Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How many editions of the Grundlegung are there?

There have been many editions of the Grundlegung. Already during Kant's lifetime there were at least four editions, although Kant was actively involved in producing only the first two.

Out of all the editions, why did you choose these three editions?

I chose the first two editions because Kant actively participated in their publication; no other editions have this distinction. And I chose the Academy edition because, as part of the multi-volume collected works of Kant, it became in the 20th Century the edition most commonly used by scholars; for instance, most references in the secondary literature use the pagination of the Academy edition. The fourth edition on the site, the emended second edition or 1786v, I do not really think of as an original edition because it was born digital here on this site rather than having first appeared in print on paper.

How are the four editions different from each other?

The four editions of the Grundlegung differ only slightly in significant content. Kant revised the first edition (1785) himself, the result being the second edition (1786). He of course had no hand in putting the 1903 Academy edition together since by that time Kant had been dead for 99 years. And the emended second edition (1786v) is even further removed from Kant's grasp. The bulk of the differences between the editions consists mainly of differences in punctuation and spelling. But there are a few places where the changes are more substantial, words being added and removed, and sometimes punctuation does matter. You can quickly discover in detail what these differences are by visiting the site's Compare page or by using a JavaScript-enabled version and turning on the option for note markers.

How does the emended second edition (1786v) differ from the second edition (1786)?

They differ in several ways. First, Kant had no hand in producing the emended second edition, whereas he was directly responsible for the second edition. Second, the emended second edition is really the work product of many different editors and scholars who have, since Kant's time, suggested the emendations. There are, accordingly, many precursors to the emended second edition which appears here on this site (and which I sometimes refer to as 1786v). Third, the emended second edition used here first appeared in 2013, not 1786. (Though I may write "emended second edition (1786)" to emphasize that the emendations have been made to the 1786 second edition, it is not meant to give the impression that the emended edition was published in 1786.) Fourth, the differences are relatively few, but sometimes quite important. Breaking with tradition, I have included some spelling differences as emendations, mostly because digital formats make it very easy to spot these. I have not included all the emendations that have ever been suggested, many of these involving improvements to the grammar, but I have included important emendations (e.g., 'Maxime' to 'Materie' on page 80). You can find them all by consulting the Emendations area of the Table of Contents in the various versions or by examining the prepared comparison available on the Compare page.

How do your versions differ from the original editions and from each other?

There is no original (i.e., printed) emended second edition; so I pass over the emended second edition version. For the first and (unemended) second editions, the main visual differences with my versions are:

  • I have added line numbers; that is why the numbers are enclosed in square brackets.
  • I have generally not used a Fraktur font.
  • I have not justified text.
  • I have not included decorative elements such as dropcaps.
  • I have changed the running page headers.
  • I have added a table of contents.

For the Academy edition, the main visual differences with my versions are:

  • I have generally not used a Fraktur font.
  • I have not justified text.
  • I have changed the running page headers.
  • I have added a table of contents.

All my versions otherwise aim to replicate the pagination, line breaks, and textual content of the originals. Though I cannot guarantee perfect replication of the content of the orginals, I do plan to maintain the site for years to come and fix errors as I find them. So the versions here should approach perfect replication and may eventually actually achieve it.

All versions of a particular edition should be the same as far as Kant's text goes, to the extent allowed by the format. So, for instance, there should be no difference between Kant's text in a CSS-styled webpage version and a PDF version of the same edition: Kant's words and punctuation should be the same in both. There may, however, be differences imposed by the format of a version. For example, the plain text (.txt) versions of any edition differ from, say, the PDF versions of the same edition because the plain text format cannot handle bold or italicized text; in such a case, some other way — I chose plus signs — must be found to preserve the emphasis present in the orginal German texts. The JavaScript-enabled versions, when certain options have been checked, also introduce some markings that are not in the originals; page break indicators, note markers, line pointers, line rectangles, and topic headings are not in the original paper editions.

Why have you created so many different formats or versions for each edition?

I have made so many different versions not to confuse you but rather to make it more convenient for you to read and study the Grundlegung. With so many different formats to choose from, you should be able to find a version that you can read comfortably on your favorite device, whether it be a desktop computer, a tablet, or a smart phone.

Why did you translate the second (1786) edition?

I chose to translate the (emended) second edition and make it the centerpiece of the site mostly because its pages are smaller than the Academy edition's pages. This difference in page size makes the second edition more suitable for display on a variety of portable devices. I suppose it could also be argued in favor of this choice that the second edition is the one that should be studied most closely because its the last edition that Kant edited.

Why did you prepare two translations?

I wanted the site to offer something for everyone. The Student translation is for people who are reading the Grundlegung for the first time; it aims to make more manageable some of the challenges that the work presents. The Scholar translation is for people who already have some familiarity with the work; it does not aim to make things easier for the reader, just as Kant's text does not.

How can we tell the two translations apart?

The two translations are very different. It will be almost immediately obvious to you which is which once you start reading. But to make it even more obvious, I've typically added an unobtrusive visual cue at the bottom of every page (except the title page) of each translation. At the bottom-left of the Scholar translation you'll find '[Scholar Translation:Orr]', and at the bottom-right of the Student translation you'll find '[Student Translation:Orr]'. These cues allow you to tell at a glance which translation you're looking at.

Why did you translate 'Grundlegung' as 'Groundlaying'?

Other translators of 'Grundlegung' have used 'Fundamental Principles', 'Foundations', and 'Groundwork'. I chose the unusual title translation for several reasons. One reason was that I just did not want my translations to duplicate what is already available. I wanted them to be a new and different resource, to break new ground, to suggest possible alternate interpretations. This also explains in part other unusual renderings such as 'empire of ends' for the more traditional 'kingdom of ends' or 'realm of ends'. Another reason was that, since one translation was to be a rather literal and scholarly translation, 'groundlaying' turns out to be the literal (though, I suppose, ungrammatical) translation of 'Grundlegung'. (I retained 'Groundlaying' for the much less literal Student translation so as not to give the impression that I'm translating two different works.) Finally, I happen to think that 'Groundlaying toward' is actually more suggestive of how the Grundlegung functions in the sequence of Kant's works in moral philosophy. So, in addition to the first two reasons, I use 'Groundlaying' because it hints at the process or activity of discovery laid out in the Grundlegung. The same consideration is also at play in my unusual translation of 'zur' in the title. Some prefer 'of the', others 'for the'. I settled on 'toward the' because this choice most satisfactorily conveys the preparatory status of the Grundlegung as a philosophical reflection designed to lay out the way to (or toward) a still unwritten but intended metaphysics of morals. Neither 'of' nor 'for' does as much to suggest the necessary dependence (both logical and temporal) of a metaphysics of morals on the prior completion of the theoretical work attempted in the Grundlegung, work that must be successfully completed in order to make progress toward a metaphysics of morals. That is, only if we follow the argument chains laid out in the Grundlegung can we safely find our way to the correct moral positions stated in a metaphysics of morals. In any case, my view is that a reader should not put too much store in any translation and should instead look to the original German text; to this end, I have included tools and versions in this site which are designed to help readers become more easily comfortable with the German text.

Why does the Student translation use feminine pronouns?

First, the arguments in the Grundlegung do not turn on whether a rational being is male or female. So changing the pronouns to the feminine has no effect on the strength of Kant's argument. Second, I wanted to offer something new, and changing the pronouns is one way of doing that. Third, although 'Mensch' and its cognates, which Kant uses frequently for 'human being', is grammatically masculine, its meaning is not restricted to 'male human being'. Fourth, although shopkeepers and scoundrels are typically male, they don't have to be, so that there's no reason why the masculine 'Krämer' and masculine 'Bösewicht' could not designate female persons.

How did you decide which words to include in the translation tooltips?

The translation tooltips, which are only implemented in some of the Academy edition versions, only provide English translations for German words that are sufficiently different from their English counterparts. 'Sufficiently different' is vague, of course, but the main guiding principle is that I provide no translation if it can be reasonably expected that an English reader with little or no German would still be able to guess the meaning of the German word from its appearance and context. So, for example, I provide no translation tooltip for German words like 'Natur' and 'kann' because it's probable that an English-only reader can figure out that these match up with the English 'nature' and 'can', respectively. Following this principle reduces unnecessary tooltip clutter and file size bloat. For borderline cases such as 'hier', which sounds quite close to the English 'here' but doesn't look so much like it, I hope I have erred on the side of helpfulness for the English reader trying to make some progress with the German text.

What are the limitations of the translation tooltip approach?

At the present time, the tooltips have two major limitations. First, there are sometimes no tooltips for line-hyphenated words; this is because there are sometimes too many ways in which a word may be completed after the hyphen. Second, the tooltips are not context-aware; they do not recognize that a word can have a different meaning depending on the context. For example, 'Würde' used as a nound means 'dignity' but used as a verb occuring at the beginning of a sentence (and thus capitalized) it means 'would'. This example actually occurs at 458.16, and inspection of the associated tooltip shows that the tooltip does not make clear which meaning is appropriate given the context. I expect that both of these limitations will be addressed in a future version. In the meantime, I think the translation tooltips are a worthwhile feature because they work offline and do not require the installation of additional software.

Why are there numbers in square brackets at the bottom of pages?

The numbers in square brackets refer to the corresponding page(s) in either the second edition or the Academy edition. For example, if you have the Academy edition opened to page 446, the beginning of the Third Section, then the numbers in square brackets are 97-98 because in the second edition the Third Section begins on page 97. These cross-referencs make it easier to find a given passage in other editions. There's no need to reference the pages of the first edition also because the first edition's pagination is virtually identical (the number of lines on a page differing in only a few places) to that of the second edition.

Why does the Academy edition start at page 387? Is something missing?

Nothing is missing; the version on the site is complete and not abridged. It starts at page 387 because the Academy edition originally appeared as a part of a larger book (volume 4) in a multi-volume compilation of Kant's collected works. (Note that if you were to count the title page as well, the starting page would be 385, page 386 being blank.)

How should we cite your versions?

You should first of all use the citation style that your professor or publisher requires. But if it's left up to you, then use your own preferred style or simply make use of the MLA style citation sample provided at the end of each version. In any case, most citation styles make use of some or all of the following information:

  • Author: Immanuel Kant
  • Translator: Stephen Orr
  • Editor: Stephen Orr
  • Book Title: Groundlaying toward the Metaphysics of Morals
  • Website Title: Groundlaying: Kant's Search for the Highest Principle of Morality
  • Posting Date: This can be found at the bottom of pages in two variants, as a last modified date or as a document generation date.
  • Publisher: Google AppSpot
  • Page Numbers: Though each version of an edition is one long document, page numbers can typically be found at the bottom of the simulated paper pages. In the ebook versions, page numbers can often also be found at the top of a simulated page.
  • Medium of Publication: Web
  • Access Date: This will vary. It is the date on which you retrieve the document from the publisher, Google AppSpot.
  • URL: This will begin with "" and end with the name of the specific document. It can usually be found at the bottom of pages in the Document Information area.

What should we do if we find an error?

If you find an error (e.g., a discrepancy with an original edition), please use to let me know about it. I still need to proof the texts further and so I expect that an unacceptable number of mistakes may remain in my versions. The textual accuracy of the texts is very important, and I will be very grateful to anyone who alerts me to such an error.

How will we know if we have the most recent version of a document?

Near the end of most documents, there's a timestamp. If the timestamp on the document you have is older than the timestamp on the online document, then you do not have the most recent version.

How may we use the versions?

All the site's files are governed by a Creative Commons Non-commercial Attribution Share-Alike license, though of course the 178x and 1903 originals and Kant's words contained in them are in the public domain since they are all well over a hundred years old. And I of course hold the copyright to everything that I have created. Details can be found at the Creative Commons website, but, as I understand it, this particular Creative Commons license basically permits you to use the files as you please provided that:

  • the files and derivative works are not used for commercial purposes
  • the files and derivative works are properly attributed to the people who have previously worked on them
  • any modified files and derivative works are given the same license

By releasing the files under this license, my hope is that other scholars and interested parties will make further improvements and innovations so that high-quality versions of Kant's Grundlegung will remain freely available on the internet for a long time to come. The files here at the site are open and accessible for modification; the PDF files, for instance, are not password-protected in any way. If you wish to build on the work I have already done, simply save the files to disk, make the modifications you want, and then post the derivative work to your own website. This can even be done with the ebook versions. For those with the minimal technical skill and knowledge required, it is a simple matter to unpack an ebook, get at its contents in order to make modifications, and then distribute the modified ebook as a derivative work. If you are more ambitious and wish to start more or less from scratch, the Resources page has links to TEI-encoded (an XML variant) files containing the German texts; you can download and use these files to get started on your own derivative project. I welcome any such improvements and innovations, as they will likely further the main goal of increasing readership and study of the Grundlegung.

Why does the search tool work only with the German text and not the English, too?

I created the search tool in order to overcome a limitation in the search capability of the typical browser's built-in search feature: failure to detect words hyphenated across lines and pages. The editions of the Grundlegung have many line-hyphenated words and, since my versions of the editions replicate the pagination and line breaks of the originals, my versions have many words which a browser's search will not find. And even Adobe Reader will not find the words hyphenated across pages. The English translations, on the other hand, have no line-hyphenated words and so the English text is fully exposed to the typical browser's search capability.

What are these: PDF, HTML, CSS, JavaScript?

The first three are acronyms. PDF is Portable Document Format, a very portable and widely adopted file format for documents. To view a PDF document you need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader. 'HTML' is another acronym; it stands for HyperText Markup Language, which is the coding used to construct webpages viewed in a browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Yet another acronym, 'CSS' stands for Cascading Style Sheets; it is the coding used to define the look or formatting (e.g., the colors and font styles) of a webpage. In general, the more recent your browser, the better it will display webpages that use CSS for layout. JavaScript is a computer programming language that is used primarily to make webpages more dynamic and interactive. Most major browsers come with built-in support for interpreting JavaScript code and have it turned on by default.

Why did you create the site?

I created the site for fun, to learn, and to make it easier and more convenient for people to read and study Kant's Grundlegung.

How long did it take you to create the site?

Well, the site's not done yet; so I can't really pin it down. But to this point it has taken several years, working on it at least a little bit nearly every day.

Why have you put the site online now even though it's not finished yet?

The site is far enough along now that it can be of benefit to many people. In particular, I think it's already in good enough shape to be used profitably by undergraduates. Even scholars might find parts of the site useful in its current state, but I would not trust it yet for scholarly research without verfication. I've also put it online unfinished because it has now reached a point at which it might benefit from more eyes looking at it.

What do you want to achieve with the site?

My hope is that the site will help increase readership and study of Kant's Grundlegung, especially of the original German text since no translation captures everything that's in the orginal German. I hope, too, that the site might inspire others to create similar sites for Kant's other major works and, indeed, for all the classic works of philosophy. It would be helpful, for instance, if someone were to create an accordion-inspired version of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. Indeed, in general, I think that scholars in the humanities have drastically underutilized, and continue to underutilize, the technology that's available. Maybe the site can help in a small way to reverse that trend.

What are your plans for the site?

I estimate that the site is currently (as of August 2013, the initial launch) only about one-quarter to one-third complete. So there is still quite a lot to do. For the immediate future, I plan to finish the Compare tool and gradually roll out the site; this should happen in Fall 2013. At the same time, there is a whole series of subprojects to undertake:

  • I plan to continue proofing the German texts until they are of a quality sufficient for scholarly research.
  • I plan to work through the translations a few more times to make sure that they say what they should say.
  • I plan to make improvements to the existing documents, by, for instance, adding more entries to the Glossary, by fixing broken hyperlinks, by tweaking the stylesheets, by adding new features here and there, and so on.
  • I plan to increase the document total by posting new versions that have additional features and capabilities.
  • I plan to add supplementary material, mostly for students, such as summaries, argument analysis, commentary, and translation notes.

Even with helpful feedback from users, it will be several more years before all of this is accomplished!

Update (3 May 2014)
Though none is yet completely complete, I have continued working on all of the above items, adding to the document total and making mostly minor adjustments here and there to existing documents. I'm also putting together an app for phones and tablets running the Android operating system. I have no plans, however, to develop an iOS app or Windows 8 app; so, if anyone wants to contribute one or both of those so that pretty much all bases will be covered, feel free to avail yourself of the resources (e.g., the XML files) here at the site. When the app is done, let me know and I'll put a link to it in the Derivative Works section or Additional Online Resources section, as appropriate.

Update (10 June 2015)
Apart from the tweaking and other relatively minor fixes, I've added several new versions, all of which require a modern fully-enabled browser:

  • I added a multiple-edition version that uses an HTML5 technology called indexedDB, which is an in-browser client-side database. Although it is very powerful, I was not happy with this version chiefly because I thought the interface too difficult, too confusing, for the end-user. I can recommend this version, at best, only for other scholars and advanced students, definitely not for beginners.
  • Partly because of my dissatisfaction with the version just mentioned above, I developed another multiple-edition version with which I am much happier. This version does not use indexedDB, which makes it potentially runnable in more browsers, and has a more user-friendly interface (you don't, for instance, have already to know the page numbers).
  • I added a dual-language version that synchronizes the 1786v German text with the Scholar translation. I am also very pleased with the way this version turned out. Although it is perhaps somewhat perverse in that it tries to exploit something that does not exist, namely, a one-to-one correspondence between languages, I think it was nevertheless well worth doing in order to help those who are just getting started with the German.
  • Most recently, I added a dual-language (German and Scholar translation) version that allows the user to manipulate the visibility of parts of Kant's sentences. In my ethics classes, I've had students lament that they just don't understand what Kant is trying to say. So this version, which I refer to as the accordion version, is an attempt to help students gain some measure of control over some of Kant's more complex sentences. At this time, it is still (along with the rest of the site) very much a work in progress.

Finally, I recently came into possession of an Android tablet. So now I should, as always as time permits, be able to finish up the Android app version which I started working on over a year ago. But, again, I still have no plans to develop an iOS app or Windows 8 app version.

Update (8 August 2015)
I have finally added a first version of the Android app (which I may also make available through Google's Play Store). With this addition, I'd say the site is about 50% complete. From this point on, I'm thinking that there will be few new versions forthcoming. There is still much work to be done, though: proofing, debugging, tweaking here and there, and other relatively minor improvements.

Update (10 March 2017)
I have optimized the synchronized version. It's been reduced in size by several hundred kilobytes even while adding some new functionality. I've discovered that this version is a useful tool for proofing the Scholar translation. I'm starting that proof work now. Already I've discovered some outright errors and identified some areas which, though not in error, could use some improvement, given my objectives. I plan to continue this proofing, making changes to the synchronized version periodically as needed. Then, when the proofing is done, I will revise the XML and regenerate at once all the affected files. So during this proofing period there will be discrepancies between the translation that the synchronized version uses and the published Scholar translation; to reflect this fact, I've temporarily modified the synchronized version to say that it is based on the Scholar translation and not that it uses the Scholar translation.