The End of Ottoman Positivism: The Gökalp-al-Husari Debate of 1916

Cambridge University Press


In the midst of World War I, a group of Ottoman scientists published a debate entitled “National Education” in the 1916 issue of the periodical Muallim (The Teacher). The exchange between the sociologist Ziya Gökalp (1876–1924) and the psychologist Satiʾ al-Husari (1882–1968) started out with different agendas for imperial education and culminated with an outburst regarding the definition of modern science. In his conclusive remarks, al-Husari declared: “I consider [his] way of thinking to be a form of metaphysics and mystics that resembles pantheism.” Al-Husari was a positivist who professed the exclusive authority of empirical data over all immaterial evidence acquired through metaphysics and mystical experience. Yet, his opponent was nothing less, and the accusation was all the more provocative because Gökalp believed that his positivist sociology could become the organizing principle of educational reform.