Kant for Kids (Notes on a Survivor)

Tracing the reception of Kant’s phrase “selbstverschudeten Unmündigkeit” (“self-incurred immaturity” is the current consensus on how to translate it), I stumbled on one of those things that reminds us about the books, and the worlds, we have lost:Teutonia Title Page

This peculiar book, swept up into Google’s scanners during their sweep through the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, is a survivor from a vanished world: a world in which a title like Teutonia could be attached, without irony or aggression, to a book that was edited by two Jewish pedagogues and intended for the education of “German boys and girls” .

Assembled by the rabbi, translator, and writer  Gotthold Salomon (1784-1862) and the teacher and writer Maimon Fraenkel (1788-1848), it consisted, as announced on its title page, of selections of passages from the works of the “most excellent” German writers. The short extracts are organized topically and the table of contents gives a hint of the ambitions of the collection:

  1. God. Providence.
  2. The Knowledge of the World and of Man
  3. The Destiny of Man
  4. Religion
  5. Freedom
  6. Virtue. Vice.
  7. Death. Immortality.
  8. Belief and Hope
  9. Reason and Truth
  10. Nature and Art
  11. Beauty. Taste.
  12. Love. Marriage.
  13. Friendship
  14. Women (Weibliches Geschlecht)
  15. Fortune and Misfortune
  16. Education and Culture
  17. Worldly Wisdom (Lebensweisheit)

The seventh item in the section dealing with  “Reason and Truth” assembles a few passages from Kant, the last of which consists of the entire first paragraph of Kant’s essay on the question “What is enlightenment?”


Here, then, is one of the places where boys and girls from Jewish families, immersing themselves in what their families regarded as the culture to which they belonged, would have encountered Kant’s words.

It’s hard to look at things like this without thinking about all that was to follow. It’s also hard to look at the frontispiece of the collection without thinking about what history does to relics like this.

Teutonia Front

Adorno famously wrote that Mahler turned “cliché” into “event.” Looking at this frontispiece I couldn’t help thinking about the way in which history turns kitsch into monuments.

About James Schmidt

Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science Boston University
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Kant for Kids (Notes on a Survivor)

  1. zugenia says:

    Reblogged this on angels in machines and commented:
    A lovely discovery in the digital archive at Persistent Enlightenment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.