and, after problems arose between the Germans and the Bohemians in Prague, the German students and faculty emigrated to form the core of a new university at Leipzig (1409). The free city of Rostock founded a university in 1419.

These early universities possessed two overlapping organizational structures. Students of similar national or ethnic background naturally coalesced into groups, and these so-called Nations became important functional units. At Bologna, where the practice apparently began, students and faculty formed into the four nations of the Lombards, Tuscans, Romans, and Ultramontanes (which included the French, German, and English students); at Paris they formed the four nations of France, Normandy, Picardy, and England. These designations were not exact, and it isn’t clear how the tradition of exactly four nations arose (perhaps the “four corners of the earth”).[1] These nations included all the members of the university, and this structure was central in governance and judicial affairs. The rector, or administrative head of the university, was elected by the Nations, thus giving the students considerable voice.

The second organizational structure, cutting across the first, was by academic discipline or faculty, of which there were four: philosophy, theology, law, and medicine. This division by faculty ruled in matters of teaching, examination, and the conferring of degrees. Each faculty had its own dean, elected by the professors teaching in that faculty (students studied in a faculty, but only the professors belonged to it and thus only professors could vote). For various reasons, the division by Nations fell into disuse early on, leaving association with a faculty as one’s primary identity at the university [Ellwein 1985, 24]. Frankfurt/Oder was founded with Nations — Mark Brandenburg, Franconia, Schlesia, and Prussia — but this division was dropped in 1661 as unusable, and both Heidelberg and Erfurt were founded without them altogether.[2] Königsberg was also organized by Nations — Pomerania, Schlesia, Westphalia, and Prussia — at least this was how the nations were re-organized in 1670, having briefly been banned [Arnoldt 1746, i.261]. Eulenburg offers a different list:

Also here were four nations (just as there were four nations at the University of Paris, which modeled this form of organization): Bavaria, Schlesien, Baltic, and Westphalia, of which the Baltic was easily the strongest... The portion of foreigners around the turn of the 16th century was about 36%; among these, half were Poles, Kurlanders, and Livlanders, with lesser numbers from Pomerania, Brandenburg, and Lower Saxony. [1904, 83]

[1] Matters were likely more complicated than suggested above. Verger reports that “there were some twenty nations at Bologna, ten at Orléans, four at Paris, and four also at the main universities of the Holy Roman Empire and of Eastern Europe (Prague, Vienna, Leipzig, Louvain, etc.) and at Salamanca” [1992, 39].

[2] The Matrikel [glossary] for Frankfurt for 1506 groups students under “De Nacione Franconum,” “Natio Marchitarum,” “Natio Slesitarum” and “De Natio Prutenorum.” And see Bornhak [1900, 7].

Universitas magistrorum et scholarum [top]

German universities were, from their beginning, corporations of magisters (whose head was the rector) and students. Universitas designated this corporate unity of teachers and students (universitas magistrorum et scholarum). While the popular mind typically thinks of universities and colleges as little more than their physical aspects, they were and are, of course, in their primary sense this collectivity of persons, and in the early days there was often no corporate building at all. The classrooms were typically rooms in professors’ houses — Kant held his classes in his rented lodgings, and then in his own home after he bought a house — with the large lecture hall in the university building (the Auditorium maximum) used primarily for public ceremonies such as graduations and disputations.[1] The university at Halle, founded in 1694, owned no buildings throughout the 18th century [Schrader 1894, i.151].

While the bestowal of a degree (master’s or doctor’s) originally indicated reception of the student into the faculty, distinctions were soon made between the teaching and non-teaching faculty (magistri actu regentes sc. scholas) and between the older and the more recently promoted teachers (magistri novelli). These distinctions were especially important in the Arts faculty, since membership here changed so quickly. It was not uncommon for newly-minted magisters to teach in the philosophy faculty while attending classes in one of the higher faculties (a large number of the 18th century Königsberg professors pursued just such a course). Many students interested in careers in law or theology would complete only the courses in philosophy, perhaps attending a few courses in the higher faculty as well [Paulsen 1906, 17; Eulenburg 1904, 190-91].

The course of study in the medieval university generally ran four years in the arts faculty, with an examination after two years to confer the baccalarius degree, and a second exam after four years to confer the magister artium.[2]  Paulsen notes that this division between the scholaris, the baccalarius, and the magister was understood at the time as corresponding with the division in the guild system of apprentice, journeyman, and master [Paulsen 1906, 20-1].

In medieval days, the universities were essentially cloister schools, with students and faculty living and eating together in the cloister. By the 18th century, however, most students found their own lodging in rented rooms from the local citizenry, sometimes with professors, and taking their meals in taverns. Only the charity students lived and ate in a building associated with the university and designated for this use. The Stift in Tübingen was perhaps the most famous example of such an accommodation. Königsberg had its Alumnat [glossary], with money to support up to 28 alumni.

The lives of these institutions were affected by the various wars and plagues which often closed a school down or forced it to relocate temporarily. In Freiburg, for instance, the plague returned every five to ten years; the university at Marburg retreated four times to Grünberg during the 15th century, and Leipzig retreated to Meißen in 1519 [Eulenburg 1904, 63n]. Moving universities was not as complicated as it might sound to modern ears, however, since they were fairly small, and consisted primarily of scholars and their books.

[1] There were four lecture rooms in the Collegio (the so-called Albertinum [glossary]) in Königsberg, one for each of the faculties to use for their public lectures. Because theology had the most students, they were given use of the Auditorium maximum for holding their public lectures. By Kant’s day, however, most professors were lecturing in their private auditoriums.

[2] This is described in the university statutes for Königsberg, reprinted at Arnoldt [1746, i.183-88, appendix #49].

Protestant Universities [top]

Prior to the 18th century, German universities existed primarily to preserve and transmit a received body of knowledge, but this changed in 1694 with the founding by the Prussian government of the Friedrichs-Universität at Halle [uni]. Paulsen called it “the first modern university: it was the first founded on the principle of libertas philosophandi, of free research and instruction” [Paulsen 1906, 46]. It was also the first to use German instead of Latin as the language of instruction, it was explicitly anti-Aristotelian (anti-Scholastic), and it promoted a new rationalistic and critical theology based on the “new science.” Theologians, lawyers, and physicians were still being trained, but the notion of science as some fixed body of truths was no longer tenable, and the university was increasingly seen as a vehicle for pursuing scientific inquiry. In general, the 18th century universities saw the rise of modern philosophy over scholasticism, an emphasis on freedom of research and instruction, systematic lectures replacing the mere exposition of a canonical text, the division of the academic year into semesters (making the transfer between universities much easier for students), the decline of the formal disputation in favor of seminars (such as the famous philology seminars of Gesner and Heyne at Göttingen, and of F. A. Wolff at Halle), the humanistic study of the ancient writers replaced the mere imitation of them, and German replaced Latin as the standard language of instruction [Paulsen 1906, 49].

These changes were true primarily of the Protestant universities, the model for which (up until the founding of the university at Berlin in 1810), was provided by the organization of the university at Wittenberg by Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) — known as the praeceptor germaniae — during the social reorganizations of the Reformation. Königsberg’s academic statutes were drafted in 1546 by Georg Sabinus, the university’s first rector and Melanchthon’s son-in-law, and were sent to Melanchthon for his review [Goldbeck 1782, 6]. The Prussian state made wide-spread changes to the university statutes in 1735, initiating reforms at its four universities at Halle, Königsberg, Frankfurt an der Oder, and Duisburg.[1] This was especially significant for the philosophy faculty, whose role began to shift away from that of mere preparation for the three “higher” faculties. In general, the trend of the 18th century towards universal public school attendance (1733) resulted in a gradual creation of a professional teaching class for the primary and secondary levels, and with that a professionalization of the philosophy faculty as a creator of teachers, just as the other faculties created their pastors, lawyers, and physicians. Kant’s letters of recommendation on behalf of current or former students occasionally concerned procuring a stipend to continue their studies, but the majority were for procuring a teaching position, either as a private tutor (Hofmeister or Hauslehrer [glossary]) or at a school.

[1] The 1735 decree is reprinted as appendix #54 in Arnoldt [1746, i.314-93].

Catholic Universities [top]

The primary concern in these pages is with protestant schools, but a few words should be said of their Catholic counterparts. The Catholic universities of German speaking lands included Cologne, Ingolstadt, Freiburg, Trier, Mainz, Dillingen, Würzburg, Paderborn, Osnabrück, Bamberg, and the Austrian schools at Graz, Innsbruck, Olmütz, Salzburg, and Vienna.  Instruction was typically free, and many of these had only philosophy and theology faculties [Eulenburg 1904, 91-94]. Some of the new humanism could be found in these schools — for instance, they taught Latin composition and rhetoric — but on the whole the curriculum was much more traditional, and the textbooks used were carefully regulated. The entering students were also more uniform, many coming from affiliated Catholic gymnasiums, and movement from the one to the next was closely supervised. Attendance at lectures was also carefully monitored, and too many unexcused absences would disqualify the student from sitting for exams at the end of the year. Student dormitories or hostels were also more common at these schools, often with free lodging and cafeterias where free or inexpensive meals could be taken. Heinz Kathe writes that:

The Protestant universities produced more enlightened and clever men. The students stayed only two to three years at the university. They were shown more how to do their own research. One sought to make them more reflective. The Catholic universities, on the other hand, were far ahead in introducing examinations into the lectures. The students also entered the universities older and better prepared, and left later, at least four, five, or six years. There was a strict subordination of the students. More value was placed on terminology and definitions, as well as on memorization for teaching religious instruction in the church, and not on free investigation. [Kathe 1999, 45-46]

Borowski [1912, 105-6], near the end of his 1804 biography on Kant, offers a few pages devoted to the topic of “Catholic Universities, with respect to the Kantian Philosophy” — an anonymously written piece sent to Kant in October 1793 — giving a brief list of those schools and instructors lecturing on Kant: Reuß [bio] in Würzburg (1788) [uni], Dorsch, and then Dietler (1789), at Mainz [uni], Schmitt and Koch at Heidelberg [uni], Grafenstein (1790) at Ingolstadt [uni], Emes and Muth (1791) at Erfurt [uni], Damm at Bamberg [uni], and Weber at Dillingen [uni].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 4 Feb 2008
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu