Great men : LUSENET : History & Theory of Psychology : One Thread

Do great men make history? Great men vs Zeitgeist.I know there is no right or wrong answer to this question but I would like to hear views about this concerning psychology.

-- Susan Wong (, May 13, 2004


See the responses posted previously on this website at in the section on historiography

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (, May 13, 2004.


-- T Manning (, May 13, 2004.

Hi Susan, You raise at at least two issues with your question about the Great man vs. Zeitgeist interpretations of history. First, which influence is more significant, the unique contributions (or destructive influences) of a particular person versus contextual factors (beliefs of the time, economics, politics etc.). Second, can we find a rational way to evaluate which is more important. In answer to the second question, since we can not do real "experiments" by taking people out of history and checking the effect, we may be left with educated guesses. In answer to the first question, I think either the person or the context can be dominant depending on other factors. For example, it may depend in part on how much power a person has (e.g., a powerful dictator like Hitler or a highly respected person like Gandi) and how many people are engaged in the same activity (e.g., the stiff competition Crick and Watson had on being the first to decifer the structure of DNA). In contemporary science, the context may usually be more important than the person, since there are some many "potentially replaceable" scientists working so fast in a particular field. While I prefer the contextual perspective in most instances, I recognize that some individuals will have extraordinary influences (possibly with unusual insights or counterculture ideas). Also from a humanistic perspective, if a scientist develops a medicine a year earlier due to their extrordinary brilliance or high energy level, they may save an extra one hundred lives in that year (which would not be trivial, even if there are over 6 billion people on the planet). We can do a "thought experiment" and "remove" one at a time either Darwin, Pavlov, Wundt, Freud, Skinner, or Maslow from history, and speculate what effect it would have on contemporary psychology? My guess (I am really putting myself out on a limb here), is that in most cases others eventually would have come up with many of the same ideas and championed them strongly, so that psychology would not fundamentally be that different than it is today. Science seems to have strong self- correcting and balancing aspects to it. Then again, I am not that sure about the correctness of my contextual bias, and maybe psychology would be much different today without some of these early contributors to psychology. What do you or other people think? I hope this helps. Paul

-- paul Kleinginna (, May 13, 2004.

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