PROFILE - Nurettin Topcu: A man dedicated to ethics, teaching

Turkey commemorates renowned philosopher 44 years after his death

Zehra Nur Düz   | 10.07.2019
PROFILE - Nurettin Topcu: A man dedicated to ethics, teaching


Nurettin Topcu, one of the most important Turkish philosophers of the 20th century, is being commemorated Wednesday on the 44th anniversary of his death.

Born on Nov. 20, 1909 in Istanbul’s historical Suleymaniye district, Topcu is known for his "philosophy of action" which depends on the "ethics of revolt".

Spending his childhood in Istanbul, Topcu became interested in philosophy during his high school years.

After graduating from Istanbul High School, he received a scholarship and went to Paris, France in 1928 to study Western philosophy.

Besides philosophy, he studied ethics, psychology, philosophy of art, history, logic, sociology and archeology during his six-year education in France.

He also received a bachelor's degree in art history at the University of Strasbourg.

Topcu graduated from Lycée de Bordeaux and Strasbourg University before pursuing a PhD at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Outstanding success

In 1934, he defended his PhD dissertation titled "Conformisme et Révolte" (Conformism and Revolt), a prominent work in the field of the philosophy of ethics, at Sorbonne University by achieving outstanding success.

Topcu was the first Turk to study ethics in Europe and receive a PhD in the discipline of philosophy at Sorbonne.

Although the Sorbonne university administration awarded him a gold watch and travel to America for his successful work, he did not accept this.

Instead, he asked that the Turkish flag be displayed in the entrance and exit towers of the university for 24 hours.

Topcu's request was met by the university administration.

In Paris, Topcu met some Turkish intellectuals, including Ziyaeddin Fahri Findikoglu, Remzi Oguz Arik, Samet Agaoglu, Omer Lutfi Barkan and Besim Darkot, who were major figures and had an influence on his philosophy.

However, Turkish influences on Topcu were not as strong as that of Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), a French philosopher whose most influential work is "L'Action".

Return to Turkey 

After completing his dissertation, he received offers to stay in France but rejected them and returned to Turkey in the summer of 1934.

Unfortunately, he was not allowed to teach at a Turkish university due to his ideas, even though he had received his PhD at Sorbonne University.

After his return, Topcu met Abdulaziz Bekkine (1895-1952), a charismatic leader of the Naqshbandiyya order in Turkey.

Bekkine is said to have had a great influence in shaping Topcu's philosophy.

Meanwhile, Topcu was teaching philosophy at Galatasaray High School.

He was exiled to various schools in Aegean Izmir, Denizli and Istanbul provinces several times due to his writings.

Ten years of exile ended with Topcu’s transfer to Istanbul Boys' High School on Oct. 4, 1944, where he taught for 18 years until his retirement.

New school of thought

Inspired by Blondel’s “philosophy of action”, Topcu started to publish the journal of Hareket (Action) in February 1939 while he was teaching philosophy at Izmir High School.

Topcu introduced the “philosophy of action” to Turkish readers and created a new school of thought in Turkey.

He taught history, psychology, philosophy, psychology of religion and history of religions at Istanbul’s Robert College and at Istanbul Religious Vocational High School and gave lectures on ethics at Istanbul University.

He died on July 10, 1975 after a short illness.


Topcu wrote articles in various fields, including education, ethics, politics, philosophy and science.

His PhD dissertation titled "Conformisme et Révolte" was translated into Turkish in 1995 under the title "Isyan Ahlaki" (Ethics of Revolt).

Mehmet Akif (1873-1936)(1957), Turkiye’nin Maarif Davasi (1960, 1997), Yarinki Turkiye (1961, 1997), Buyuk Fetih (1962, 1998), Iradenin Davasi (1968, 1998) and Var Olmak (1965, 1997) are among Topcu’s prominent works.

Topcu's articles have been published in various journals including Hareket, Buyuk Dogu, Sebilurresad and Son Havadis.

Topcu was among the winners of Turkey’s 2017 Presidential Culture and Arts Grand Awards.

He posthumously received the Vefa (Loyalty) award.

The awards are annual prizes that have been awarded by Turkish presidents since 1995.

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