Mrongovius II: a supplement to the Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals

Jens Timmermann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Citations (Scopus)


There are many reasons why a reader of the Cambridge Lectures on Ethics volume will struggle to appreciate Moral Mrongovius II. First, these are of course student notes, taken by Krzysztof Celestyn Mrongowiusz at the age of twenty, and even a gifted student is not always the most reliable guide to a lecturer’s thoughts. Second, the set is inconsistent as well as incomplete. The text appears to be largely based on notes taken in class in the winter of 1784-1785, but in the course of preparing a clean copy Mrongovius initially sought to supplement them with passages from an earlier set of notes that belongs to the Collins/Kaehler family. To make things worse, the manuscript does not cover the whole semester. It breaks off in mid-sentence. Third, Gerhard Lehmann’s transcription of the notes, included in volume 29 of the Academy edition, is well and truly dreadful. There are on average about two or three significant transcription errors per printed page, often turning the meaning of Mrongovius' words on its head. Four entire sentences or clauses are missing because Lehmann was skipping manuscript lines. Fourth, Peter Heath translated little more than half of the Academy text. Finally, the quality of Heath’s selective translation is poor. So, readers are likely to be grappling with an inaccurate partial translation of an error-ridden edition of patchy student notes from one of Kant’s courses on moral philosophy. And yet, Moral Mrongovius II is an extraordinary document. It is the record of lectures Kant gave at the University of Königsberg when the manuscript of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals was being prepared for publication at Johann Friedrich Hartknoch’s workshop in Riga. Departing from earlier practice, Kant rarely mentions the “author,” Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. For the most part he clearly presents his own recent work, and many of the Groundwork’s central themes - the good will, hypothetical and categorical imperatives, the central role of autonomy - are restated, sometimes more instructively than in the Groundwork itself. Moreover, Mrongovius' notes cover numerous topics that - like Kant’s reflections on ancient philosophy, religion and the highest good, the philosophy of law, the nature of punishment - resurface only much later in the official published works, if they resurface at all.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKant’s Lectures on Ethics
Subtitle of host publication A Critical Guide
EditorsLara Denis, Oliver Sensen
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139567527, 9781316190906
ISBN (Print)9781107036314, 9781108454155
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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