Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

Famous scholars from Kiel:

Karl Leonhard Reinhold

The author and philosopher from Austria was always a restless spirit seeking the truth. As a committed representative of enlightenment, he brought the philosophy of Kant to Kiel.

Anyone who is mentioned in the same breath as the great Immanuel Kant is certain to be included in the philosophers’ hall of fame. However, initially the career path of Karl Leonhard Reinhold did not look as though it was heading in that direction. He was born on 26 October 1757 in Vienna and spent the early part of his life within the walls of Catholic monasteries. In 1772 he joined the Jesuits and two years later the Barnabite order, studied philosophy and theology and was ordained as a priest in 1780. But this was not yet enough for this critical young member of the Church. In the 1780s spiritual impetus was being generated by the Saxon university city of Jena. This was where one could come across Goethe, Schiller or Humboldt – all advocates of a new way of thinking captivating the whole of Europe: the Enlightenment.

The young Reinhold was also aware of this and, attracted by the new ideas, he first fled from his Viennese monastery to Leipzig and then to Weimar. This was where he converted to Protestantism in 1784. In the same year he became acquainted with Christoph Martin Wieland, the publisher of the literary journal »Der Teutsche Merkur« (The German Mercury). As Reinhold was fascinated by the ideas of Immanuel Kant, from 1786 onwards he composed the »Briefe über die Kantische Philosophie« (Letters on Kantian Philosophy) for Wieland, which also appeared as a book in 1790 and became a success with the public. »It is Reinhold’s lasting legacy to have made the philosophy of Immanuel Kant accessible to the general public«, says Professor Dirk Westerkamp of the Institute of Philosophy. In this book Reinhold not only publicises Kant’s ideas, but develops them further. »For example Reinhold believed that the lack of a theory on our power of imagination was a "gap" in the systematic philosophy of Kant«, says Westerkamp. Whilst Kant did not explain the term »imagination« in detail, Reinhold re-defined it and mentioned several different ways of imagining things.

In 1791 Reinhold was appointed a full professor of philosophy at the University of Jena and through his commitment to Kant’s philosophy, he helped to make Jena the centre of German philosophy. Later he became an influential lecturer on philosophers and poets such as Novalis, Franz Paul von Herbert, Johann Benjamin Erhard or Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer.

Just like today, at that time the European universities were already engaged in a form of competition to attract the best brains. The Duchy of Schleswig, which was governed by Denmark, had the Enlightenment thinker Reinhold in its sights, and tried to entice him away from Jena as the representative of Kant’s philosophy. In a document written by the German chancellery in Copenhagen it was stated that there were plans to bring Reinhold to the University of Kiel: »There was a general opinion that with regard to comprehensible and in-depth presentation of the Kantian system, Reinhold even exceeded the author himself«, states Professor Westerkamp.

In 1794 Reinhold responded to a call from Kiel, where he became Vice-chancellor twice and lived there until his death on 10 April 1823. He shares a tomb with the Danish author Jens Immanuel Baggesen at the Eichhof park cemetery close to Kiel.

His academy legacy – not only for philosophy – remains the search for truth in thought and action. »Reinhold was a person who was continuously trying to convert other people and search for the truth. According to Reinhold, the truth should be the aim of every scientific finding.« Nowadays Reinhold is considered to be the most important Austrian representative of the Enlightenment and the pioneer for Immanuel Kant to be accepted in German-speaking countries.

Michael Wieczorek

Further reading: Wolfgang Kersting, Dirk Westerkamp (ed.): Am Rande des Idealismus. Studien zur Philosophie Karl Leonhard Reinholds. Paderborn 2009 (At the edge of idealism. Studies on the philosophy of Karl Leonhard Reinhold).

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