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Early enlightenment in Istanbul


This dissertation treats the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730) in the context of the European early enlightenment. Intellectual historians have generally placed the Ottoman Empire outside the Enlightenment movement, while Ottoman historians have viewed the early eighteenth century as a transitional period between the crisis of the seventeenth century and the reformist movements of the late eighteenth century. The research presented in this work seeks to call these interpretations into question and suggests that the defining features of Ahmed III's regime were similar to those of the early enlightenment : cosmopolitanism, sociability, religious tolerance and, the valorization of philosophy and of social mobility. It was in this enlightened atmosphere that natural philosophy became a contested space where different parties negotiated their new social status: What was the function of natural philosophy? Who could legitimately speak about nature? The Greek commercial elite argued that the Aristotelian universe was an orderly whole and claimed that the rational contemplation of natural order engendered virtue. And virtue legitimized social status. Ottoman physicians, a second group aspiring to high office, contended that their empirical philosophy was superior to Aristotelianism. They believed that their innovative approach to nature was the right one because it yielded effective results. It was experience and effectiveness that entitled them to social and political recognition. Thus, moral virtue and technical expertise became competing values that represented different upwardly mobile groups in Ahmed III's Istanbul. The Ottomans had no experimentalist tradition that could accommodate both logical methods and novel empirical knowledge. A young Ottoman bureaucrat, a Socinian convert to Islam and a Polish Pietist finally presented systematic experimentation as a possible solution to the Empire's social and epistemic problems. Their goal was to reconcile the two competing views of nature and to cultivate solidarity among the new elite. The Ottoman imperial printing press, which was established in 1729, served to disseminate the new experimental knowledge. The founding documents of the press drew an explicit connection between knowledge and political power, and showed that the Sultan intended to offer widespread access to both

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