Kant wrote his works in notoriously difficult and elaborate German. I’ve once heard that his strict and peculiar style is in parts explained and made more accessible by the view point that he was writing German in a way one would write Latin at the time. Is this true?

Latin has been the language of science in the previous centuries and virtually all major works had been written and available to Kant in Latin and in Latin only. Surely, this has had a great impact on his verbal thinking. But is this the reason why his German sounds so different? Has he actually been trying to write German as if it was Latin?

Does anyone know the reasons why he has chosen German over Latin for his writing? Was it political? Did he care about accessibility to his writings? Was it already firmly established to write in German at his time?

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    Perhaps, he learned from the example of his main role model and target, Wolff. Wolff wrote his original works in German, then rewrote them in Latin to reach Europeans, but Latin versions never approached the popularity of the German ones, neither in Germany nor in Europe, see SEP, 18th Century German Philosophy Prior to Kant. Latin was not only the language of science, it was also the language of scholastics and dogma, Enlightenment figures generally made a point of transitioning to national languages accessible to broader audiences.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 22:54

3 Answers 3


As I wrote here, Kant writes in German, with Latin sentence structure (for example, the subject-reference of subsets of sentences is typical Latin style) but using German grammar within subsets of sentences. Thus, his style of writing is certainly strongly influenced by the Latin language used in almost all major philosophy of the time.

In fact, Kant is far from being the first to publish in German. Notably, Wolff started with German lectures and publications and only changed to Latin after there started to be wider, European attention to his ideas. As Conifold notes in a comment, the Latin versions never reached the same level of popularity though, so this experience might have contributed to Kant changing the language of his publications much earlier.

The main reason for writing in German at all is that since Pufendorf, there was a wider enlightenment movement which emphasised the equality, dignity, and education of the broader populace as a goal, a movement which was boosted even more by the Prussian state after Frederic II took over in 1740 (who, by the way, spoke mostly French at court as the French court was seen to be the most distinguished and he wrote and spoke in person with Voltaire, whom he admired much).

Since only few, usually expensive or theological schools taught Latin on an academic level, writing and teaching in German seemed to be a natural thing to do if you want to reach and educate a broader part of society.

Note that Germany was comparatively late in that: significant French, British, Italian, and Dutch philosophy was published in the native languages (sometimes much) earlier than that. For example, Kant had to wait for a translation of Hume being published in German before being able to experience his "awakening from the dogmatic slumber".


At the time Kant was writing his major work German was well established and accepted as the language for science in Germany. The audience he wanted to reach was speaking German. Further the German language had evolved the as a language of science since mid 16th century and you were now able to express the concepts Kant needed in that language. There is no direct evidence answering this question and one can only speculate. I think the way he wrote came from the way he thought rather from the choice of language.


There are also six extant works of Kant in Latin. H/t https://philpapers.org/rec/KANKLW

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