Daily Archives: January 2, 2007

Kant in the Classroom

For those of you who enjoyed our earlier discussion of Kant’s What is Enlightenment?, I wanted to pass along (via Houhynymland) an excellent link to an English-language website devoted to Kant’s university Lectures, maintained by Steve Naragon of Manchester College:


As I’ve said before, I think anyone who wished to contemplate Kant’s essay should spend some time thinking about the context in which he worked and lectured for some forty years. From this terrific site, here’s a nice description of Kant at the “anvil of my lectern”:

SS 1795
Letter: Purgstall to Kalmann (30 April 1795)

Wenzel Johann Gottfried von Purgstall (1773-1812), an Austrian nobleman, visited Kant in the spring of 1795, and offers this account of his lectures from that semester in a letter of 30 April 1795 to Wilhelm Joseph Kalmann (1758-1842), a close acquaintance of Karl Leonhard Reinhold (1758-1823).

He lectures publicly on logic each day at 7:00 a.m. and twice a week privately on physical geography. Obviously I am missing none of his classes. His presentation is entirely in the tone of ordinary speech and, if you will, not very beautiful. Imagine a little old man who sits there bent over, wearing a brown coat with yellow buttons, not to forget the wig and hair bag; imagine also that this little man occasionally brings forth his hands from the buttoned coat where they have been hiding, and makes a small movement with them in front of his face, as one does when one wants to make something fully comprehensible — imagine all this and you will be seeing him to a hair. Even though he does not look all that great, even though his voice is unclear, yet everything that his delivery lacks in form is richly replaced by the excellence of the content.

One never leaves his auditorium without bringing home some elucidating hint into his writings, and it is as though one arrived at the easiest and shortest way to understanding many difficult sentences in the Critiques of Pure and Practical Reason, from which the other gentlemen, I mean his interpreters — but here I am not thinking of Reinhold exactly—remain standing with a great deal of talk about the difficulty, and make such a quantity of preparations, while he simply enters directly into the subject and talks about it, so that it appears that he would never dream that the materials could be so hard, and that he is wholly convinced that anyone is able to understand it.

Once one has come so far as to understand his voice, then it is not so difficult to understand his thoughts. He spoke last about space and time, and it was as though I had never understood anyone as I understand him; and now he is in that part of his Logic where he needs to discuss cognition. This gives him the opportunity to discuss their perfection, and to discuss logical, aesthetic, and other sorts of cognitions. He then discussed the main concepts, I believe, of the beautiful out of the Critique of Judgment, and this so easily and understandable and entertainingly as can hardly be imagined. From this alone one can well imagine how interesting it would be to hear his entire course, for then one would be easily made acquainted with all his ideas. [...]

Kant is reading from an old Logic, by Meier, if I’m not mistaken. He always brings the book along. It looks so old and soiled, I believe that he has brought it daily to class with him for forty years. All the blank leaves are covered with writing in a small hand, and besides, many of the printed pages have leaves pasted on them, and lines are frequently crossed out, so that, as you might imagine, scarcely anything of Meyer’s Logic is left. Not one of his auditors brings the book, and they merely write down what he says. But he does not seem to notice this, and faithfully follows his author from chapter to chapter, and corrects everything, or rather rewords everything, but so innocently that it is clear he makes little of his discoveries. [Hügelmann 1879; repr. Malter 1990, 418-21]


Best wishes, and happy New Year,