Knutzen, Martin (1713–1751)

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Martin Knutzen, the German Wolffian philosopher, studied at the University of Königsberg and became an extraordinary professor there in 1734. Because he was a Wolffian, even though an unorthodox one, he never attained a full professorship in that Pietist-dominated school. However, because he was also a Pietist, Knutzen could never attain such a position in other German universities where Wolffians held the power of appointment.

Knutzen disagreed with Christian Wolff on several significant points. His Commentatio Philosophica de commercio Mentis et Corporis (Philosophical Commentary on the Relation between Mind and Body; Königsberg, 1735) was an attempt to reconcile Wolff's theory of preestablished harmony with the Pietist doctrine of physical influence. He extended the problem beyond Wolff, from the relation of soul and body to the interrelations of simple substances in general. In this and in a panpsychistic metaphysics, he was closer to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz than to Wolff. Knutzen, in his cosmological work Vernünftige Gedanken von den Cometen (Rational thought concerning comets; Königsberg, 1744), was one of the first philosophers in Germany to accept, at least partially, the Newtonian theory of gravitational attraction. His theological work was derivative and of little significance.

Knutzen's reputation is due more to his having been the teacher of Immanuel Kant than to his own significance. His influence on Kant has been much overrated. Recent research has shown that his influence was confined to the solution given by Kant in his first essay, Gedanken von den wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte (Thoughts on the true estimation of living forces; Königsberg, 1747), to the problem of the interrelation of substances, and to Kant's acceptance of Newtonian attraction. On the second point, Kant was also strongly influenced by the Berlin circle around Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, even though Maupertuis himself was reluctant to accept attraction; and in accepting attraction as a real force and in trying to give a metaphysical explanation for it, Kant went beyond the Berlin circle, Knutzen, and Isaac Newton himself in his published statements.

Both Kant's "Wolffianism" and his "Pietism" have been attributed by some historians to Knutzen's influence; but although Kant received a Pietist education, he was never either a Pietist or a Wolffian. Kant always opposed Wolff's doctrines, and any Pietist influence came through the general philosophical influence of C. A. Crusius. Even an alleged influence of Knutzen's theology on Kant's religious philosophy has been disproven.

See also Wolff, Christian.


additional works by knutzen

Dissertatio metaphysica de Aeternitate Mundi Impossibili. Königsberg, 1733.

Philosophischer Beweis von der Wahrheit der christlichen Religion. Königsberg, 1740.

Commentatio Philosophica de Humanae Mentis Individua Natura sive Immortalitate. Königsberg, 1741.

works on knutzen

Biéma, M. van. Martin Knutzen, La critique de l'harmonie préétablie. Paris, 1908.

Bohatec, J. Die Religionsphilosophie Kants. Hamburg, 1938.

Erdmann, Benno. Martin Knutzen und seine Zeit. Leipzig: L. Voss, 1876.

Tonelli, Giorgio. Elementi metodologici e metafisici in Kant dal 1745 al 1768. Vol. 1. Turin, 1959. Chs. 1 and 2.

Watkins, Eric. "The Development of Physical Influx in Early Eighteenth-Century Germany: Gottsched, Knutzen, and Crusius." Review of Metaphysics 49 (2) (1995): 295339.

Watkins, Eric. "Forces and Causes in Kant's Early Pre-Critical Writings." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 34a (1) (2003): 527.

Giorgio Tonelli (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)