The name of Abraham Gotthelf Kaestner is today familiar only to a few scholars, except perhaps in Göttingen where he spent the last 46 years of his life (1719-1800) as professor of mathematics and where his memory was honored, immediately after his death, with a marble bust.1 In his lifetime his name was on the lips of everybody in German academic circles, professors as well as students. The latter flocked to him from afar and for good reasons. It was Kaestner who raised in Germany the teaching of mathematics to a level far above to the elementary niveau which is the staple feature of Christian Wolff’s once famed textbooks. Kaestner, an avid student of Gottsched, who in the 1730s began to reshape German language, presented even the most abstract topics with elegance and clarity. In addition to being an excellent teacher, he had an eye on occasion for real depths, as shown by his postscript to the dissertation (1763) of his student, G. S. Klügel, who surveyed 30 purported proofs of Euclid’s parallel postulate. Kaestner himself tried, in vain, to construct one such proof.2 His interest in the topic did not, however, fail to produce fruits indirectly. Bolyai’s father was a student of Kaestner and so was J. M. C. Bartels, who had later, at the University of Kazan, Lobatchevsky as one of his students. Gauss, the third great personality in this connection, provided a less flattering reflection on Kaestner. While a student at Göttingen, Gauss avoided Kaestner’s lectures as being too elementary. In Gauss’ eyes, Kaestner was “the greatest mathematician among poets of his times and the greatest poet among mathematicians of the same times.”3


Planetary System Planetary Orbit Double Star Singular Thought Darwinian Revolution 
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References and Notes

  1. 1.
    Concerning biographical details about Kaestner, see Ailgemeine Deutsche Biographie ,Vol. XV, Neudruck (Duncker and Humblot, Berlin, 1969), pp. 439–451.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See “Kaestner, Abraham Gotthelf,” by G. Goe in Dictionary of Scientific Biography ,Vol. VII (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1973), pp. 206–207.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Vol. XV, p. 446. Gauss was, of course too much of a genius to profit of Kaestner’s lectures, however above the average. In fairness to Kaestner, the mathematician, it should be recalled that the physician-astronomer Wilhelm Olbers credited his no small expertise in celestial dynamics to his having attended Kaestner’s lectures in the late 1770s.Google Scholar
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    See H. Heine, Germany, translated by C. G. Leland (John W. Lovell, New York, 1892), Vol. 1, p. 140.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Quoted in “Kaestner” by C. M. P. in Biographie universelle ,ancienne et moderne ,Vol. 21 (chez Madame C. Desplaces, Paris, [1860]), p. 387.Google Scholar
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    As may be gathered from E. G. Forbes’ Introduction to Tobias Mayer’s Opera inedita: The First English Translation of the Lichtenberg Edition of 177S (Macmillan, London, 1971).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The Scientific Papers of Sir William Herschel ,J. L. E. Dreyer, editor (Royal Society, London, 1912), Vol. I, p. 223. Significantly this remark of Herschel is in one of his epoch-making papers, “On the Construction of the Heavens.”Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    With the subtitle, oder Gesammlete Schriften zum Unterricht und Vergnügen aus der Naturforschung und der angenehmen Wissenschañen. Publication began in 1747. The contents of the first 26 volumes (1747–1763) are tabulated in a massively meticulous Dreyfaches Universal Register und Repertorium.Google Scholar
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    Band X, Stück 2, pp. 151–80. The review, signed by the letters A. G. K., is explicitly attributed to Kaestner in the Register and will be referred to as Longer Review.Google Scholar
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    Fasciculus quintus, seu Anni MDCCLIII [1753] qui reiationum secundus est primus (Gottingae Vid. Abr. Vandenhoekii Bibliog. Acad.), pp. 49–60; quoted as Shorter Review. About Kaestner’s authorship of the unsigned review the prime evidence is the listing of nebulae, double stars, and novae, practically identical with the list in the longer review. Another, more circumstantial piece of evidence will be noted later.Google Scholar
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    The work is available in a facsimile reprint which includes the first publication of Wright’s A Theory of the Universe (1734) and an introduction and notes by M. A. Hoskin (Macdonald, London, 1971).Google Scholar
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    For a full text of that review, see F. Krafft, Immanuel Kant: Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und Theorie des Himmels ,mit einem wissenschafthistorischen Nachwort (Kindler Verlag, Munich, 1971), pp. 200–211.Google Scholar
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    In my translation, with introduction and notes, of Kant’s cosmogonical work, Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1981), p. 222.Google Scholar
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    Kaestner’s reference is not exact. He must have had in mind the report of Cassini and de la Hire which they read before the Académie des Sciences on June 30, 1692, on their observations of the passage of Mars across the “nebulous” star in Cancer, the previous May. The text of their report, printed in Mémoires de l`Académie Royale des Sciences. Depuis 1666 jusqu’à 1699. Tome X (par la Compagnie des Libraires, Paris, 1730), pp. 115–118, is followed by a foldout engraving of the position of some 40 stars of the Crib set against a scale determined by micrometer. Cassini and de la Hire also made the remark (p. 118) that Galileo’s drawing was so inexact as to make impossible its identification with the actual grouping of stars forming the Crib.Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 160.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See on this, Chaps. 4 and 5, “Galilean Myopia” and “Newtonian Distraction,” in my The Milky Way: An Elusive Road for Science (New York: Science History Publications, 1972).Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 161.Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, pp. 161–62.Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 163.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Wright was, of course, wrong on several points, of which the chief was his belief in the correctness of the spherical shell model, a main reason why the chapter dealing with Wright in my The Milky Way was given the title, “Wright’s Wrong.” The other principal reason for this lies in the fact that Wright, a decade or so after the publication of his OriginaJ Theory ,reverted to a quasi-Aristotelian explanation of the Milky Way. The evidence for this latter point became public in 1968 with the publication, with an introduction and notes, by M. A. Hoskin of Wright’s manuscript, Second or Singular Thoughts upon the Theory of the Universe (The Dawsons of Pall Mall, London).Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 164.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Longer Review, pp. 168–171.Google Scholar
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    Concerning this point, see Illustration V in my The Milky Way.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Actually, instead of speaking of stars within a spherical shell, Kaestner rendered Wright’s idea as stars fixed on a rotating sphere! See Longer Review, p. 170.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Longer Review, p. 171.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Longer Review, p. 171.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Longer Review, p. 172. It seems that Kaestner looked somewhat askance at England and Englishmen. In the Shorter Review he took to task Wright for not giving appropriate justice to the German (!) Kepler’s contributions and added: “What measure of truth would be contained in the science of astronomy if of the two Germans (because the Prussian [Copernicus] may rightly be counted among the Germans) one had not drawn up the true system of the world, and the other [Kepler] had not explained, with a genius not inferior to Newton, the planetary orbits” (p. 50),Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    This is obviously a printing error in Kaestner’s review. Wright speaks of the comet of 1680.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Longer Review, p. 174.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Actually what Fontenelle stated was that, in accordance with his advocacy of Descartes’s system, comets were planets transferred from one planetary system into another. See the Fifth Evening in his Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686).Google Scholar
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    For a critical review of these theories, see Chap. 4, “Convenient Collisions,” in my Planets and Planetarians: A History of Theories o ( the Origin of Planetary Systems (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, 1978).Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 175.Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 176.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Longer Review, pp. 179–180.Google Scholar
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    Longer Review, p. 180.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Moreover, it was the unexpected reluctance of a staff writer of the Times to do the review that provided Huxley with the opportunity. See G. Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (W. W. Norton, New York, 1962), p. 264.Google Scholar
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    See E. J. Aiton, The Vortex Theory of Planetary Motions (Macdonald, London, 1972), p. 114.Google Scholar
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    The most forceful intimation of the relevance of Butler’s criticism of Darwinian theory was provided, incidentally, in a review by James Gray, professor of zoology at Cambridge, of J. Huxley’s Evolution in Action: “No amount of argument, or clever epigram, can disguise the inherent improbability of orthodox [Darwinian] theory; but most biologists feel it is better to think in terms of improbable events than not to think at all; there will always be a few who feel in their bones a sneaking sympathy with Samuel Butler’s scepticism.” Nature 174, (1954), p. 279.Google Scholar
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    The realization came only with d’Alembert and Maupertuis, who in fact blamed in the 1740s French infatuation with Descartes for the backwardness of physics in France.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    An often quoted Popperian phrase which owed its apparent originality to the temporary discredit which Comtean, Machist, and logical positivists succeeded in grafting on the science of cosmology. For details, see my Gifford Lectures, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    For details, see my translation, with introduction and notes, of J. H. Lambert, Cosmoiogical Letters on the Arrangement of the World-Edifice (Science History Publications, New York, 1976), pp. 7–8.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    See Ref. 41, p. 25, and The Milky Way ,pp. 199–200 for a translation of the passage in question.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    In the July 1751 issue, Vol. 21, pp. 315–317. For a discussion of its contents, see The Milky Way ,pp. 195–196.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    A circumstance all the more interesting because Herschel owed a copy of Wright’s Original Theory. For details, see M. A. Hoskin, William Herschel and the Construction of the Heavens (W. W. Norton, New York, 1964), pp. 115–116.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    I submit here that S. L. stood for Smart Lethieullier, a claim which will be supported by documentation elsewhere.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    In his “Kant as a Natural Philosopher” [American Journal of Science 5, (1898), p. 97] G. F. Becker quotes this statement as having been made in 1882 by “a well known historian of astronomy.”Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    He did so in 1749. For details, see my translation, Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens ,p. 224.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    The coming into popularity of Kant’s cosmogonical book from the 1850s on was due to the rise of German nationalism, to the popularity of Darwinian evolutionism, of Haeckelian monism, and last but not least, to Marxist scientism as formulated by Engels. For details, see Ref. 13, pp. 51–60.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stanley L. Jaki
    • 1
  1. 1.Seton Hall UniversitySouth OrangeUSA

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