Simplifying Kant: A Historical Lesson.


While lazily reading this and that, I came across Kant’s very nice letter to Reinhold in which he very politely thanks him for his attention to his philosophy and congratulates Reinhold for his successful simplification of his ideas:

[28. u. 31. Dec. 1787]

Ich habe vortreflicher liebenswürdiger Mann die schöne Briefe gelesen womit Sie meine Philosophie beehrt haben und die an mit Gründlichkeit verbundener Anmuth nichts übertreffen kan die auch nicht ermangelt haben in unserer Gegend alle erwünschte Wirkung zu thun. Desto mehr habe ich gewünscht die genaue Ubereinkunft Ihrer Ideen mit den meinigen und zugleich meinen Dank für das Verdienst welches sie um deren Erleichterung haben in irgend einem Blatte vornehmlich dem deutschen Merkur wenigstens mit einigen Zeilen bekannt zu machen. (10:512)

I suppose if it wasn’t for Reinhold’s successful simplification, would we have Kant at all? I mean he was certainly a significant philosopher and all, but it was Reinhold’s Letters on Kantian Philosophy  and subsequent lectures at Jena that got the attention of the educated masses – after Goethe’s remark that 1781 edition of the first critique was impenetrable and Kant’s own difficulties at “simplifying” his ideas in Prolegomena, did it take Reinhold to finally launch Kant’s philosophy? 

Then there is, of course, Fichte who travels to Konigsberg in 1791 to meet the great master and finds the encounter to be rather disappointing – Kant appears sleepy and receives him without “special attention.” Fichte sticks around determined to impress the great philosopher (writes what will become An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation), ends up writing him a letter asking for money to return home to Saxony. Kant is sketchy on the money but finds young Fichte a job. Fichte’s Attempt is published without an author’s name, everyone thinks it’s Kant’s new work on religion, Fichte is suddenly thrust into the spotlight (or a spot-torch, maybe) and a village youngster is now a 30-year old protege of Kant himself. Eventually, in 1794 Goethe, impressed by Fichte’s Attempt, helps him get a professorship at Jena. Reinhold got his professorship at Jena based on his Letters on Kantian Philosophy – therefore, the lesson is clear: hang out with the big shots and get professorships. Although Fichte’s Jena years have another good lesson: don’t criticize university student organizations for drinking and dueling…

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1 thought on “Simplifying Kant: A Historical Lesson.

  1. Pingback: authors and their simplifiers « The Long Eighteenth

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