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

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Introduction
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> Dating the Notes
Lists: [Published Notes] [Unpublished Notes]
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Descriptions of the Notes (click below):

Kant’s Lectures

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Dating the Notes

We must distinguish the date of the source lecture (the lecture that some auditor attended and recorded in his notes) and the date that the notes themselves were prepared. 

The notes were prepared either concurrently with the source lecture or sometime after, and they were sometimes written at different times — for instance, the main body might be written at the time of the source lectures, with marginalia added years later.

Often exact dates are not possible, and the best that can be managed is to assign a terminus a quo (the earliest possible date) and/or a terminus ad quem (the latest possible date).

Many of the notes come with dates already written on their title page or at the end, but these must always be viewed with caution, and with a sense of how these notes were used in their day.  The dates might indeed refer to the source lecture, but they just as likely refer to when a copy was completed or begun, or when a text was purchased or received; or it might be a date that a later user of the notes speculated was the date of the source-lecture.  In other words, such dates written on the sets of notes occasionally refer to the date of composition, but often they can serve as nothing more than a terminus ad quem for some or all of that set of notes.

The dating of these notes is often much more problematic than many earlier scholars have believed.[1]  Resources for dating the notes include the published catalogs of lectures (which provide fairly good evidence of when Kant lectured on various topics), internal clues (e.g., references to some current publication or event, like Lavoisier’s work on oxygen, or to a view Kant expressed in an earlier publication), and stylometric analysis (e.g., noting the relative frequencies of certain words or phrases) that allows a dating of the texts relative to each other (this last method has been greatly enhanced by the work of Norbert Hinske and his colleagues at Trier).

Determining the date of the source lectures is complicated by the possibility that some of the sets of notes are actually compilations from several semesters.  For instance, Mrongovius appears to have made use of an older set of notes (an-Mrongovius) when preparing the fair copy of his own notes (Mrongovius 4.2) from Kant’s lectures on moral philosophy.

Also, any marginalia in the notes confronts us anew with these same questions of source and date: Are the marginalia remarks by a later user made independently of Kant’s actual lectures (as with Powalski 2)?  Or by a later auditor of the lectures?  Or are they additions from the same semester as the main notes and written by the same student (as with Vigilantius 4)?  Or are they copied from notes of an earlier semester?

Imagine a student buying a set of notes, then dating it with the semester that he attends the lectures (here the date might correspond to any marginalia added, but not to the body of the notes) — this is possibly what happened with an-Königsberg 5.  Similarly, former students of Kant’s may have purchased notes after they were finished with the course (even after they left the university) as a record of what they learned, or might have learned.  For instance, Hermann Blomberg, who attended the university in the early 1760s, left his name on a set of logic notes, suggesting that the notes are based on lectures from that time; yet other evidence shows that the notes derive, at least in part, to a decade later.  Thus Blomberg likely acquired these notes after he had left the university (and accordingly we label them as anonymous-Blomberg, indicating that Blomberg was the earliest traceable owner of the notes, but not their author).  In general,  these possibilities need to put us on our guard against hasty inferences regarding the date of a course of lectures.


[1] Adickes has already noted some of these difficulties [1911a, 2-3].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 16 Jul 2013
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu