I wish to read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in the near future, but I have read that it is better to read the Critique in its original German. However, I don't know German. I have read the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Weber in translation, and I understood their ideas well. Is it much better to read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in German, and if so, why?

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    I voted close because it is opinion based and cannot be answered with knowledge of the German language alone (you need to know about other languages AND you need to know about philosophy to make an informed judgment). It's an interesting question, no doubt, but I think you should ask at philosphy.stackexchange
    – Emanuel
    May 13, 2015 at 9:58
  • While I do not think that this is off-topic here and especially the reasoning for an answer might be about the German language, I think that you are more likley to get an answer that actually helps you on Philosophy SE.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 13, 2015 at 12:16

1 Answer 1


It depends. The main thing is, that some English translations do not render properly the Kantian jargon, and thus, they need to explicitly tell you what they mean with a certain term. This can get ambiguous and usually the term is instead, more often than not, translated via more difficult English terms, or even via sentences instead of single terms. The same problem happens when you translate Kant to Italian; it becomes much more difficult than it is in German.

Keep in mind that Kant still is difficult, especially to a non-native speaker, but the benefit that you get from reading any philosophical text in the original language is worth learning the language itself. The best example is reading translations of Aristoteles. The translations are not bad in themselves (Kantian slip?), but in this precise case, if you take any two translations of the, say, Metaphysics, they will seem totally different texts.

Getting to a conclusion. Should you invest in learning German to read Kant? Well, again, it depends. Are you really interested in German philosophy? If yes, you should definitely learn some German. Nietzsche in the original is a bliss. But if you are not highly motivated and you do not have quite a good amount of time on your hands, I would rather look for really good translations.


As stated in the comments, I should have emphasized more the fact that reaching that level of understanding of the German language requires time and effort. Since Kant is difficult even for the majority of native speakers to understand (as I can quite safely induce from my experience), do not expect to be able to read, for example, the CPR after one year of German lessons. Some scholars have been known to learn a language in a month. You might know about Toshihiko Izutsu, who apparently learned classical Arabic in a month to read the Quran in the original. However, these are remarkable exceptions; thus, please be conscious of the level of German you are going to need to not misread any philosophical text in this language.

I heartly suggest checking out the two links regarding the Nietzschean terminology added to this question by Stephie, it gives a rough idea about what to expect.

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    You might note that this may move the plan to read Kant in German from "in the near future" to at least "in 2016" unless OP is either very talented at learning languages or plans to invest a lot of time and energy. OP will need a good understanding of the language, otherwise the finer distinctions of Kant's work will be lost - somewhat defeating the original purpose. (cont.)
    – Stephie
    May 13, 2015 at 8:38
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    We've had some extensive discussion on the finer meaning of various expressions like this and this used by Nietzsche in the past. Where native speakers have to dig through the deeper meanings, a beginner is bound to fail. (Reading the German original and a good translation in parallel might be worth a try, though.)
    – Stephie
    May 13, 2015 at 8:39
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    @Stephie I think the last paragraph expresses decently the requirement of time to learn the German language at that level of understanding. I am aware of the difficulties of reading the Königsberger in original (as a non-native speaker myself) and I perhaps should have put more emphasis on it. Thank you for the addendum!
    – eslukas
    May 13, 2015 at 8:49
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    Oh, good edit! Now I can safely discard my half-written (perhaps slightly sarcastic, aehm) answer on why reading the original text is better but not always feasible. (You probably kept me from sticking my foot into my mouth... thanks!) Happy to upvote now!
    – Stephie
    May 13, 2015 at 9:06
  • +1 for " Nietzsche in the original is a bliss."
    – c.p.
    May 13, 2015 at 10:15

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