A RANKING OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PERSONS IN HISTORY
"We see, then, how
far the monuments of wit and learning are more durable than the monuments
of power or of hands. For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five
hundred years or more; during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles,
cities, have been decayed and demolished?"
- Francis Bacon, "The Advancement of Learning", 1605.
"It is to him who masters
our minds by the force of truth, and not to those who enslave them by violence,
that we owe our reverence."
- Voltaire, 1726.
Muhammed was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religous and secular levels.
For a while, it must have seemed that the Moslems would overwhelm all of Christian Europe. However, in 732, at the famous Battle of Tours, a Moslem army, which had advanced into the centre of France, was at last defeated by the Franks.
Of many important historical events, one might say that they were inevitable and would have occured even without the particular political leader who guided them. For example, the South American colonies would probably have won their independence from Spain even if Simon Bolivar had never lived.
2. Isaac Newton
"Nature and Nature's
laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light."
- Alexander Pope
"Let mortals rejoice
that so great an ornament to the human race has existed!"
- Inscription on Newton's tomb
"If I have seen further than other men, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants."
Even though political
changes are significant, it is fair to say that most people in the world
were living the same way 500 years after Alexander the Great's death as
their forebears had lived five centuries before his time. Similarly, in
most of their daily activities, the majority of human beings were living
in the same way in 1500 AD as human beings had been living in 1500 BC.
In the last five centuries, however, with the rise of modern science, the
everyday life of most human beings has been completely revolutionized.
We dress differently, eat different foods, work at different jobs, and
spend out leisure time a great deal differently than people did in 1500
AD. Scientific discoveries have not only revolutionized technology and
economics; they have also completely changed politics, religious thinking,
art, and philosophy.
Few aspects of human activity have remained unchanged by this scientific revolution. Isaac Newton was not only the most brilliant of all scientists; he was also the most influential figure in the development of scientific theory.
3. Jesus Christ
That science did eventually
arise in Europe is indeed an indication that there was something in the
European cultural heritage that was favourable to the scientific way of
thinking. That something, however, was not the sayings of Jesus, but rather
Greek rationalism, as typified by the works of Aristotle and Euclid.
It is noteworthy that modern science developed, not during the heyday of Church power and of Christian piety, but rather on the heels of the Renaissance, a period during which Europe experienced a renewal of interest in its pre-Christian heritage.
The failure of Confucianism to spread widely outside of China indicates how closely the ideas of Confucius were grounded in pre-existing Chinese attitudes.
6. St. Paul
7. Ts'ai Lun & 8. Johann Gutenberg
Ts'ai Lun, the inventor of paper, is a man whose name is probably unfamiliar to most readers.
In order to realize
the full importance of paper and printing, it is necessary to consider
the relative cultural development of China and the West. Prior to the second
century AD, Chinese civilization was consistently less advanced than Western
civilization. During the next milennium, China's accomplishments exceeded
those of the West, and for a period of seven or eight centuries, Chinese
civilization was by most standards the most advanced on earth. After the
fifteenth century, however, western Europe outstripped China. Various cultural
explanations for these changes have been advanced, but most such theories
seem to ignore what I believe is the simplest explanation.
Prior to Ts'ai Lun, there was no covenient writing material available in China. In the Western world, papyrus was available. Ts'ai Lun's invention of paper, around 105 AD, changed the situation entirely. Chinese civilization advanced rapidly. In fifteenth-century Europe, a genius named Johann Gutenberg developed a technique for the mass production of books. As China had no Gutenberg, the Chinese stayed with block printing, and their culture progressed relatively slowly.
9. Christopher Columbus
10. Albert Einstein
11. Louis Pasteur
Since the mid-19th
century, life expectancies in much of the world have roughly doubled. This
enormous increased in human life spans has probably had a greater effect
on the lives of individual human beings than has any other development
in the entire history of the human race. In effect, modern science and
medicine have presented each of us now living with virtually a second lifetime.
Louis Pasteur's contributions, including the germ theory of disease, are so fundamental that there is no question that he deserves the largest share of the credit for the decline in death rates that has occured in the last century.
Aristotle was the greatest philosopher and scientist of the ancient world. Most of his ideas are outmoded today. But far more important than any of his individual theories is the rational approach underlying his work. Implicit in Aristotle's writings is the attitude that every aspect of human life and society may be an appropriate object of thought and analysis; the notion that the universe is not controlled by blind chance, by magic or by the whims of capricious dieties, but thats its behaviour is subject to rational laws; the belief that it is worthwhile for human beings to conduct a systematic inquiry into every aspect of the natural world; and the conviction that we should utilize both empirical observations and logical reasoning in forming our conclusions. This set of attitudes - which is contrary to traditionalism, superstition and mysticism - has profoundly influenced Western civilization.
16. Charles Darwin
It is probable that no scientific book ever published has been so widely and vigourously discussed, by scientist and layman alike, as 'On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection'.
18. Augustus Caesar
The Roman Empire is the most celebrated empire of antiquity, and rightly so. For Rome was both the culmination of ancient civilization and the principal conduit by which the ideas and cultural achievements of the peoples of the ancient world (Egyptians, Babylonians, Jews, Greeks, and other) have been transmitted to western Europe.
37. William TG Morton
The name of William
Thomas Green Morton may not ring a bell in the minds of most readers. He
was, however, a far more influential person than many more famous men,
for Morton was the man principally responsible for the introduction of
the use of anesthesia in surgery.
Few inventions in all of history are so highly valued by individual human beings as anesthetics, and few have made as profound a difference in the human condition. The grimness of surgery in the days when a patient had to be awake while a surgeon sawed through his bones is frightful to contemplate.
The public demonstration of a practical means of anesthesia that Morton gave on an October morning in 1846 is one of the great dividing points in human history - before him surgery was at all times agony, since him science has control of pain.
39. Adolf Hitler
It seems obvious that
Hitler's fame will last. In the first place, he is widely considered to
be the most evil man in all of history. If men like Nero and Caligula,
whose misdeeds were small in comparison with Hitler's, have remained well-known
for twenty centuries as symbols of cruelty, it seems safe to predict that
Hitler, whose reputation as the most evil person is history is uncontested,
will remain famous for many, many centuries. In addition, of course, Hitler
will be remembered as the principal instigator of World War II, the largest
war the world has yet seen. The advent of nuclear weapons makes it very
unlikely that there will be many such large-scale wars in the future. Therefore,
even two or three thousands years from now, World War II will probably
be considered a major event in history.
It is probable that no figure in history has had more influence upon his own generation than Adolf Hitler. Much of what actually occured under his leadership would probably not have occured at all had it not been for Hitler.
His ability as an orator was extraordinary. Judged by his ability to move people to significant action, it is likely that Hitler was the most effective orator in all of history.
41. Oliver Cromwell
In the 17th century, most of Europe was moving in the direction of greater royal absolutism; the triumph of democracy in England was an event running counter to the overall trend. In later years, the example of English democracy was an important factor in the French Revolution, and in the eventual establishment of democratic governments in western Europe. It is also obvious that the triumph of democratic forces in England played a vital role in the establishment of democracy in the United States. Although England itself occupies only a small part of the world, democracy has flowed from England to regions that are not small at all.
44. John Locke
"The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth."
"Whenever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved of any further obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God hath provided for all men against force and violence."
"There remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative when the find the legislative act contrary to the truth reposed in them."
62. Francisco Pizarro
Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Inca Empire of over six million with a force of only 180 men is the most astonishing military feat in history.
75. Johannes Kepler
"My book is written.
It will be read either by my contemporaries or by posterity - I care not
which. It may well wait a hundred years for a reader, as God has waited
6,000 years for someone to understand his work."
- Johannes Kepler after publishing 'Astronomia nova' in 1609.
79. Niccolo Machiavelli
"In taking a state
the conqueror must arrange to commit all his cruelties at once, so as not
to have to recur to them every day. Benefits should be granted little by
little, so that they may be better enjoyed."
- Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Prince"
"One ought to be both feared and loved, but... it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting... for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purposes; but fear is maintained by dread of punishment which never fails."
"Men are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities, that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived."
81. John F Kennedy
A thousand years from
now, neither the Peace Corps, nor the Alliance for Progress, nor the Bay
of Pigs is likely to be much remembered. Nor will it seem very important
what Kennedy's policies were concerning taxes or civil rights legislation.
John F Kennedy, however, was the person primarily responsible for instituting
the Apollo Space Program. Providing that the human race has not blown itself
to smithereens in the intervening time, we can be fairly sure that even
5,000 years from now, our trip to the moon will still be regarded as a
truly momentous event, one of the great landmarks in human history.
Once the political decision had been made to proceed with the Apollo project, no one scientist nor astronaut was crucial to its success. The crucial breakthrough in the trip to the moon was not a particular scientific advance, but rather the political decision to go ahead and spend 24 billion dollars on the project. It was John F Kennedy's leadership which was actually responsible for getting the Apollo project started. It was he who in May 1961 committed the United States to landing a manned spacecraft on the moon, 'before this decade is out'.
So far, there has been little move to make the anniversary of July 20, 1969 a national holiday, though we might remember that Columbus Day was not celebrated in the 16th century, it is celebrated today as the dawn of a new age. Our descendants may feel that the voyage of Apollo 11, like Columbus's voyage across the Atlantic, was the start of an entire new era in human history.
82. Gregory Pincus
Gregory Pincus was the American biologist who played the principal role in the development of the oral contraceptive pill. Although he was never particularly well known, he had far more actual influence on the world than many people who are world-famous.
"The dictatorship of the proletariat is nothing else than power based upon force and limited by nothing - by no law and by absolutely no rule."
95. Mikhail Gorbachev
The Cold War was caused by the military expansionism of Stalin and his successors. The American response to use American arms, American financial resources, and the example of American freedom and prosperity to resist the spread of Communism (and ultimately defeat it) was basically a defensive reaction. As long as Soviet keaders clung to their dream of imposing Communism on the world, the West had no way (other than surrender) of ending the conflict. When a Soviet leader appeared who was willing to abandon that goal, the seemingly interminable Cold War soon melted away.
99. Justinian I
Justinian's placement on this list is primarily due to the importance of the 'Corpus Juris Civilis', which constituted an authoritative restatement of Roman law. During the late Middle Ages, the 'Corpus Juris Civilis' became the principal basis of the developing legal systems of Continental Europe. Countries were this occured are said to have civil-law systems, as opposed to the common-law systems that generally prevail in English-speaking countries.
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