Human Accomplishment

Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950 is a book by Charles Murray surveying outstanding contributions to the arts and sciences from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century. The book represents the first attempt to quantify the accomplishment of individuals and countries worldwide in the fields of arts and sciences by calculating the amount of space allocated to them in reference works, an area of research sometimes referred to as historiometry. Murray found that nearly all scientific progress, and all important scientific and artistic ideas, were made by white Europeans or their descendants (such as white Americans, Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders).

Charles Murray is a controversial American political scientist most widely known as the co-author (with Richard Herrnstein) of The Bell Curve in 1994, exploring the role of intelligence in American life, and for his influential work on welfare reform. HarperCollins published the 668-page book in 2003. This article contains information about the book's content according to a review by Denis Dutton, a philosophy teacher at the University of Canterbury and founder of the Arts & Letters Daily website.

According to Dutton, Murray demonstrates that world progress in the arts and sciences had declined, especially since around 1800. This is true, says Dutton, despite the fact that "wealth, cities and their cultural endowments, communication, and political freedom have...improved in recent centuries."

Furthermore, in his review, Dutton cites four conditions that Murray writes are necessary for people's work to reach their full potential of excellence. Achievement is best stimulated in a culture

  1. " which the most talented people believe that life has a purpose and that the function of life is to fulfill that purpose." Moreover, Murray writes: "Human beings have been most magnificently productive and reached their highest cultural peaks in the times and places where humans have thought most deeply about their place in the universe and been most convinced they have one."
  2. that "encourages the belief that individuals can act efficaciously as individuals."
  3. where organizing structures are rich and old. Dutton, in his review, does not directly define an organizing structure, but he does say it can include "theories, styles, and techniques...such as the spectroscope in physics or the grand piano in music".
  4. where people have "a well-articulated vision of, and use of, the transcendental good relevant to that domain." Such a good, according to Dutton, can include truth, morality, or beauty.

Murray explains his assertion that the West produced almost all scientific progress by reference to Christianity's - i.e. the thomist - emphasis on human intelligence as a gift from God.

Index scores

Murray ranks the greats in several fields of human accomplishment from 800 BC to 1950. In each field Murray identifies a number of sources providing information about the leading figures in the field. The rankings are made from information in these sources. First the number of sources is cut down by requiring that a large set of the leading figures in the field is included. Secondly the number of mathematicians is cut down by requiring that leading figures occurs in at least half the sources.

Then a raw score is determined based on how much attention they get. Then these raw scores are normalized so that the lowest score is 1 and the highest score is 100. The resulting scores are called "Index Scores".

The categories of human accomplishment where significant figures are ranked in the book are as follows: Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Physics, Mathematics, Medicine, Technology, Combined Sciences, Chinese Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Western Philosophy, Western Music, Chinese Painting, Japanese Art, Western Art, Arabic Literature, Chinese Literature, Indian Literature, Japanese Literature, and Western Literature. The omission of several relative categories, including a broader Chinese art category or an Indian art category, are due to a lack of identifiable figures as most of the work is anonymous.

The following are some examples of the rankings found for individual categories.

Mathematics Index score
Euler 100
Newton 89
Euclid 83
Gauss 81
Fermat 72
Leibniz 72
Descartes 54
Cantor 50
Pascal 47
Riemann 47
Hilbert 40
Bernoulli 40
Diophantus 39
Cardano 37
Viete 36
Legendre 36
John Wallis 36
Cauchy 35
Fibonacci 34
Archimedes 33

Western philosophy Index score
Aristotle 100
Plato 87
Kant 74
Descartes 51
Hegel 46
Aquinas 39
John Locke 37
Hume 36
Augustine 30
Spinoza 27
Leibniz 27
Socrates 26
Schopenhauer 24
Berkeley 21
Nietzsche 20
Hobbes 19
Russell 18
Rousseau 17
Plotinus 17
Fichte 17

Physics Index score
Newton 100
Einstein 100
Rutherford 88
Faraday 86
Galileo 83
Cavendish 57
Bohr 52
J.J. Thomson 50
Maxwell 50
P. Curie 47
Kirchhoff 43
Fermi 42
Heisenberg 41
M. Curie 41
Dirac 40
Joule 40
Huygens 39
Gilbert 37
T. Young 37
Hooke 36

Western music Index score
Beethoven 100
Mozart 100
Johann Sebastian Bach 87
Wagner 80
Haydn 56
Handel 46
Stravinsky 45
Debussy 45
Liszt 45
Schubert 44
Schumann 42
Berlioz 41
Schoenberg 39
Brahms 35
Chopin 32
Monteverdi 31
Verdi 30
Mendelssohn 30
Weber 27
Gluck 26

Chinese literature Index score
Du Fu 100
Li Bai 87
Bo Juyi (Bai Juyi) 86
Su Dungpo (Su Shi) 83
Han Yu 80
Qu Yuan 78
Sima Qian 68
Tao Cian (Tao Qian) 68
Ouyang Xiu 61
Yuan Zhen 49
Guan Hanqing 45
Sima Xiangru 41
Liu Xongyuan (Liu Zongyuan) 40
Ban Gu 37
Wang Wi (Wang Wei) 35
Luo Guanzhong 34
Ma Zhiyuan 34
Wang Shifu 34
Song Yu 33
Cao Xueqin 32

Western art Index score
Michelangelo 100
Picasso 77
Raphael 73
Leonardo 61
Titian 60
Dürer 56
Rembrandt 56
Giotto 54
Bernini 53
Cézanne 50
Rubens 49
Caravaggio 43
Velázquez 43
Donatello 42
Van Eyck 42
Goya 41
Monet 41
Masaccio 41
Van Gogh 40
Gauguin 38

Combined sciences Index score
Newton 100
Galileo 89
Aristotle 78
Kepler 53
Lavoisier 51
Descartes 51
Huygens 49
Laplace 48
Einstein 48
Faraday 46
Pasteur 46
Ptolemy 43
Hooke 41
Leibniz 40
Rutherford 40
Euler 39
Darwin 37
Berzelius 36
Euclid 36
Maxwell 35

Western literature Index score
Shakespeare 100
Goethe 81
Dante 62
Virgil 55
Homer 54
Rousseau 48
Voltaire 47
Molière 43
Byron 42
Tolstoy 42
Dostoevsky 41
Petrarch 40
Hugo 40
Schiller 38
Boccaccio 35
Horace 35
Euripides 35
Racine 34
Scott 33
Ibsen 32

Technology Index score
Watt 100
Edison 100
Leonardo da Vinci 60
Huygens 51
Archimedes 51
Marconi 50
Vitruvius 43
John Smeaton 37
Bessemer 34
Newcomen 33
Babbage 33
Siemens 32
Wilkinson 32
Franklin 32
Wheatstone 32
Nobel 32
Faraday 31
Papin 31
Stephenson 30
Morse 30

External links



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