Königsberg and Leipzig: Johannn Friederich Petersen, 1755.
1st Edition. Hardcover. Very Good. Item #003868
8vo (172 x 104 mm). , vi, , 200 pp., including section title A4 to first part (misbound before the general title a1), woodcut initials, head- and tailpieces. Signatures: a-c8 d4, A4 2A8 B-M8 N4. Contemporary half-calf over sprinkled boards, spine with 5 raised bands, portion of hand-lettered paper label to spine, red-dyed edges, original endpapers (spine heavily worn with chipping and cracking of leather, joints split but cords holding, corners scuffed and bumped, rubbing to boards, paper over boards partly chipped at lower corner and edges). Text with minor even browning and spotting in places, ink marginal to p. 165. Provenance: Rössler (contemporary inscription to first flyleaf); Hartmut Patzke (bookplate to front pastedown dated in pencil 23.10.2012). A very good, untouched copy in original binding. ----
FIRST EDITION, AND OF UTMOST RARITY, of Immanuel Kant's Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, his anonymously published first major work which he wrote while still a tutor on the von Hülsen estate in Gross-Arnsdorf near Königsberg and with which he unsuccessfully applied for a chair at the Albertina after his return to Königsberg in 1755 (Kant did not receive the long-awaited appointment to the chair of logic and metaphysics until 1770 at the 'advanced' age of 46). Kant's important cosmogonical work received little recognition and attention, which certainly had to do with the bankruptcy of his Königsberg publisher at the time of publication. Copies of this first edition are considered sought-after rarities and are almost impossible to find on the market. We have been unable to trace any other copy that has come to auction in the past 50+ years. Our copy is the variant with the correct pagination of the last page (200); the VD18 also knows copies with the incorrect pagination "100".
Kant had read a 1751 review of Thomas Wright's An original theory or new hypothesis of the Universe (1750), and he credited this with inspiring him in writing the Universal Natural History. He answered to the call of the Berlin Academy Prize in 1754 with the argument that the Moon's gravity would eventually cause its tidal locking to coincide with the Earth's rotation. The next year, he expanded this reasoning to the formation and evolution of the Solar System in the Universal Natural History. Within the work Kant quotes Pierre Louis Maupertuis, who discusses six bright celestial objects listed by Edmond Halley, including Andromeda. Most of these are nebulae, but Maupertuis notes that about one-fourth of them are collections of stars - accompanied by white glows which they would be unable to cause on their own. Halley points to light created before the birth of the Sun, while William Derham 'compares them to openings through which shines another immeasurable region and perhaps the fire of heaven.' He also observed that the collections of stars were much more distant than stars observed around them. Johannes Hevelius noted that the bright spots were massive and were flattened by a rotating motion; they are in fact galaxies. Kant's assumption of a multitude of galaxies (which he calls "islands of worlds") formulated here could be proven in the 1920s by Edwin Hubble based on exact measurements.
In his nebular hypothesis, Kant proposes that solar systems are the result of nebulae (interstellar clouds of dust) coalescing into accretion disks and then forming suns and their planets from the forces of attraction and repulsion of matter as formulated by Isaac Newton in his Principia (1687). Kant is the first to put forward the theory that was confirmed not long afterwards, in 1761, by Johann Heinrich Lambert in his Cosmological Letters. Kant also discusses comets, and postulates that the Milky Way is only one of many galaxies. Kant's book ends with an almost mystical expression of appreciation for nature: "In the universal silence of nature and in the calm of the senses the immortal spirit’s hidden faculty of knowledge speaks an ineffable language and gives [us] undeveloped concepts, which are indeed felt, but do not let themselves be described.
"When the i>Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens appeared in 1755, Kant, then in his thirty-first year, was on the threshold of a new career. After serving for a period of nine years as a family tutor, he was about to return to the University of Königsberg as a privatdocent. He probably hoped that his bold and ingenious theory about the origin and evolution of the universe would attract attention and smooth his path towards a professorship. Unfortunately, his publisher, Johann Friedrich Peterson, went bankrupt just at the time the book came off the press. The stock was impounded and hardly any copies of Kant's treatise reached the public. It only became widely known more than fifty-one years later when three separate editions appeared in 1797, 1798 and 1808. An interest in Kant's work may have been sparked by the publication of Laplace's i>Exposition du système du monde in 1796. There are significant differences between Laplace's theory and Kant's, but admirers of the German philosopher were quick to claim that Laplace had borrowed his ideas from Kant. [...] There are two English translations: Hastie (1900), omitting the third part of Kant's treatise which deals with the inhabitants of heavenly bodies; and Jaki (1981), which gives the full text and provides a scholarly introduction and lengthy notes. Hastie's translation is more literary; Jaki's more literal. Whereas Hastie praises Kant for 'appropriating all the mathematical and physical science of his age' (p. xvii), Jaki criticizes him for 'wilful and often confused speculation, not science' (p. 8)" (Shea, p.95). However, Stephen Palmquist argued that Jaki's criticisms are biased and "[a]ll he has shown [...] is that the Allgemeine Naturgeschichte does not meet the rigorous standards of the twentieth-century historian of science" (Palmquist). "Kant's treatise has tended to be celebrated for its anticipations of more recent developments or to be condemned for its lack of scientific rigour. Main discussions are: Ueberweg (1865); Hay (1866); Reuschle (1868); Eberhard (1893; the 34 quarto-pages work out many of the calculations relevant to Kant's hypothesis); Adickes (1924-1925; p. 207: in 1922 only six copies of fhe first edition were known to exist in Germany)" (Shea, p.95). Ultimately, Kant's cosmogony is closer to today's accepted ideas than that of some of his contemporary thinkers, such as Pierre-Simon Laplace. Moreover, Kant's thought in this volume is strongly influenced by the atomist theory, in addition to the ideas of Lucretius.
Literature & References: VD18 1388719X; Warda No. 4, (A. Warda, Die Druckschriften Immanuel Kants (bis zum Jahre 1838), 1919, p.12); Gerd Irrlitz, Kant-Handbuch, 2015, pp. 79-82; Erich Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher, Vol. 2, 1924, pp. 206-315; William R. Shea, FILLED WITH WONDER: Kant's Cosmological Essay, the Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens. In: R. E. Butls (ed.), Kant's Philosophy of Physical Science, 1986, D. Reidel Publishing Co., pp. 95-124; F. Ueberweg, Ueber Kants 'Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels'. In: Altpreussiche Monatsschrift 2, 1865, 339–353; K. G. Reuschle, Kant und die Naturwissenschaft, mit besonderer Rücksicht auf neuere Forschungen. In: Deutsche Vierteljahrs-Schrift (Stuttgart), 31/2, 1868, 50–102; G. Eberhard, Die Cosmogonie von Kant, Vienna, 1893; E. Hay, Ueber Kants Kosmogonie. In: Altpreussiche Monatsschrift 3, 1866, pp. 312–322; S. L. Jaki, Planets and Planetarians. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978; W. Hastie, Kant’s Cosmogony. Glasgow: James Maclehose & Sons, 1900; S. Palmquist, Kant's Cosmogony Re-Evaluated, In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 18:3 (September 1987), pp. 255–269.
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