It’s been 82 years since “The Course of Wisdom in Europe” was published –a work that has introduced many Iranians to the world of western philosophy and still continues to fulfill its mission. This work is the groundwork on which modern thinking in Iran was based. It is the first Persian book about the history of western philosophy that surveys western philosophy from its beginning to the author’s modern times. The first volume of this survey book was published in 1931, the second and the third ones in 1939 and 1941 respectively, and was intended for those readers seeking knowledge about philosophy and wisdom. This book, which has been published in 3 volumes and more than 1000 pages, seeks to introduce Iranian readers to western philosophy. Like most books on the history of philosophy, Mohammad Ali Foroughi’s book, too, starts with Thales and ends with Henri Bergson. This book has gained itself a prominent position among experts in the field, but it has also been an object of some criticism.
About the Author Mohammad Ali Foroughi (1877-1942), known as Zoka-ol-Molk, the author of the first Persian book on the history of western philosophy, was a prominent character in Iran. He was a journalist and intellectual who served three times as the Prime Minister of Iran. Upon his father’s request, he started studying medicine at Dar-ul-Funun (House of Sciences), but later changed his major to literature and philosophy, learnt English and French and broadened his horizons through reading literature and philosophy in both foreign languages. He would wake up very early every morning and teach mediaeval history and French in several schools such as Mozaffari, Elmiyeh, Kherad and Siasi. During his time at Siasi school, he was involved in writing a French-Persian dictionary. He was also a member of the Parliament and became minister in several cabinets at some point during his life. At the age of 35 he became speaker of the Parliament. In 1925, along with the overthrow of the Qajar dynasty, he became the bailsman of the Prime Minister and after the departure of Reza Shah Pahlavi from Iran and the country’s occupation by the Allied Forces, he became Iran’s Prime Minister once again. Foroughi’s familiarity with English and French enabled him to publish several books on literature, law and politics and introduce new ideas to Iranians. In two other books, “Elements of the Study of the Wealth of Nations is Political Economy” and “Fundamental Rights Make for Legitimacy of the States”, Foroughi tries to enter new expressions in economics and law into Persian –the same work he did for philosophy expressions in his “The Course of Wisdom in Europe”.
Structure of the Book The first volume of this survey begins with the Pre-Socratics, continues with Greek and mediaeval philosophy, and then gets into more detail with Descartes. Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method” is also translated as an appendix to the survey’s first volume. In the preface of the second edition of the first volume, Foroughi confesses that after translating Descartes’ treatise, he has realized that studying Descartes’ treatise is useless for Iranians without them having a prior knowledge about the “wisdom of Europe”. He claims this lack to be the main reason for his having writen the book. The second volume of the survey is divided into 7 chapters with the following titles: The Views of the French Philosophers in the 17th C., Spinoza, Leibniz, English Philosophers in the 17th C., English Philosophers in the 18th C., French Philosophers in the 18th C. and Kant. The third volume of the survey is divided into 2 sections, one section reviewing the ideas of European sages in the first half of the 19th C., and the other section reviewing their views in the second half of the 19th century.
Significance of the Book “The Course of Wisdom in Europe” is considered to be Iranians’ first encounter with philosophical modernity. This book introduces them to a well-organized and coherent study of ideas in Europe for the first time ever. Foroughi has grasped the significant ideas of the philosophers he surveys and gives great explanations of the expressions. On another note, the book has a fine candid prose. Overall, it is the most prominent endeavor in introducing modern philosophy to Persian speakers. Many of the past intellectuals of Iran started learning about western philosophical ideas by reading this book. Even within 40 years of its publication, some would suggest that this book is one of the major resources for understanding Kant. Foroughi has dedicated 50 pages of his book to Kant. Without a doubt, this book is a good enough source for understanding many other western philosophers too. In introducing Iranians to modern philosophy through his effortless language, Foroughi sought to replace classical philosophy and Aristotelian methods of thinking with modern philosophy. This book can still be a good resource for beginners in western philosophy