Besir Fuad (1852-1887) and the Introduction of Philosophical Materialism into the Ottoman Intellectual Life


On 5 February 1887, around nine o'clock at night, Besir Fuad, a former officer in the Ottoman army and an important Turkish intellectual who had contributed significantly to the debates about science and literature in the late Ottoman period, committed suicide in the private study of his house in Istanbul. Before committing suicide, he wrote letters to his friends, explaining the reasons for his action, as well as a brief note to the police, informing them that his death was a well-planned suicide and that they should not further bother his wife with a criminal investigation. Moreover, he decided to turn his suicide into a scientific experiment, and after injecting cocaine into his left arm and carefully cutting his veins in four different places with a razor, he calmly wrote on a sheet of paper about the effects of bleeding on the body and the feeling and sensation of death that it induced. Diverging significantly from the first generation of Tanzimat-era Ottoman intellectuals who also advocated the study of western science but justified their positions by explicitly or implicitly referring to the Islamic tradition, Besir Fuad never used any religious arguments whatsoever to justify his position on science. In Besir Fuad, we also see, for the first time, an Ottoman intellectual who consciously referred to the writings of German vulgar materialists, especially Ludwig Büchner (1824-1899), in order to elevate science to an almost metaphysical level, believing that science was the ultimate arbiter of "œtruth" in human life. For this reason alone, his works are worth studying. In fact, I argue that Besir Fuad was the true founder of Ottoman materialism, which would subsequently become the preferred philosophy of a significant number of influential Ottoman intellectuals and statesmen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not to mention the founders of the future Turkish Republic. Therefore, his works and ideas are crucial to understand not only the intellectual currents of the late Ottoman and early Republican periods but also the early Republicans' rather uncompromising political attitude against religion. This paper discusses Fuad's life and major works. Relying on primary sources, I explain BeÅŸir Fuad 's philosophical materialism and put them in the context of nineteenth-century Ottoman intellectual life. Finally, I expand on BeÅŸir Fuad's literary ideas and his hard-headed defense of literary realism.



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