Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Pursuit of Human Excellence

Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950
Human Accomplishment: 
The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts 
and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 

"To be in the presence of greatness is exciting, even when we are not capable of appreciating all the nuances of the achievement.  The best has a magic about it . . ."

Charles Murray surveys a very large topic and provides both direction and structure for it. The immensity of his work is difficult to appreciate for he ranks the leading 4,000 innovators in several fields of human accomplishment from 800 BC to 1950. 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.
In reviewing the accomplishments in these categories he argued, based on Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, that innovation is increased by beliefs that life has a purpose and that the function of life is to fulfill that purpose; by beliefs about transcendental goods and a sense of goodness, truth and beauty; and by beliefs that individuals can act efficaciously as individuals, and a culture that enables them to do so. I found that he answered my questions as they arose during my reading and he dealt effectively with issues like the prominence of the West, the predominance of men, and others. The most satisfying sections for me were his discussion of the importance of Aristotle and his summation. The result of Murray's efforts is a worthy assay of human excellence throughout history.

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