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

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Kant’s Lectures
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Academic Instruction

1. The Lectures: public, private, and really private
2. The Practicals
3. Language of Instruction


The two basic methods of instruction in Kant’s day were the lecture (Vorlesung), where the professor spoke and the students listened, and the practical (Übung, disputatorium, repetitorium, examinatorium), where student participation was expected. Kant used both methods of instruction, and while the bulk of the text in the lecture notes stem from the lectures proper, is appears that some of the text (for instance, some of the marginalia) was added from the practicals. Oberhausen and Pozzo suggest that it was common for students to bring their notes to the practicals (either notes they prepared themselves from the week’s lectures, or else a purchased set of notes) and then enter additions In the early 1780s, when Kant explicitly noted that he was holding his practicals in Latin (under pressure from Berlin), the presence of Latin marginalia would be quite telling, especially if the textbook used for the course was in German.[1]


[1] Oberhausen and Pozzo [1999, xl] suggest that marginalia in a second hand in Philippi 3/logic [ms p. 67, the second in Latin, as printed at Ak. 24: 3758-12] stem from a practical; likewise text at an-Pölitz 3.1/logic [Ak. 24:5178-12].


The Lectures: public, private, and really private [top]

Full (ordentliche) professors were paid a salary by the government in order to teach specific courses deemed important by the government, and to do that at no cost to the students: these were the public lectures.  For instance, as the full professor of logic and metaphysics, Kant was required to offer a course of logic lectures each summer semester, and a course of metaphysics lectures each winter semester. These arrangements made it possible for even poor students to obtain a basic education at the university. A royal edict governing this matter was issued in Berlin on October 25, 1735:

Each full professor of this faculty shall, in the science to which he is appointed, arrange his courses in such a manner that he finishes a “public science” every semester — for example, logic in the one, metaphysics in the other, or natural law in the one semester, moral philosophy in the other — so that the students, especially those who are poor, have the opportunity to hear publicly and without cost all the parts of philosophy at the academy, and at least in one or one and one-half years be able to hear the fundamental sciences of philosophy. If a philosophy professor also wants to treat some special materials, he can do this privately [i.e., at student expense].[1]

Private lectures given by professors and instructors would cost a fee,[2] although they could then be repeated once again for free. To enroll in a private lecture, the student would sign his name to a list at the beginning of the semester, and then pay the honorarium at the end of the semester directly to the professor (who then added the letters "Dt." (for detit) after the name to indicate payment).[3] It was not uncommon for these private lectures to be cancelled for lack of adequate enrollment (about eight percent of Kant’s classes were cancelled) and then for other courses to be offered in their place (two-thirds of Kant’s cancellations were replaced), all of which suggests that the subscription lists were generated well before the start of the semester.[4]

Paulsen notes that the public lectures originally were the heart of the university curriculum, and that private lectures found rather modest beginnings in occasional private tutoring, but that low salaries motivated a steady growth in the number of private offerings, as did a perception among the wealthier students that attending public lectures was a kind of charity for the poor, and so avoided them. These private lectures soon formed the bulk of the curriculum, and a professor lecturing four hours per week publicly might lecture as much as 20 to 28 hours privately.[5] Professors routinely offered private lectures across the philosophy spectrum — Kant was certainly not alone in the wide variety of subjects over which he lectured — and they tended to neglect their public lectures in favor of the private lectures [Paulsen 1921, ii.131-32], although this does not appear to be true of Kant.

The public lectures were generally more heavily attended than the private, and Kant notes in a letter to Herz that he’s not as well acquainted with the students in his public lectures; this could also be due to students needing to contact the professor in person while signing up for private courses (although Kant may have had his amanuensis take care of this), and when paying the honorarium at the end of the semester).[6]

A second kind of private lecture, the so-called privatissima (or “most private”) course, was also available. With these a group of auditors would contract with a professor to lecture on some topic, and attendance was available only to that original group. These privatissima apparently paid quite well; two significant examples from Kant’s teaching career are his lectures in WS 1764/65 on math and physical geography at General Meyer’s home to his officers; and in WS 1772/73 his lectures on physical geography in the home of Herzog Friedrich von Holstein-Beck.

Lectures took place in private homes — either one’s own, if there was a room of adequate size, or else one rented from another professor (or, in the case of privatissima, possibly or always in the home of one of the auditors). Lectures lasted for an “academic hour” (45 minutes) and typically took place on “the normal days” (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) — in other words, four hours each week. Winter semester began about one week after St. Michael’s (September 29), and summer semester about one week after Easter, with a short vacation of around three weeks between the semesters. Additional month-long recesses occurred in July/August and at Christmas. [more]


[1] Ch. 2, §8 of the edict; repr. in Arnoldt [1746, i.332]. A copy of the edict, as printed in Königsberg, is in the GStA (XX.HA EM 139g Nr.14).

[2] The honoraria at Königsberg were three or four rthl. at Königsberg, depending on how many hours the course met, although it was higher for courses such as Experimental Physics, that involved additional materials [Goldbeck 1782, 41]. Kant’s honoraria appear to have always been four rthl.

[3] We have examples of such lists from Kant’s classes; see Brandt/Stark [1997, c-ci].

[4] Dates are available for two of the semesters where a class of Kant’s was cancelled and replaced. In 1785/86, Encyclopedia was replaced with Natural Theology, and in 1787/88 Moral Philosophy was replaced with Physics. In both cases, the replacement course began on time (Thursday of the first week, which was usual for such courses), and the replacements had 37 and 22 auditors, respectively (not what one would expect for a last minute offering). Similarly, in 1783/84, Kant announced Moral Philosophy, but replaced it with Natural Theology, which was attended by “an amazing throng of auditors” (as Hamann reports in a letter to Herder).

[5] Thus the finding of a 1768 study at Halle [Paulsen 1921, ii.131]. These figures are comparable to what we find at Königsberg. Paulsen goes on to note that professors at Halle were even neglecting their public lectures, leading Friedrich Wilhelm I to threaten them with military execution if they didn’t improve. See also Bornhak [1900, 33-34].

[6] See Kant’s letter to Marcus Herz (15 December 1778): “since 1770 I have read logic and metaphysics only publice, where I have gotten to know very few of my auditors.” Borowski recounts an anecdote of a student failing to arrive at Kant’s quarters to pay an honorarium for a recently heard set of private lectures [1912, 59-60; repr. in Malter 1990, 36]. This would have taken place some time before 1764, since Prof. Funck, who died in that year, was also present, along with Borowski.


The Practicals [top]

Government regulations required that at least one Collegium examinatorium und disputatorium be offered each semester in each of the faculties [Goldbeck 1782, 34]. These were what Bornhak calls “practicals” (Übungen), although they were seldom called such at the time [Bornhak 1900, 34]. A Latin term was normally used, such as disputatorium, repetitorium, or examinatorium. Occasionally one finds combinations like examinatorio-disputatorium. Even when the rest of the course schedule was translated into German (as was the practice in Kanter’s Königsbergsche Gelehrte und Politische Zeitungen),[1] these terms would remain untranslated from the Latin. They appear to refer to roughly the same thing, namely, a scheduled event in which students had the opportunity to articulate their understanding of material presented in the lectures (examinatoria, disputatoria), and where they could ask the professor questions (repetitoria).[2]

Kant held practicals for an hour each Wednesday and Saturday morning (after WS 1783/84 only on one day per week, and then always on Saturday, except for WS 1783/84 and 1786/87 when it was held on Wednesday because he was teaching pedagogy on Saturday — for more details, see Kant’s Lectures by Discipline). Practicals allowed Kant to learn how well he was being understood; and for students, they were “one of the best means for arriving at a thorough understanding” [Ak. 2:25]. The practicals also helped Kant become better acquained with some of his students. It was here, for instance, that both R. B. Jachmann and C. J. Kraus came to his attention. Jachmann [bio] writes that Kant ...

... was delighted by any diligence and good manners displayed by students. In his repetitoria, giving proof of one’s diligence and attentiveness was the surest way for a student to win his favor. But he expressed his displeasure quite openly, even in the lecture hall, if during the repetition-hour a student was unable to give an answer. [Jachmann 1912, 136, repr. in Malter 1990, 221]

Vor allen Dingen freute er sich über den Fleiß und die guten Sitten der studierenden Jünglinge. In seinem Repetitorio Beweise des Fleißes und der Aufmerksamkeit abzulegen, war der sicherste Weg, sich als Student seine Gunst zu erwerben. Aber er äußerte auch im Auditorio ganz unverholen seinen Unwillen, wenn seine Zuhörer in der Wiederholungsstunde nichts zu antworten wußten.

Kraus’s [bio] first semester was SS 1771, during which Kant lectured on Logic, Physical Geography, and Moral Philosophy. Kant is not listed as offering a practical that semester, however, so the following story may well stem from WS 1771-72 (when Kant lectured on Metaphysics, possibly Physical Geography, Natural Law, and a Practical on Metaphysics on Wednesdays and Saturdays):

Kraus attended all of Kant’s lectures, and despite the large number of auditors, Kraus’s excellent attention, lively interest, and exemplary enthusiasm did not escape Kant’s notice. Because Kraus never attended class just to have attended, but rather so as to acquire new material to think through and explore, he was constantly running into any number of questions, doubts, obscurities and other thoughts in Kant’s teachings, that would make him restless and often almost crazy. It therefore became his deepest desire to become personally acquainted with his teacher. But he did not dare to initiate the acquaintance by visiting Kant, in part because of his shy, withdrawn nature, and in part, in part because back then the academic teacher was still distantly removed from the students, so that a friendship between professor and student was a great rarity. But Kraus managed to fulfill his wish in another way. He became a member in Kant’s disputatorium, and one day here presented to the great philosopher such deeply thought out objections, asked such sharply formulated questions, and betrayed such a disposition for theory that Kant marveled at the young man and called him over at the end of the hour in order to get to know him better. [Voigt 1819, 26-27, repr. in Malter 1990, 112]

Interesting anecdotes would crop-up in these practicals, as well. During a Saturday practical on logic in 1792, in fact the last practical of the summer semester, Kant spoke about the difficult development of his Critique of Pure Reason. Young Heinrich Ludwig Adolph zu Dohna-Wundlacken [bio], who was taking notes, wrote down that “this happened in the repetitorium on Saturday, for the class had already finished on Friday” [Ak. 24:783-84].

Kant may well have held practicals every semester of his career, although there are few available data prior to 1770. In the early years he seems to have devoted several hours to these, in the first 13 years of his professorship he offered practicals every Wednesday and Saturday at 7 AM in the morning, eventually dropping the Wednesday hour. Students attending these practicals — always only a fraction of the number attending the public lecture course that they concerned — were likely receiving a scholarship of some sort that required evidence that the recipient was attending classes and making adequate academic progress.[3]

Kiesewetter went to Königsberg on St. Michael’s 1788 [beginning of the winter semester], visited not merely Kant’s lectures, but also took part in the oral discussions which Kant held weekly with a small selection of his auditors. Kiesewetter was also invited several times a week to lunch with the great sage, at which he regularly found the commendable Professor Kraus, and to which still other intellectual men were often drawn. [Flittner 1824, xvi]

Michaelis 1788 ging Kiesewetter nach Königsberg, besuchte nicht blos die Vorlesungen von Kant, sondern nahm auch Theil an den mündlichen Unterredungen, die Kant wöchtenlich einer kleinen Auswahl seiner Zuhörer widmete. Zu gleicher Zeit wurde Kiesewetter von dem großen Weisen die Woche mehrmals zu Tische eingeladen, an welchem der verdienstvolle Professor Kraus sich regelmäßig einfand, und wozu öfters noch andere geistreiche Männer gezogen wurden.

Good performance in the practicals could also result in a stronger letter of recommendation from the professor. Kant wrote in a letter for his former amanuensis, Johann Heinrich Immanuel Lehmann [bio], that:

Mr. Lehmann attended all my courses on Logic, Metaphysics, Moral Philosophy, Natural Law, Physics, Anthropology, and Physical Geography not only with unceasing diligence and the best progress (as the examinations which I held proved to me), but has also always been one of those few who have the talent to hold forth on what they have learned, to make it relevant, and thus to be qualified as a future teacher. Apart from that his social qualities are such that I have invited him more often to lunch, for my own relaxation, than anyone else, and I still invite him as often as I can without disadvantaging his other social affairs.[4]

HE. Lehmann hat allen meinen Collegien der Logik, Metaphysik, der Moral, des Naturrechts, Physik, der Anthropologie und physischen Geographie nicht allein mit unausgesetztem Fleis und dem besten Fortgange (wie mir die Examina die ich anstellete es bewiesen) frequentirt sondern ist auch immer einer von den Wenigen gewesen welche auch ihr Talent zum Vortrage dessen was sie gelernt hatten, an den Tag legten und sich also zu künftigen Lehrern qualificirten. Überdem sind seine Umgangseigenschaften so beschaffen daß ich ihn meiner eigenen Erholung wegen am häufigsten an meinen Tisch gezogen habe und noch invitire so oft es nur ohne Nachtheil seiner anderweitigen Geschäfte geschehen kann.

Friedrich Johann Buck’s [bio] autobiography includes an anecdote of how, while Buck was still a student at the university, Prof. Knutzen [bio] gave him the responsibility of running his regular disputations:

Among other things, he [Knutzen] allowed me to preside over the disputation-practice in his public lecture hall during the entire summer semester of 1741, and since he was in his study next door and listened to everything I said, he seldom neglected to either approve of or improve upon what I said after the disputation was over. [Buck 1775, 1004]

As such, the practicals addressed some of Zedlitz’ interests of incorporating examinations into the lectures — a common practice in the Catholic universities.


[1] The KGPZ was one of the most important newspapers in 18th century Germany, and enjoyed one of the longest publishing runs (1764-1796). Hamann, Herder, Kant, and Scheffner were among the luminaries publishing articles in it. Each issue appears to have been four pages (thus, one folded sheet), with consecutive numbering from issue to issue. Beginning with WS 1765-66, the newspaper printed the lectures offered each semester at the university. For a chronological list of contents, reviews, poetry, academic notes, as well as a person and subject index, see Taszug [1998].

[2] Emil Arnoldt was of the opinion that Kant used the designations examinatorium and repetitorium carelessly, but that disputatorium held for him a separate meaning [1908-9, v.341]. Little in the records suggest this however. One source claims that students would write down their questions on a slip of paper and leave it at Kant’s lectern after the lecture, and that Kant would then address these questions at the next repetitorium.

[3] Goldbeck claims that every student receiving a stipend or subsidized meals at the cafeteria were required to attend these and be able to prove this with monthly testimonials from the instructors [1782, 34].

[4] Kant’s letter of August 1797 to von Massow [Ak. 12:189-90, #768; repr. Malter 1990, 343]. A few oddities in this letter should be noted. Lehmann matriculated at the university on 23 September 1789; thus, his first semester would have been WS 1789-90, which makes it unclear how he could have heard Kant’s lectures on Natural Law (last taught in SS 1788) or Physics (last taught in WS 1787-88).


Language of instruction [top]

At Leipzig, in 1687, Thomasius [bio] became the first professor to regularly lecture in German at a German university, although Gause notes that the mathematician Albert Linemann advertised in 1641 that he would offer in German a course of lectures on the “Practice of Surveying and Fortification in the Netherlands” [Gause 1996, ii.116n]. But this was an isolated incident. Johann Adam Gregorovius [bio], a professor of law at Königsberg from 1717-1749 and one of the last of the Aristotelians, was the first to give his lectures in German on a regular basis [Gause 1996, ii.115-16]. By the time Kant was teaching, the complaint was that the students didn’t understand Latin well enough for lectures in that language. Goldbeck noted that each professor was free to choose his language of instruction (German or Latin), and that many examinatoria were indeed conducted in Latin [Goldbeck 1782, 39].

The government (both Friedrich II and Minister Zedlitz) wanted the university to use even more Latin in the classroom, and the rector and academic senate of the Albertina received the following edict from Berlin, dated 20 October 1780:

The worth of the Latin language, and its necessity for those who want to develop their science from the sources, indeed continues, and we hold it as unconscionable not to insist on its cultivation, extolling its usefulness, and making it noticeable everywhere. But you are making the larger part of it less necessary than it once was, where sciences remained a mystery to all who had not learned the language.

With Kant as one of the signatories, the academic senate answered on 1 October 1781 that there were too few students with a sufficient understanding of Latin to be using it as the common language of instruction; the senate therefore suggested that...

... we occasionally make use of the Latin language in our lectures. We then give you our assurance that in the future we will hold the majority of our Repetitoria in Latin. Here it is easiest, without having to interrupt the flow of an ordinary lecture, the clarification of a Latin question that was not understood, or correcting a nonsensical answer that was given in improper Latin. [qtd. in Arnoldt 1908-9, v.260][1]


[1] See Oberhausen and Pozzo’s discussion of Zedlitz’s attempts to promote Latin [1999, xxxv-xli].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 9 Aug 2014
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu