Greatness is a concept of a state of
superiority Superior may refer to: *Superior (hierarchy), something which is higher in a hierarchical structure of any kind Places *Superior (proposed U.S. state), an unsuccessful proposal for the upper peninsula of Michigan to form a separate state *Lake ...
affecting a
person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic by Logical consequence, drawing conclusions from new or existing information, with the ...

object Object may refer to: General meanings * Object (philosophy), a thing, being, or concept ** Entity, something that is tangible and within the grasp of the senses ** Object (abstract), an object which does not exist at any particular time or pl ...
in a particular place or area. Greatness can also be attributed to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. An example of an expression of the concept in a qualified sense would be "
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th from 1861 until in 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the , the country's greatest moral, cultural, constitutional, and ...

Abraham Lincoln
is the definition of greatness" or "
Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the De ...

Franklin D. Roosevelt
was one of the greatest wartime leaders". In the unqualified sense it might be stated "
George Washington George Washington (February 22, 1732, 1799) was an American soldier, statesman, and Founding Fathers of the United States, Founding Father who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Appointed by the Continenta ...

George Washington
achieved greatness within his own lifetime", thus implying that "greatness" is a definite and identifiable quality. Application of the terms "great" and "greatness" is dependent on the perspective and subjective judgements of those who apply them. Whereas in some cases the perceived greatness of a person, place or object might be agreed upon by many, this is not necessarily the case, and the perception of greatness may be both fiercely contested and highly individual. Historically, in Europe, rulers were sometimes given the attribute "the Great", as in
Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc-gre, Αλέξανδρος}, ; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (') of the kingdom of and a member of the . He was born in in 356 BC and succeeded his ...

Alexander the Great
Frederick the Great Frederick II (german: Friedrich II.; 24 January 171217 August 1786) was King in Prussia King ''in'' Prussia ( German: ''König in Preußen'') was a title used by the Prussian kings (also in personal union Electors of Brandenburg) from 1701 t ...

Frederick the Great
, and
Catherine the Great russian: Екатерина Алексеевна Романова, translit=Yekaterina Alekseyevna Romanova en, Catherine Alexeievna Romanova, link=yes , house = , father = Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst , mother ...
. Starting with the Roman consul and general
Pompey Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (; 29 September 106 BC – 28 September 48 BC), known in English as Pompey or Pompey the Great, was a leading Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization f ...
, the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the dominant la ...

equivalent was also used, as in Pompeius Magnus,
Albertus Magnus Albertus Magnus (c. 1200 – November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great or Albert of Cologne, was a German Catholic The Catholic Church, often referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, is the List of Christian denominat ...

Albertus Magnus
, and
Carolus Magnus
Carolus Magnus
. The English language uses the Latin term , (literally "great work") to describe certain works of art and literature. Since the publication of
Francis Galton Sir Francis Galton, FRS (; 16 February 1822 – 17 January 1911), was an English Victorian era In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the wikt:period, period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 unti ...

Francis Galton
's ''
Hereditary Genius ''Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences'' is a book by Francis Galton about the supposed genetic inheritance of intelligence. It was first published in 1869 by Macmillan Publishers. The first American edition was published b ...
'' in 1869, and especially with the accelerated development of intelligence tests in the early 1900s, there has been a vast amount of social scientific research published relative to the question of greatness. Much of this research does not actually use the term ''great'' in describing itself, preferring terms such as ''eminence'', ''
genius A genius is a person who displays exceptional ability, productivity, universality in genres, or , typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of new discoveries or advances in a domain of . Geniuses may be s who excel across ma ...

'', ''exceptional achievement'', etc. Historically the major intellectual battles over this topic have focused around the questions of
nature versus nurture The nature versus nurture debate involves whether human behavior is determined by the environment, either prenatal or during a person's life, or by a person's genes. The alliterative expression "nature and nurture" in English has been in use sinc ...
or person versus context. Today the importance of both dimensions is accepted by all, but disagreements over the relative importance of each are still reflected in variations in research emphases.

Genetic approaches

The early research had a strong genetic emphasis and focused on intelligence as the driving force behind greatness.

''Hereditary Genius'' – Galton (1869)

The earliest such research, ''Hereditary Genius'' by
Francis Galton Sir Francis Galton, FRS (; 16 February 1822 – 17 January 1911), was an English Victorian era In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the wikt:period, period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 unti ...

Francis Galton
(1869), argued that people vary hugely in “natural ability” which is inherited biologically. Those at the very top end of the range, i.e., geniuses, become the leaders and great achievers of their generation. To prove this thesis Galton collected data showing that genius clusters in what he termed “Notable Family Lines”, such as those of
BernoulliBernoulli can refer to: People *Bernoulli family of 17th and 18th century Swiss mathematicians: ** Daniel Bernoulli (1700–1782), developer of Bernoulli's principle ** Jacob Bernoulli (1654–1705), also known as Jacques, after whom Bernoulli numbe ...
, Cassini (disambiguation), Cassini, Charles Darwin, Darwin, Herschel (disambiguation), Herschel, and Jussieu (disambiguation), Jussieu in science, or Bach in music. Galton then calculated the odds of eminent people having eminent relations, taking into account the closeness of the biological connection (e.g., son vs grandson), and the magnitude of achievement of the eminent parent. His findings were as anticipated: the more famous the parent (i.e., the greater level of presumed “natural ability”), the greater likelihood there would be illustrious relatives; and the closer the blood tie, the greater those odds.

''Early Mental Traits of 300 Geniuses'' – Cox (1926)

Catharine Cox’s book on ''The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses'' (1926), was similar to Galton's in its orientation. Using the method that her mentor, Stanford Psychology Professor Lewis Terman, had developed for differentiating children in terms of intelligence, Cox coded records of childhood and adolescent achievements of 301 historic eminent leaders and creators to estimate what their IQs would have been on the basis of intellectual level of such achievements relative to the age at which they were accomplished. For example, John Stuart Mill reportedly studied Greek at 3, read Plato at 7, and learned calculus at 11. As such, what he was doing at 5, the average person couldn't do until 9 years, 6 months of age, giving Mill an estimated IQ of 190. Cox found that the perceived eminence of those with the highest IQs was higher than that of those attaining lower IQ estimates, and that those with higher IQs also exhibited more versatility in their achievements. For example, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Descartes, Benjamin Franklin, Goethe, and others with IQs in the mid 160s or above were superior in their versatility to those attaining lower scores, such as
George Washington George Washington (February 22, 1732, 1799) was an American soldier, statesman, and Founding Fathers of the United States, Founding Father who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Appointed by the Continenta ...

George Washington
, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Palestrina, or Philip Sheridan. Both Cox and Galton have been criticized for failing to take account of the role of nurture, or more specifically socio-economic and educational advantage, in the achievements of these historical greats.

Cultural approach

There was one major anthropological study of genius, and it was triggered specifically by the author's contentions with Galton's work.

''Configurations of Cultural Growth'' – Kroeber (1944)

Alfred Kroeber’s ''Configurations of Cultural Growth'' (1944) looked at many of the same historic greats as did Galton and Cox, but from a completely different orientation. As a cultural anthropologist, Kroeber maintained that, in Simonton's words, “culture takes primacy over the individual in any account of human (behavior), and that historic geniuses are no exception…” To prove his thesis, Kroeber collected “long lists of notable figures from several nationalities and historic eras”, and then grouped them within a field and a shared cultural context, e.g., “Configuration for American Literature”. Then within these groupings he listed his notables in “strict chronological order”, identifying the most eminent figures by using capital letters for their surnames (e.g. EMERSON, LONGFELLOW, POE, WHITMAN, etc. in above configuration). Kroeber found that genius never appeared in isolation, but rather, in Simonton's words, that “one genius cluster(ed) with others of greater and lesser fame in adjacent generations”. He also found that there were historical “crests” and “troughs” in every field. These fluctuations in the appearance of genius were much too rapid to be explained by the simple mechanism of genetic inheritance along family lines. Kroeber argued, in Simonton's words, that his “configurations” were due to “emulations”: “Geniuses cluster in history because the key figures of one generation emulate those in the immediately preceding generations… (until) it attains a high point of perfection that stymies further growth”. At this point the “tradition degenerates into empty imitation, as most creative minds move on to greener pastures”. Recent research is consistent with these explanations; but many aspects of the developmental process from birth to the attainment of greatness remain unaccounted for by Kroeber's anthropological approach.

Developmental approaches

Retrospective studies, involving extensive interviews with individuals who have attained eminence, or at least exceptional levels of achievement, have added much to our understanding of the developmental process. Two studies in particular stand out.

''Scientific Elite'' – Zuckerman (1977)

Harriet Zuckerman’s ''Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States'', is based on many sources of research evidence, including a series of forty-one extended interviews with American winners of the Nobel Prize for science. Zuckerman reported her results around two main topics: How the Prize is Awarded, and Career Development of the Scientific Elite. Her findings on the first topic are briefly overviewed in the Wikipedia article regarding the Nobel Prize In relation to the question of the career development of the scientific elite Zuckerman uses the phrase "accumulation of advantage" to describe her findings. In her words: "Scientists who show promise early in their careers (are) given greater opportunities in the way of research training and facilities. To the extent that these scientists are as competent as the rest or more so, they ultimately will do far better in terms of both role performance and reward… rewards (which) can be transformed into resources for further work.. (and hence over time) scientists who are initially advantaged gain even greater opportunities for further achievement and rewards." To see if ‘accumulation of advantage’ was operating in the career development of the scientific elite, Zuckerman compared the careers of future laureates with those of “members of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the scientific rank and file” along a number of dimensions including socioeconomic origins, status of undergraduate and graduate education, the process of moving into the scientific elite, and first jobs and professorships. She also interviewed forty-one Nobel laureates extensively about their "apprenticeships" to "master" scientists while they were doing their doctoral research, and other aspects of their career development related to the above topics. Zuckerman concluded that evidence of "accumulative of advantage" was clearly present over the course of development, with result that her research “… cast(s) considerable doubt on the conclusion that marked differences in performance between the ultra-elite and other scientists reflect equally marked differences in their initial capacities to do scientific work”.

''Developing Talent in Young People'' – Bloom (1985)

Benjamin Bloom and five colleagues conducted extensive interviews with 120 “young men and women (as well as their parents and influential teachers)… who had reached the highest levels of accomplishment” in six fields – Olympic sprint swimmers, Top 10 rated professional tennis players, concert pianists, accomplished sculptors, exceptional mathematicians, and outstanding research neurologists. They report many findings relevant to the “talent development process", including: *Development was tied throughout to the values, interests, resources, and personal investments of the family of origin. In most families “introduction to the field and initial… skill development occurred” because the “(p)arents (or other family members), in pursuing their own interests, created situations that intrigued, interested, or involved the child… The child’s interest was rewarded or encouraged…” and the parents then provided other ways to extend this interest. *The “work ethic” is central to talent development. It is developed by “the home environment” and “…directly related to learning and participation in the chosen talent field”. *“Each group of parents strongly encouraged their children’s development in a particularly highly approved talent field (related to the parents’ own “special interests”) and gave much less support to other possible talent fields and activities.” *“Families and teachers were crucial at every point along the way to excellence… what families and teachers do at different times and how they do it clearly sets the stage for exceptional learning in each talent field”. *“Few… (of the) individuals (included in this study) were regarded as child prodigies”; and, as a result, this research “raises (serious) questions about earlier views of special gifts and innate abilities as necessary prerequisites of talent development”.

Recent approaches

A 1995 book by Hans Eysenck argues that a “personality trait” called Psychoticism is central to becoming a creative genius; and a more recent book by Bill Dorris (2009) looks at the influence of “everything from genetics to cultural crises”, including chance, over the course of development of those who attain greatness. See – Hans Eysenck, ''Genius: The Natural History of Creativity'' (1995), "construct(s)... a model of genius and creativity" whose "novelty lies in (its) attempt to make personality differences central to the argument". In particular Eysenck is interested in a personality trait called “psychoticism … chief among (whose) cognitive features is a tendency to ''over-inclusiveness'', i.e., an inclination not to limit one's associations to ''relevant'' ideas, memories, images, etc." He considers a massive range of experimental psychological research in order to establish the underlying genetic, neuro-chemical mechanisms which may be operating to influence levels of creativity associated with fluctuations in “the tendency towards over-inclusiveness indicative of psychoticism..." Eysenck's assessment of his overall argument is as follows: "There is no hint that the theory is more than a suggestion of how many disparate facts and hypotheses can be pulled together into a causal chain, explaining… the apogee of human endeavour – genius. If the theory has one point in its favour it is that every step can be tested experimentally, and that many steps have already received positive support from such testing." ; ''The Arrival of The Fittest'' Bill Dorris's book, ''The Arrival of The Fittest: How The Great Become Great'' (2009), attempts to address a number of issues which remain unanswered on the subject. These include the role of chance over the course of development, the importance of the development of unique personal characteristics to achieving greatness, and the influence of changes in the wider worlds surrounding the person – from interpersonal to societal - on the course of an individual's development. Dorris argues that those who attain ‘greatness’ are credited with solving a key generational problem in a field and/or society (e.g., Albert Einstein resolving the conflict between Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell in physics at the outset of the 20th century; or Woody Guthrie providing a voice for the outcasts of the Great Depression of the 1930s). Dorris's core argument is that those who become ‘great’ start out with sufficient genetic potential and then are able, over two or more decades, to obtain matches/fits with “the right kind of problems” to extend the development of these genetic biases into what Dorris terms, “key characteristics”. These are the intellectual, personality, and self characteristics which eventually turn out to be required to solve a key generational problem in their field and/or society. Dorris argues that there are four types of matching processes which occur over the course of such development. These refer to matches between the developmental needs of the person and the opportunities and resources essential to engaging in problem solving activities that stimulate further development of those aspects of intelligence, personality, and self which eventually become key characteristics. Two of these matching processes are covered extensively in the existing research literature: continuous matching and cumulative matching. The other two of the matching processes described by Dorris are completely new to this book: catalytic matching and chaotic matching. Dorris's argument in relation to catalytic matching is that anyone who eventually becomes a ‘great’ will have experienced one or more sustained periods of exceptionally accelerated development of their key characteristics, accelerations which serve massively to differentiate them from their former peers in terms of both development and visibility within the field. This acceleration occurs because the person becomes the focal point (star) of a self-reinforcing system of expertise and resources (catalytic system) which thrives off this person's accelerated development and visibility. Dorris's argument in relation to chaotic matching is that access to the resources and learning opportunities essential to the development of key characteristics of an eventual ‘great’ often occurs not due to the efforts/planning of the individual, but simply due to chance events in the interpersonal, institutional or societal worlds around the person, who (unlike perhaps millions of equally capable peers) becomes the beneficiary of these chance events – events which Dorris argues can change a person's entire future in much the same way as a lottery jackpot or a ''RMS Titanic, Titanic'' ticket. Dorris documents his theoretical arguments with extensive case studies of a wide range of individuals, including Albert Einstein, Einstein, Elvis, Monet, Mozart, da Vinci,
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th from 1861 until in 1865. Lincoln led the nation through the , the country's greatest moral, cultural, constitutional, and ...

Abraham Lincoln
, James D. Watson, Watson and Francis Crick, Crick, basketball great Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Bill Gates, Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Guthrie, and Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jeane/Marilyn Monroe.Dorris, 2009; Online Case Studies at:

See also

* Great man theory * Genius * Giftedness



* Albert R. S. 1980. Family position and the attainment of eminence: a study of special family position and special family experience. ''Gifted Child Quarterly, 24'', 87–95 * Albert, R.S. 1983. ''Genius and Eminence: The Social Psychology of Creativity and Exceptional Achievement''. New York: Pergamon Press. * Bloom, B.S. (ed). 1985. ''Developing Talent in Young People''. New York: Ballantine Books. * Cox, C. 1926. ''Genetic Studies of Genius, Vol 2. The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses''. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. * Dorris. B. 2009. ''The Arrival of The Fittest: How The Great Become Great''. (Lulu Url in Note 38 above) * Eysenck, H. 1995. ''Genius: The Natural History of Creativity''. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. * Galton, F. 1869. ''Hereditary Genius''. London: Macmillan. * Kroeber, A.L. 1944. ''Configurations of Cultural Growth''. Berkeley: University of California Press. * Martindale, C. 1990. ''The Clockwork Muse: The Predictability of Artistic Change''. New York: Basic Books. * Simonton, D.K. 1994. ''Greatness: Who Makes History and Why''. New York: The Guilford Press. * Simonton, D.K. 2009. ''Genius 101''. New York: Springer * Walls, Jerry L. 2007. The Wizard versus The General. in Jerry L. Walls, Gregory Bassham, and Dick Vitale. ''Basketball and philosophy''. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 129. . * Zuckerman, H. 1977. ''Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States''. New York: The Free Press. * Herzog, B. 1994. "greatness was created"

Further reading

* * – available in translation as: **

External links

* *{{wikiquote-inline Sociological theories Quality