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

Kant’s Writings
Academy Edition
Kant’s Life


Describing 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Lists: [Published Notes] [Unpublished Notes]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
2. The Lecture Note Industry

Before we can reliably use the lecture notes, some sense is needed of their semester of origin (i.e., not when the notes were written or completed, but rather the source lectures from which they derive), and we need some sense of how closely they might represent what Kant actually said in the classroom.  Understanding how these notes were produced also helps one understand the problem of dating, and for all of this we need a proper vocabulary. 

Terminology [top]

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 either someone’s speech or lecture, or another written text), and the original source is the spoken word (i.e., Kant’s actual lecture).[1]  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 often found on odd scraps of paper.  Very few of the extant Kant Nachschriften — perhaps only those from Herder — were written in the classroom.  These notes likely also include additions made during the repetitoria [glossary]; there are many passages in Herder’s notes with a question/answer format that certainly suggest this.[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 …

… 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 garten next to the Old Roßgarten Church. [qtd. in Malter 1990, 63]

A copy (Abschrift) is a manuscript that was copied from another 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 written twice (or else omitted altogether), 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.  The existence of Nachschriften that are nearly verbatim also indicates that one of them was copied from the other, or that both are copies of some common ancestor.  Similarly, as copies are made of copies, the copy errors accumulate; here one must make use of various philological techniques 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, 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.

[1] There is, of course, considerable latitude in how these terms are used, leading to a certain amount of confusion.  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]

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 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 Warda [1905].  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; 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, 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; and see various references at Brandt/Stark [1998; Ak. 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: 5/24/2007
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu