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Physiognomy (ʿilm-i firāsat) and Ottoman Statecraft: Discerning Morality and Justice

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In the tenth/sixteenth century six treatises on physiognomy (ʿilm-i firāsat)—a science widely considered able to predict inner moral dispositions (aḫlāq-i bāṭina) based on external appearances (aḥwāl-i ẓāhira)—were written for the Ottoman court. In a world in which statecraft and politics were ultimately based on questions of morality (aḫlāq), physiognomy was presented as a particularly useful skill for the Ottoman court due to its ability to evaluate inner moral character with scientific precision. Based on such knowledge, a partial conception of justice could be implemented with an instrumental coating of impartiality. Moreover, men with prized moral qualities could be selected for the ruling elite. The science also offered the sultan and his court a modus operandi for attaining self-knowledge and, if combined with moral self-disciplining (riyāḍat), a way to acquire divine characteristics.Au dixième/seizième siècle, six traités de physiognomonie (ʿilm-i firāsat)—une science largement considérée comme capable de prédire les dispositions morales intérieures (aḫlāq-i bāṭina), fondée sur les aspects externes (aḥwāl-i ẓāhira)—furent composés à destination de la cour ottomane. Dans un monde où l’état et la politique s’appuyaient en premier lieu sur des questions de morale (aḫlāq), la physiognomonie se présentait comme une compétence particulièrement utile à la cour ottomane en raison de sa capacité à déterminer le caractère moral intérieur avec une précision scientifique. À partir d’une telle connaissance, une conception partiale de la justice pouvait être appliquée avec un vernis technique d’impartialité. En outre, des hommes possédant des qualités morales appréciées pouvaient être choisis auprès de l’élite dirigeante. La science offrait également au sultan et à sa cour un modus operandi pour atteindre la connaissance de soi et, si elle était combinée avec une autodiscipline morale (riyāḍat), un moyen d’acquérir des caractéristiques de l’ordre du divin.This article is in English.

Affiliations: 1: University of Chicago


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