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

Kant’s Writings
Academy Edition
Kant’s Life


Reliability of the Notes
> Production of the Notes
Dating the Notes
Lists: [Published Notes] [Unpublished Notes]
Lists: [Composite] [Variant Names] [Menzer 1912] [Locations]

Descriptions of the Notes (click below):

Kant’s Lectures

> The Student Notes

Anthropology Encyclopedia Geography Logic Mathematics Metaphysics Moral Phil. Nat. Law Pedagogy Physics Nat. Theology

Production of the Notes

“The copying and compiling of notebooks from Kant’s lectures (with various changes entering with their production) was a flourishing branch of industry in Königsberg, such that with no set of notes can we, without further study, assume uniformity (descent from a single set of lectures) or the reliability of any dates (found on the title page or elsewhere); nor can one assume, over a section of text of any length, that one is reading Kant's own words”

— Erich Adickes [1913a, 8]

1. Terminology: on the paper
2. Terminology: on the production of the notes
3. Single Source vs. Composite
4. The Lecture Note Industry

Terminology: on the paper [top]

A proper description of the manuscripts requires some discussion of the paper involved. A printer’s sheet (der Bogen; pl. Bogen) is the sheet of paper as it comes from the paper sieve on which the pulp is pressed. The size of these sieves varied, but were roughly 34 x 43 cm. How many times these printer’s sheets were folded determined the final size of the individual sheets making up the printed book, and thus the book format: Folio (2°) is where the printer’s sheet is folded once, resulting in two sheets or four pages; Quarto (4°) has two folds (= 4 sheets or 8 pages); Octavo (8°) has three folds (= 8 sheets or 16 pages). It was common in the past for libraries to shelve books by size (so as to economize shelf space); consequently, the size of the book (folio, quarto, or octavo) was commonly given in the catalog-listing of books, enabling librarians to locate them more easily. Of course, given the lack of a standard size of printer’s sheets, the sizes of the books varied considerably, and so it was often unclear whether a book should be listed as, e.g., quarto or octavo. Most of the lecture notes are quarto size, and most are also bound.[1]

What in our descriptions is called a folded sheet is a single sheet of paper, folded once in the middle. A signature (die Lage; pl. Lagen) consists of one or more folded sheets where, if there is more than one, they will be nested within the outermost, such that with the crease to the left, one should be able to read the text continuously when turning the pages, as when reading a book. A signature consisting of a single folded sheet will therefore consist of two sheets (das Blatt; pl. Blätter) or four pages (die Seite; pl. Seiten). Occasionally sheets are discussed in terms of their two sides: the front (or recto) and the back (or verso). If any of this is unclear, then take a piece of paper, fold it once, put the creased side to the left, and start numbering it like you would a book; you will immediately see that there is one folded sheet, but two sheets and four pages.

Some manuscripts will have consecutive numbers or letters on the first page of each signature to indicate their proper ordering. Also, signatures involving multiple folded sheets will often have catchwords (der Kustos; pl. Kustoden) at the bottom of the page; these are typically a single word written at the right-hand side of the bottom margin that matches the first word beginning the next page. Occasionally these catchwords are simply the last word or two of the page, which are then repeated on the following page.

Whenever measurements are provided of manuscripts, they are of the individual sheets (not an unfolded sheet, which would be twice as large). Signatures consisting of more than one folded sheet are sometimes bound, but often not. A standard size for a signature is four-folded sheets, resulting in a 16 page signature. There are exceptions; for instance, some of the Herder notes consist of a printer’s sheet folded twice (resulting in 4 quarto sized sheets), but left uncut, with notes then written on the resulting 8 pages.

Many of the manuscripts were left unpaginated. When they were paginated by the original users, however, they typically numbered the pages individually, starting with the first page of text. A bound volume might have as its first sheet an end-paper blank on both sides, then a sheet with a title page on the front side, and blank on the back, with the first page of text occurring on the front of the third sheet. If the pagination is entered by a later librarian, quite often only the sheets are numbered, with the front and back sides of a sheet indicated by an apostrophe (so: 1, 1’, 2, 2’) or with recto and verso (so: 1r, 1v, 2r, 2v).

The endpaper (Vorsatzblatt) used next to the front and back covers of cloth-bound books is typically heavier than the paper used in the rest of the book, and is often marbled or textured on one side. It is a double-sized sheet, with one half glued to the inside of the cover, and the other half free, serving as the first and last sheets of the book.

[1] In Kant’s day it was not uncommon to buy the uncut printed sheets, rather than a bound book, and then have them bound by a professional bookbinder.

Terminology: on the production of the notes [top]

The use of these terms is not entirely standardized in the literature, although the concepts underlying them are. I distinguish Mitschrift, Reinschrift, and Abschrift, and view them all as a kind of Nachschrift.[1]

Nachschrift (pl. Nachschriften) is best used as a generic term covering different sorts of handwritten materials all of which have two things in common: the writer of the text is not the source of the text (the copied text is someone else’s speech or lecture or written text), and the original source is the spoken word (i.e., Kant’s actual lecture). There are three distinct sorts of Nachschriften: the original notes, a fair copy of these notes, and copies made from a second set of notes. 

A set of original notes (Mitschrift; also the Urschrift, or original written text) is a manuscript actually prepared in the lecture hall. Such original notes are typically marked by an abundance of abbreviations and truncated sentences, hurried handwriting that is usually if not always in pencil, and sometimes found on odd scraps of paper. One a very few of the extant Kant Nachschriften — all or most of the 8° format notes by Herder and perhaps the last two pages of the an-Wien logic notes — were written in the classroom. The Herder notes possibly also include additions made during the repetitoria [glossary].[2]

A fair copy (Reinschrift) is a manuscript prepared at home from a set of original notes, typically in a neater hand, with fewer abbreviations and truncated sentences, always in ink, and with fewer spelling and grammatical errors. Margins are sometimes carefully prepared by creasing the pages, and headings are often included with decorative or ornamental script. The purpose is to create a manuscript that is easier to read, better organized, and with fewer errors. These fair copies might then be carried into the classroom, and occasionally amended by their author. The Nachschriften prepared by Dohna-Wundlacken, Mrongovius, and Vigilantius are good examples of fair copies, and the Vigilantius notes, in particular, suggest the addition of contemporary marginalia, possibly stemming from the Repetitoria sessions that Kant held on Saturday mornings.

One of the few accounts we have of student life under Kant comes from Herder’s years in Königsberg in 1762-64. A student friend of his, Karl Gottlieb Bock [bio], wrote in a memoir that he and Herder …

Herder Mitschrift and Reinschrift.

… heard Kant’s lectures together, and [Herder] wrote me about them yet on Aug. 11, 1788, on the way from Nürnberg to Italy: ‘I see you still so vividly before me, sitting at the table where I also sat. Where has the time gone?’

He grasped each idea with close attention, each word of the great philosophy, and then ordered his thoughts and expressions at home. He often shared his class notes with me, and we would discuss them in a secluded summer house of a little used public garden next to the Old Roßgarten Church. [qtd. in Malter 1990, 63]

We actually have one example of this re-writing: A four-page 4° manuscript from Herder's notes from the metaphysics lectures [AA 28:843-49] is clearly a first draft Mitschrift that served as the basis of about six pages of a 4° Reinschrift [AA 28:22-30] prepared at home; the Mitschrift was written in pencil, the Reinschrift in ink.

A copy (Abschrift) is a manuscript that was copied from someone else’s written text, either for one’s own use, or for sale to another student. Such copies may remove obvious errors from the text, but the intention here, ultimately, is to duplicate a text — and quite often the copyist is too ignorant to make any corrections; in general, they are more likely to introduce errors. Typical indicators that a manuscript is a copy are: spaces left blank where the original text was illegible, words or entire lines are written twice (or else a line is dropped), various non-phonetic misspellings of proper names or philosophical terms suggesting that the writer was not present at the lecture, and may have little sense or knowledge of the context of the material.

[1] There is, of course, considerable latitude in how these terms are used, leading to a certain amount of confusion. Pinder [], for instance, reserves Nachschrift for a text stemming directly from a set of lectures (in both my sense of Mitschrift and Reinschrift. [check....] A much more detailed treatment of these terms can be found in Stark [1991].

[2] Karl Gottlieb Fischer, who matriculated at the university a year after Herder, was said to have heard Kant’s lectures “with great diligence and attentiveness, taking notes and completing them in the Repetition.” [more]

Single Source vs. Composite [top]

Many of the student notes originate from a single source-lecture, but most do not, and there are a dizzying number of variations:

  • Notes written by a single author who attended the lectures from which the notes arose. This is the most straight-forward sort of notes, and no doubt how most people initially think of these notes.

    Examples: all of Herder’s notes; Dohna-Wundlacken (all?), Vigilantius (all?)

  • Notes written by a single author who attended the lectures from which the notes arose, and then attended during a later semester, adding notes in the margins.


  • Notes from an earlier semester (likely copied) by another student, with additional notes added from a later semester.


  • Notes copied from several sets of notes (up to nine!), where each set of notes could easily stem from a different source-lecture; sometimes with the bulk from one source, with additions from one or more other sets.






The existence of Nachschriften that share verbatim passages — and this is more common than not — raises an additional complication. Either one was copied from the other, or else they shared an ancestor. As copies are made of copies, the copy errors accumulate, which gives us an opportunity to determine relationships among the notes, and in this fashion determine which is closest to the original set of notes. Wilhelm Krauß [1926] examined the fifteen sets of notes on moral philosophy available to him, for instance, and was able to show that twelve of these were copies of a lost original set of notes, and was also able to order these twelve sets according to their distance from the original notes.

The Lecture Note Industry [top]

Notes were copied either by a student from some other set of notes[1] or else they were professionally copied and sold.[2] We know that there was a demand for these notes by people who could not attend Kant’s lectures,[3] and it is not difficult to imagine students bringing purchased copies of notes into Kant’s classroom. For instance, Carl Rosenhagen matriculated on May 1, 1788, and then left to posterity a set of metaphysics notes (since lost) with the date of June 5, 1788 — a date unrelated to any metaphysics lecture of Kant’s, and perhaps best explained as the date of purchase. Nor can we assume that students are copying recent notes. Isaac Abraham Euchel [bio] matriculated 2 April 1782 and the anthropology notes with his name on the title page are dated as having been copied (abgeschrieben) in 1783 — but the notes copied are actually ten years older, stemming from WS 1772/73.

We know that there was a considerable business in the production and sales of notes from Kant’s lectures. Kant himself procured sets of notes for various acquaintances (see various letters from 1778: Kant to Marcus Herz, dated August 28, October 20 and December 15, and Minister von Zedlitz to Kant, dated February 21 and February 28.

Consider two contemporary accounts of this notebook industry. The first comes from Carl Heun (1771-1854), writing in 1792:

There have always been available at universities these speed writers who have for sale at a very good price the most complete notes from this or that set of lectures, including all the little jokes and compliments of the professors. Such an acquisition is no more useful than the purchase of an old calendar. If books can be adequate for my education, then I don’t need any of these miserable notes. [Heun 1792, i.142n]

Salomo Semler [bio] offers a similar report of advice he received from Dr. Lange, at the beginning of his studies at Halle in the fall of 1743:

Protect yourself from the pruritu scribendi; they scribble (as he put it) whole notebooks full, or copy it down, and so grow negligent because they have everything written down — but in this they give up the vivam voce [living voice], the necessary affect of the teacher and the most important things. — The man really was right for the most part; we were often offered Baumgarten’s courses in complete sets of notes, and not a few students actually lived from these copies alone. Two or three would get together and write down with abbreviations the blessed Baumgarten word for word; this was all the easier since Baumgarten nearly always recited; he spoke so slowly and without affect, as though he had even intended that we should copy everything down. [Semler 1781, i.76][4]

Hüten sie sich für dem pruritu scribendi; da smieren (so sprach er es aus) die Leute ganze Hefte fol; oder lassen sie sich abschreiben; werden also unfleißig, weil sie ia nun alles aufgeschrieben haben — aber sie entberen dabey vivam voce, und den nötigen Affect des Lehrers bey den wichtigesten Sachen. — der Mann hatte wirklich meist recht; man bot auch uns oft Baumgartens Collegium volständigen Heften an; es lebten wirklich nicht wenig Studiosi blos von diesem Abschreiben. Es thaten sich 2 bis 3 zusammen, und schreiben mit Abbreviaturen dem seligen Baumgaren alle Wrote richtig nach; dis war desto leichter, da Baumgarten beinahe nur vorsprach; so gar langsam und ohne allen Affect redete er; als wäre es eben die Absicht, daß man alles nachschreiben solte.

These notes were worth money, and the poorer students often turned to writing down or copying out such notes in order to support themselves: “Well-written and complete notes are the greatest treasure for students, just as linen is for women. The pawnbrokers also appear to know this well and therefore loan money out against the notes” [Burdach 1894, 55]. Given this, we should view every set of notes as products of this commercial trade, unless we have positive grounds to believe otherwise.

[1] For instance, Puttlich [bio] wrote in his journal that he had copied out the physical geography notes of his friend Georg Nicolovius and the anthropology notes from his friend Caspar Weber (Puttlich’s copies are extant; the other notes are lost); see Puttlich’s diaries, partially reprinted in Warda [1905]. What is especially interesting with Puttlich is that he had attended both of these sets of lectures twice, and yet did not write down his own set of notes.

For a fuller discussion of the acquisition and copying of notes by students, see Adickes [1911a, 33-44] and Lindemann-Stark [1990, 75-77]. Advice on taking class notes can be found in an 1826 work by Christian August Fischer (Ueber Collegien und Collegienhefte. Oder Erprobte Anleitung zum zweckmäßigsten Hören und Nachschreiben); see the quoted passage in Brandt/Stark [1997, lxxiii-lxxiv].

[2] The professional manufacturing of lecture notes was common in the 18th century German universities. See the description of the Göttingen antique dealer Jonas Kunkel (a friend of Lichtenberg’s) by Deneke [1944, i.93].

[3] For instance, Gottlieb Powalski [bio], a former student of Kant’s, obtained a copy of the moral philosophy notes (Powalski 2) sometime after he was working as a rector in Moewen; both Marcus Herz [see] and Minister von Zedlitz [see] wrote from Berlin asking for notes; and see various references at Brandt/Stark [1998; AA 25:lvi].

[4] The reference is to Siegmund Jacob Baumgarten [bio], a Wolffian theologian at Halle and the older brother of Alexander Gottlieb [bio].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 23 Apr 2015
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu