For students

If you are a beginning student and have never read a word of Kant before, then I suggest that you start your study of Kant's moral philosophy by reading the Student translation that I have prepared. Even this translation is by no means an easy read; indeed, it will still present you with quite a challenge. But the student translation does have some features that will help you get started:

  • Kant's extremely long sentences are broken up into multiple sentences, increasing your chances of following what he's saying.
  • Kant's pronoun references have been made explicit; this should improve your comprehension.
  • Kant's use of jargon has been minimized, more familiar terms having been substituted for his peculiar vocabulary and for uncommon words.

These features necessarily entail more distortion of the German text than you'll find in most translations. But after you gain some understanding of Kant's ideas and arguments, you'll be well prepared by this introductory translation to move on to the Scholar translation that I have also prepared or to other translations. A good way to transition to the Scholar translation is to make use of the scholar-student version that has the Scholar translation alongside the Student translation; using this version, you can read a passage in the Student translation and immediately move over on the same "page" to the corresponding passage in the Scholar translation.

After finishing a reading assignment, a good way to assimilate what you've read is to take a look then at the Assertions and Headings areas of the Table of Contents at the end of each version. The Headings give you a very general idea of what a particular passage is about. The Assertions area gets into more specifics and should be your focus. I suggest that you follow this procedure to get the most out of the Assertions area:

  1. Find an assertion that Kant makes within your block of assigned reading.
  2. Try to figure out what the assertion means. You may need to do some re-reading for this. The Glossary may help, too.
  3. Ask yourself if the assertion is true. You may find that there's some interplay between steps 1 and 2; the next step may also affect your thinking on this point.
  4. Identify the reason(s) or evidence that Kant gives in support of the assertion. Note that Kant may not always give a reason; in that case, you need to ask yourself what Kant might have said in support of the assertion.

You should repeat this procedure for each assertion or claim that occurs in your assigned reading. In general, your mind should be swirling with questions whenever you read any philosophy: What does this claim mean? Is it true? What evidence does the author offer for it? Is there additional evidence for the claim? Is there any evidence against the claim? Is it needed, or can the argument go through without the truth of the claim? If the claim is true, what else must be true as a logical consequence? And so on.

Viewing one of the versions

These are some hints for the best viewing of the versions in various formats.

  • Make sure to use a dedicated PDF viewer for viewing the PDF versions. Some viewers not made specifically to display the PDF format may not correctly display textual subtleties such as italics. You should also be alert to differences in page numbers between viewer-assigned page numbers and the page numbers of the originals.
  • I don't have an ereader device; so I've only tested the ebook versions using Amazon's emulator software (i.e., Kindle Previewer) and Adobe Digital Editions for PC. Based on this very inadequate testing, I can say that:

    • the pages are more likely to display as designed if your device belongs to a recent generation (e.g., Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Fire);
    • font size and/or screen orientation (i.e., portrait or landscape) may need to be adjusted in device settings;
    • some ereader software may automatically add hyphens that are not actually present in the file;
    • a single screen may not display a whole page
  • A recent mainstream modern browser (e.g., Chrome, Firefox, Safari) is your best bet for viewing the styled HTML versions. The versions that are also JavaScript-enabled additionally require that JavaScript be turned on in the browser; it is on by default in these browsers, and so you will probably not have to change any browser preferences. If JavaScript is not an option for you (perhaps because of security concerns), some benefits of these JavaScript-enabled versions are still available to you if you open them up in a browser that at least has strong CSS support; in particular, I've coded them so that if JavaScript is not on, then the page break indicators and the note markers will be visible.
  • In most modern browsers, you can increase the size of a version by using the Ctrl+ key combination. You can decrease the size by using Ctrl-. Use Ctrl0 to return to the default sizing. There are usually also menu item options that allow you to change the sizing by using the arrow keys or a mouse; the location of these menu items varies by browser.
  • In most modern browsers, you can also make the display fullscreen by pressing the F11 key. To exit fullscreen mode, press F11 again.
  • If you're using a text-only browser (e.g., Links2, Lynx) or a browser with limited CSS support (e.g., Dillo), then the plain HTML versions will probably give you a better viewing experience.
  • The plain text (.txt) versions come in two flavors: fixed-width font and proportional font. The fixed-width variety will generally require more screen real estate because all letters and symbols are the same width. You will want to make sure that the font settings in your viewer match the file flavor. Also, in the dual-language versions, you will probably want word-wrap turned off.
  • Particularly with the plain text files, if you're getting weird-looking characters appearing on your screen, then that probably means either

    1. your viewer software is using the wrong text encoding scheme or
    2. the file's line terminators are not appropriate for your operating system.
    To fix (1), change your viewer's settings to UTF-8 encoding. For example, if your viewer is Windows Notepad, then in Notepad's Open dialog box, change the encoding field to UTF-8 from the probable ANSI default setting. Though (2) is becoming less of a problem because smarter software is automatically converting the line terminators into the appropriate form, you may still encounter it. If you do, you can fix (2) by getting the file with line terminators appropriate for your operating system: use files with 'LF' in their name for Unix and Linux-based computers and for recent Mac OS releases; use 'CRLF'-marked files for Windows computers; and use 'CR'-designated files for older Mac OS computers.
  • The command-line version, contained in gms.jar, is a Java application. It therefore requires that you have Java installed correctly on your computer. You can get the most up-to-date Java from Oracle along with installation instructions, but the application only requires Java 5 which dates from 2004. There are several ways to start the program, which may be placed whereever you like in your file system.

    1. Perhaps the easiest way is simply to double-click on the gms.jar file icon; this approach should work if the JAR file type has been correctly associated with the program, either java or javaw, that opens such file types. How to set up or modify such associations differs depending on operating system and version.
    2. Another way to start the program is to open a terminal window or a command prompt window. In that window, change the current directory to the directory into which you put gms.jar. Then invoke the program with java -jar gms.jar followed by optional arguments, one of which is -h to call up the program's built-in help information. This is the way I run it when I'm in Linux in a non-graphical environment.
    3. Yet another way to start to the program is to create a desktop shortcut to a batch file that then invokes the program. I use this approach when I'm on a Windows PC; if you read on further below, you'll discover the reasons why. The batch file, gms.bat, looks like this:
      @echo off
      rem ----------------------------
      rem Start script for gms.jar 
      rem ----------------------------
      chcp 1252
      java -jar gms.jar
      Put this batch file in the same directory as gms.jar. Create a shortcut to the batch file by right-clicking on the icon for the batch file and selecting 'Create shortcut'. Then right-click on the shortcut's own icon and go to its properties in order to configure the terminal window that the batch file will use. When this is all set up, all I need to do is double-click on the shortcut; this launches the terminal window, properly configured, in which the batch file executes its commands, starting gms.jar.
    • If you find weird-looking characters showing up in your terminal window when you run the program, then that probably means that the terminal window is using a character encoding that is not UTF-8. I have never found this to be a problem on Linux boxes; Windows machines are a different story. Linux uses UTF-8 by default; Windows frequently uses codepage 437 as the default character encoding in a terminal window. To fix this in Windows, I first type chcp 1252 in the terminal window to change the codepage to an encoding that can handle German-specific characters; then I invoke the program.
    • If after changing the codepage you still find weird-looking characters showing up in your Windows terminal window, try changing the font for the window to Lucida Console. You can get to the font settings by clicking on the icon in the upper left corner of the window's title bar and then selecting 'Properties' from the menu that appears; you can also get there via the keyboard with Alt + Spacebar.
    • Some of the commands available to you in the program can dump many screens of data to your terminal window. This is especially the case with some of the index commands (e.g., Xid). So you may also find it necessary to increase the size of your screen buffer, which is also available in the Properties dialog for the window. Scrollbars should appear to accommodate the extra lines loaded into the buffer; if they do not appear, try paging up and down with Shift + Page Up and Shift + Page Down.
    • You may also find it helpful to adjust the size of the terminal window. This is particularly the case if you are interested in looking at the dual-language versions or the double-English version which take up more screen space. These adjustments can also be made in the Properties dialog for the window.

The tables of contents

Many of the versions have a table of contents with the following items (with hyperlinks if the format permits linking):

  • Sections - a traditional table of contents listing the various parts of the work
  • Pages - the page numbers of the work, broken out by section
  • Paragraphs - an enumeration of the first line of each paragraph, broken out by section
  • Footnotes - an enumeration of the first line of each footnote
  • Propositions - the two or three propositions designated as such by Kant
  • Formulas - various formulations and formulation-versions of the categorical imperative
  • Examples - a list of examples, metaphors, similies, etc., that Kant uses
  • Assertions - a collection of statements — premises, conclusions, or both — that Kant makes
  • Emendations - a list of the emendations made to the second edition
  • Headings - a list of content headings identifying the topic of discussion
  • Glossary - an abridged German-English dictionary or definitions of unfamiliar terms
  • Index - an abridged list of words found in the Grundlegung

Some versions lack one or more of these items. For example, the unemended second edition versions appropriately have no Emendations item.

Starting to read the German text

One of the goals of the site is to make the original German texts more accessible, for no translation can capture everything that is in the originals. So studying the original German is crucial to getting the full story. The synchronized version and the tooltip version are good places to start. Still, the German text is very difficult, and fewer and fewer people are learning German these days. I therefore provide a few tips here to help you get started. You should of course consult a German language grammar primer for more help and more detail.

  • Word spellings are not uniform throughout the original editions and often differ from spellings in contemporary German. Sometimes they are not even uniform within the same edition. For example, the first edition mostly uses 'Prinzip', but 'Princip' still occurs a number of times; the second edition uses 'Princip' exclusively; but the Academy edition uniformly uses 'Prinzip'. Differences such as these can be confusing at first, but being aware of their existence in the first place may help minimize the confusion and shorten its duration.
  • The dative-e (an 'e' suffixed to some nouns in the dative case) crops up frequently in the work. Its presence can sometimes throw you off in figuring out whether a word is singular or plural.
  • German, unlike English, is a gendered language. So nouns and pronouns have a gender: feminine, masculine, or neuter. These differences are commonly signaled in the language by its use of different articles and different adjectival endings.
  • A few nouns have changed gender in the two centuries since Kant wrote. A notable instance of this is 'Erkenntnis', which is now feminine but used to be neuter. So beware when you use a contemporary German dictionary, for not only gender but meanings as well may have changed.
  • Articles are typically not translated into English; they serve in the German principally to indicate the gender of the following noun.
  • There also can be no one-to-one word correspondence between the German and English because some German one-word constructions require two words in English. For example, 'als', which occurs with great frequency in the work, often demands 'as a' or 'as the' in English.
  • Reflexive pronouns are always popping up, too. Care must be taken in deciding whether to interpret them as explicit references, as part of reflexive verbs, or as signaling passive constructions.
  • German has two main subjunctive moods, called subjunctive I and II, and Kant makes ample use of both. Unfortunately for English translators, English has only one subjunctive mood, which corresponds to German's subjunctive II. The glossaries and translation tooltips (which tag subjunctive I verb forms with '(may)') in some Academy versions can help you start to pick up on this distinction in moods.
  • Kant's sentences can be very, very long. There is no magical fix for overcoming this difficulty. But I have found it helpful mentally to block out subordinate clauses and such until the basic sentence structure becomes less obscure.
  • Complicating matters further, Kant frequently uses pronouns to refer to previously-occuring elements in a sentence or paragraph. Figuring out the appropriate referent for these pronouns is often a challenge. You will need to become adept at registering the case and gender of the nouns and pronouns involved. Be forewarned that you may actually find that this challenge becomes more acute and exasperating as you spend more and more time with the text.
  • Make use of the translation tooltips in some of the Academy edition versions. Though they have their limitations, these tooltips, by their convenience and specificity, can minimize the need to divert your attention away from Kant's text and to the hassle of a dictionary lookup.
  • If you are interested in reading the original German in a Fraktur type rather than in Roman type, I suggest you make use of one of the two JavaScript-enabled Fraktur versions on the site. One of these versions is with the other second edition versions, and the other is located with all the other emended second edition versions. (The 1785 Fraktur version is not JavaScript-enabled, and there is no 1903 Fraktur version.) These JavaScript-enabled versions have interactive features that will probably make it easier to get started reading the Fraktur type. For example, if you hover your mouse pointer over a word, a tooltip will pop up and display the word in Roman type. I have also added English translations for many (but not all) words; so if you additionally click on the word when the mouse pointer has changed to a hand, the English definition for the word will be added to the tooltip.
  • Take heart that you are reading the original German text. The English translations tend to gloss over most of these difficulties and therefore do not give you a genuine opportunity for a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the work. If you stick with it, you may even find in some instances that the original German text is actually less obscure than a given English translation.

Using the word search tool

I coded the word search tool to plug holes in the built-in text-searching capabilities of browsers and Adobe Reader. In particular, the browsers' built-in search will not find words hyphenated across lines and pages; and, though Adobe Reader finds words hyphenated across lines on a single page, it is not smart enough to find words hyphenated across pages. There are, however, many such words in all three editions of the Grundlegung replicated here. Though the site's word search tool finds all occurences of a word, even those hyphenated across pages, the tool is otherwise very limited:

  • It searches only the German text, not the English translations.
  • It does not search the Table of Contents (but a browser's search tool will, because the Table of Contents is part of the webpage).
  • It accepts only a single case-sensitive whole word as the search term.
  • It does not accept multi-word phrases or punctuation.
  • It does not find parts of words (unless the part just happens also to be a whole word, for example, 'als' in 'also').
  • If a word occurs more than once in a line, the additional occurences are not recorded as additional hits. (Note that this fact explains why the hit count for a given word can differ between 178x editions and the Academy edition: lines in the Academy edition are longer so that a word that occurs in two consecutive lines in a 178x edition might occur in a single line in the Academy edition, thus reducing the hit count in the latter by one.)
  • It searches for a word, not sequences of characters. For example, if the search term is 'möglich', it will find all occurences of the word 'möglich' but not all occurences of that 7-character sequence; so it will not include in the results the 7-character sequence 'möglich' that occurs at 101.6 in the second edition, for that sequence is part of the word 'unmöglich' rather than an instance of the word 'möglich'.

All the versions are text documents rather than collections of images; so, if you need more powerful search capabilities, there are many free text-searching alternatives (such as egrep) that will do the job.

The mechanics of using the tool are straightforward:

  • Type the single word to be search for in the textbox. If you are not using a German keyboard, you can insert German-specific letters such as 'ß' into the textbox by clicking on the appropriate button in the button bar immediately below the textbox. If not using a mouse, you can accomplish the insertion by tabbing to the appropriate button and then pressing the Enter key. These insertion methods work, however, only if you have a JavaScript-enabled browser. If you are not using such a browser, then you can still insert German-specific letters by selecting the appropriate button text label, copying, and then pasting into the textbox. Unless you are very careful, you'll probably also grab some extraneous whitespace when you do this selecting and copying. So be sure to remove the whitespace from the textbox before submitting the form; otherwise the search tool will complain when you submit.
  • Make a selection among the four editions of the Grundlegung.
  • Press the Submit button. Search processing times may vary greatly.

Linking to a version

It is possible and permissible to link to a webpage version by using typical HTML linking code. In the versions with German text, it is also possible and permissible to link to a specific line in the document. To do this you need to know the scheme I have used for the anchors that mark specific locations. The anchors have the following form: [page number]_[line number]. For example, to link directly to Kant's false promising example that begins on line 6 of page 54 of the second edition, you could use the following HTML code:
<a href="">Kant's false promising example</a>.
If you want to link only to a page and not to a specific location on a page, then you can simply drop the underscore and line number from the code; this will work with all webpage versions, even those that only have English text.

You can also link into a PDF version from a webpage. Currently, the way to do this is to specify at the end of the URL address the desired page of the PDF. The code looks like this:
<a href="">Kant's false promising example is on this page</a>.
Note that the specified page is not the page of the edition but rather the page that the PDF viewer assigns to the page of the edition. This will work with all PDF versions, not just German text versions.

Printing a version

It was not my intention that you print any of these versions. One of the reasons why I created so many files in multiple formats was to make it unnecessary to do any printing. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible to print them. If you do decide to print, my guess (for I have never actually printed one myself) is that you should print a version that is in PDF format. This format will most likely give you the best results. Though I have prepared style sheets for some of the styled HTML versions, browser support for printing using stylesheets is poor at the present time. But if you are determined to print one of the styled HTML versions, then I suggest you use Google's Chrome browser because that's the browser I used when developing the print stylesheets. I also recommend that you use the print preview feature before printing to make sure the page margins, orientation, and so on, are what you want. You might also want to consider using different settings for printing the body text and for printing the Table of Contents.