Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Influential Figures

Rate this topic


LaszloWalrus
 Share

Recommended Posts

I read a book called The 100 which listed who the author (Michael Hart) thought were the one-hundred most influential people in history. I won't reproduce the list because I think it's illegal to do so.

Whom do you believe to be the most influential people in history?

Here's my ranking (my top 25):

1) Aristotle

2) Jesus

3) Muhammad

4) Isaac Newton

5) Plato

6) St. Paul

7) Buddha

8) Euclid

9) Cai Lun

10) Johann Gutenberg

11) Louis Pasteur

12) Galileo Galilei

13) Christopher Columbus

14) Nicolaus Copernicus

15) Confucius

16) Immanuel Kant

17) Shi Huangti

18) Augustus Caesar

19) Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

20) James Watt

21) Michael Faraday

22) James Clerk Maxwell

23) St. Constantine

24) Martin Luther

25) George Washington

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think it would be illegal to reproduce a list of names. Unless you reproduced the actual printed page(s).

BTW, add Ben Franklin to your list. He was one of the first people to make a practical application out of a scientific discovery. He discovered that the electricity in lightning was exactly the same as electricity produced by any other means (tha famous kite experiment). It occured to him then that a rod of metal, properly grounded, would avert the danger of lightning strikes. So he developed the lightning rod.

In earlier times scence was seen as an abstract pursuit, to be engaged in for its own sake. The idea that it had, or could lead to, practical aplications, was not self-evident. Franklin, among others, changed that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't think it would be illegal to reproduce a list of names. Unless you reproduced the actual printed page(s).
Right. The names cannot be copyrighted, nor can the underlying idea (the particular ranking), only the specific expression (which would include such things as his argument for a particular ranking). There's something about this notion of "influential" that's hard to get a grip on. On the one hand I wouldn't say that Cai Lun was "influential", but on the other hand I would say that paper is important. In including Plato, Buddha, Muhammad, Kant, this rightly acknowledges that these people did things that had long-lasting and/or wide-ranging impact, even if it is not wholely (or largely) positive. That being the case, besides Franklin I would add the following (unordered) list:

Usama bin Laden, Hitler, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Chinghis Khan, Alexander, Salah uddin Ayubi, Julius Caesar, William I, Henry VIII, Pizarro, Cortez, Herodotus, Peter Minuit, Einstein, Chuck Darwin, Eli Whitney, Sam Colt, Hank Ford, Bill Shockley, Thomas Acquinas, Descartes, Locke and Knudt Knudsen.

Then it would be interesting to put the lists together and see what impact that had on selecting a top-25. What makes this kind of project very difficult is that it's extremely difficult to measure "impact".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had some trouble limiting it to a top twenty-five. I would include some of the figures you mentioned if I were to extend the list. Genghis Khan would certainly be in the top fifty, in my view, as would Marx, Alexander, Thomas Aquina, Locke, Descartes, Hitler, and Einstein. I would include Mao, Lenin and Pizarro, William I, Ford, and Julius Caesar in the top hundred, but not in the top fifty.

I have to disagree with Usama bin Laden; I agree he is a very important figure in history, but I can't see putting him in the top twenty-five, much less the top hundred. Will he be remembered even 1,000 years from now? Maybe, but it's doubtful in my view.

Einstein was tough one for me. While will be (and has been) enormous, I still don't think he's been quite as influential as the people I've listed.

Darwin was tough as well. If we grant him single-handed credit for discovering evolution, then he would no doubt be in the top twenty. However, Wallace discovered basically the same principle at the same time; therefore, at most, in my view, Darwin sped up history; he did not alter it's course.

As to Cortez, I think the same principle applies. Without him, I find it still highly likely that the Spanish would have conquered Mexico.

Likwise, I believe that the (major) achievements of Peter Minuit, Benjamin Franklin, Saladin, Shockley, and Whitney would have been accomplished soon anyway even had those particular people never lived.

I have not included Herodotus (or any other historian, literary or artistic figure) because I do not believe that any single figure in those pursuits has nearly the magnitude of influence that an equivalent scientist, philosopher, or military leader has.

I think you're underestimating the importance of Cai Lun. Had he never lived, the invention of paper could possibly have taken thousands more years. Paper was not at all a natural outgrowth of currently available technology. The Arabs had to learn how to make it form the Chinese, and the Europeans had to learn from the Arabs. Paper was far more practicle (and cheap) than the parchment or vellum people wrote on before, and it's existence made possible Gutenberg's invetions.

Sorry for the length of this post, but I find this discussion/debate fascinating.

Here's Hart's top twenty (I'll reproduce the top hundred if anyone asks for it):

1)Muhammad

2)Isaac Newton

3)Jesus

4)Buddha

5)Confucius

6)St. Paul

7)Cai Lun

8)Johann Gutenberg

9)Christopher Columbus

10)Albert Einstein

11)Louis Pasteur

12)Galileo Galilei

13)Aristotle

14)Euclid

15)Moses

(as an aside, I did not include Moses in my list because it's doubtful that he existed, or that he really did anything, in my view)

16) Charles Darwin

17)Shi Huangti

18)Augustus Caesar

19)Nicolaus Copernicus

20)Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As to Cortez, I think the same principle applies. Without him, I find it still highly likely that the Spanish would have conquered Mexico.

No doubt. However, when contemplating a list of the most influential people, the consideration is what the person did and how that influenced subsequent developments, not whether anyone else might ahve done the same thing at around the same time.

That aside, I think the influential one in this particular aspect is Columbus. He discovered the continent Cortez, Pizarro and the rest went on to conquer.

Likwise, I believe that the (major) achievements of Peter Minuit, Benjamin Franklin, Saladin, Shockley, and Whitney would have been accomplished soon anyway even had those particular people never lived.

On Whitney, I have to ask what you're considering him for. If it is the cotton gin, I agree. But he also invented standarization in industrial practices. In other words, he invented efficient, economical mass production. Certainly the introduction of standardized, interchangeable parts had a tremendous influence in the world. There was nothing comparable in importance until Henry Ford invented the production line.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm. Maybe Whitney should belong (I honesty do not know that much about him). I would say that he probably shouldn't belong in the top fifty, however.

I disagree that in measuring influence, we should look at what the person actually did; we should look at what the person did and whether or not someone else would have done it without him. This does not detract from the persons greatness or ability, just his influence.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I disagree that in measuring influence, we should look at what the person actually did; we should look at what the person did and whether or not someone else would have done it without him. This does not detract from the persons greatness or ability, just his influence.
I don't see how that has any bearing on influence. If you were looking for, say, the most innovative people, that would be relevant, but influence is not about "and nobody else could have done it". Anyhow, by that token, we could strike Plato, St. Paul, Buddha, Johann Gutenberg, Louis Pasteur, Christopher Columbus, James Clerk Maxwell, Martin Luther and George Washington from the list, and no doubt others.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I disagree that in measuring influence, we should look at what the person actually did; we should look at what the person did and whether or not someone else would have done it without him. This does not detract from the persons greatness or ability, just his influence.

On the one hand, your approach requires to estmate the probaility that someone else would have done what the actual person did, and how that hypothetical someone else would have gone about it.

On the other hand, one way to measure a person's influence consists in asking the question "What would things have been like if this person had not exited?"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think your list is too biased towards philosophers and other intellectuals, rather than leaders and politicians (no Napolean or Alexander?). It also seems to be largely 'good' people rather than people who had significant negative effects (Ghengis Khan comes to mind).

My historical knowledge is fairly lacking so I dont have much faith in this list, but I'd tentatively suggest (in no particular order).

Jesus

Paul

Napolean

Plato

Mohammed

Alexander

Julius Ceaser (dont know much about the Romans so I pretty much picked him at random)

Aristotle

Euclid

Queen Victoria

Hitler (althuogh his importance is probably overstated just because he was 'recent' - I dont think WW2 had much effect on history compared to (eg) the conquests of Alexander or the Mongols. he did kill a few million people, but I doubt many people will care about that 500 years from now, just like most people today dont care about the millions killed by the Mongols. Now if Germany had won WW2, then _that_ would have probably changed history).

Newton

Einstein

Hegel

Ghengis Khan

Hulagu Khan (the destruction of Baghdad in the 13th century is perhaps one of the biggest 5 events in terms of the effect on history')

Galileo

Washington

Martin Luther

Ramesses II (dont know much about him, but felt I needed a token Egyptian).

I've deliberately made this a 'most influential in the West' list since I dont know anything about Eastern history. My list is also far too biased towards the modern world and Greece, but thats because this is what I know most about. I think a more educated list would have people like Wittgenstein and Hitler replaced with (eg) Egyptians/Arabs/Bablyonians/etc. I think my list is also too focused on intellectuals, but thats because I'm far more familiar with intellectual history than I am with political history, which I dont really know that much about. Im also being incredibly biased against artists by not including Goethe, Beethoven or Shakespeare.

I'm leaving out most inventors on the ground that even if they didnt invent whatever they did, someone else probably would have done it anyway. I assume that if Gutenberg hadnt been born for instance, the printing press would still have been invented within 100 years - it was just too good an idea to not happen. To be honest you can omit a lot of great scientists for similar reasons (Darwin?) - in many cases the scientific community was groping towards their theories and they just happened to be the ones who got there first (eg Leibniz developing calculus independently of Newton). However in the case of Einstein and Galileo their work was just such a massive conceptual revolution that you cant automatically assume this (someone else would probably have created special relativity since a lot of the groundwork was in place anyway (eg the Lorentz transformation), but its not obvious that anyone else could have been able to create general relativity). Also, I'm not sure about Euclid - he didnt actually contribute much to mathematics in terms of new results and Gauss is far moe deserving, but the structure of the Elements has provided the archetypical model for what 'math' should look like ever since.

My list also leans heavily on Christianity - Jesus, Paul and Martin Luther are all Christian thinkers, and the only reason I include Plato is because neo-Platonism provided the grounds for Christian beliefs (I think his actual philosophy is vastly overrated in terms of importance). But then, I think Christianity was the single most influential movement in known history.

edit: the more I think about it, the more I feel compelled to include Hegel. I'll be honest and swap him with Wittgenstein who I had on the list previously.

Edited by Hal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

But all men, even Socrates, are mortal :D .

I hear science is working on that problem...

BTW this thread has me thinking about the printing press. Coins have existed for a long time, at leat as far back as ancient Greece. Does anyone know how coins were made in Greece and Rome? I should think the esentials of the process are the same as now: you create a die with an inverse picture of the face for the coin, and use it to strike a gold or silver disk.

If this is the case, why dind't anyone think of the printing press until Gutenberg? The principle is the same.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On the other hand, one way to measure a person's influence consists in asking the question "What would things have been like if this person had not exited?"
But its so hard to do that! Theres just too many variables to consider. For example, what if Winston Churchill had never been born? Would Britain have surrendered to Germany, and would they have won WW2 as a result? And what sort of effect would that have had on history? It seems to me that this would have been one of the most important things to ever happen, but I dont want to say that Churchill was one of the 20 most important historical figures because of this.

How about if that commander of the nuclear submarine who possibly averted a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union had never existed, and it was someone else who had been in the sub. Would we today be living in a post-apocalpytical world, and if so, is there a case for including him on the list?

Edited by Hal
Link to comment
Share on other sites

But its so hard to do that! Theres just too many variables to consider. For example, what if Winston Churchill had never been born? Would Britain have surrendered to Germany, and would they have won WW2 as a result? And what sort of effect would that have had on history?

Not a fan of alternate history, I see.

It is very hard, yes. In fact, any results you get can't be checked, confirmed or verified in any way. after all, there are many personal judgements involved in this kind of thing. Usually.

Take the matter of aircraft. A lot of people were working on powered flight. So if the Wright brothers had not existed, the history of aviation would very likely be only slightly different.

Now, churchill is a different matter. I hate to think Britain would have given up. But Churchill did push for defiance and victory to the limits of his ability. The world owes him a massive debt of gratitude for that. What things would have been like without him? That's hard to say. Contemplation of the possibilities is both fascinating and horrifying.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Take the matter of aircraft. A lot of people were working on powered flight. So if the Wright brothers had not existed, the history of aviation would very likely be only slightly different.

Agreed. I recently saw a TV programme where a team of experts recreated the plane of a man called Percy Pilcher, who, had he not died in a freak accident could well have built the first plane four years before the Wright brothers.

I would have put Hannibal near the top of any such list if he had conquered Rome which he could have easily done thus causing mediterranean civilisation to spread through Africa instead of Europe. Instead perhaps Scipio Africanus should replace him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But its so hard to do that! Theres just too many variables to consider. For example, what if Winston Churchill had never been born? Would Britain have surrendered to Germany, and would they have won WW2 as a result?
This is one reason why hypothetical questions about "what would have happened if not..." cannot be answered objectively, unless they are framed in terms of a narrow context. I'm conjecturing, not on the basis of a huge amount of evidence but at least a reasonable amount, that if Churchill hadn't been born, Britain would not have surrendered to Germany (I'm assuming that the only thing we monkey with in this scenario is Churchill). There may well have been some other Brit who would have inspired the population -- let's make up an arbitrary name, like "Anthony Eden". If the general population of Britain were longing for a Germanic invasion and it was only Churchill's inspirational rhetoric that completely shifted the direction of the political winds, then maybe we could say that Churchill was irreplacible. Just as a historical fact, I don't see that. Similarly Martin Luther could have been replaced by John Calvin in the list of "essential" people. Whether or not Aristotle could have been replaced in philosophical importance by Phrastocrates is hard to say because the historical record is sparse (for example, we don't know if there existed a philosopher Phrastocrates). This is why it is invalid to attempt comparison of the "essentiality" of modern and ancient figures.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...