forum 11: week of 26 March - knowledge and accomplishment
To consider an individual to be one who has accomplished something is to give them credit for it. The credit is due to the degree that they have moved beyond the influence of other persons or contextual influences on their claimed success.Only to that extent,which it seems to me would be difficult to estimate,could it be truly said to be an effort based on free will.Take the case of Churchill mentioned by Jim above for instance:His biographer William Manchester mentions a little known fact in "The Last Lion" (the official biog.) concerning Churchill's decision to oppose Hitler.A minor Soviet diplomat residing in England on the eve of Britain's involvement in hostilities approached Churchill and convinced the staunchly conservative Brit,who at one point referred to the Soviet Union as a "jewish empire,"to reconsider his neutral stance.Ultimately,as we now know,Sir Winston abandoned his neutrality and the rest,as they say,is history.The official(whose name,I'm embarrassed to say,I don't recall,and have so far failed to google)returned to the USSR a short time later and disappeared,a victim of Stalin's paranoia.By way of this example,I think it can be said that Churchill's accomplishment was,to some degree creditable to another,and was not therefore entirely of his own making.It was therefore a conditioned response to the problem before him,and was one to which he significantly contributed to solving.I used to get into some heated rows with a friend who was a great fan of the great man view of history,I would take great delight in pointing to Tolstoy's portrait of Napoleon in "War and Peace."Contrary to a portrayal of Napoleon as a great accomplisher,Tolstoy likens the conquering general to a chip of wood carried along on the great river of history,and further to this as a helpless prisoner of massive forces surrounding him and of which he is largely unaware.Indeed,Tolstoy presents him as the least free of individuals.This seems to connect with Quine's theory of established (i.e.locked-in)truths as those closest to the centre of an interlocking web of current opinions.Conversely,the'truths'most subject to change are at the outer edge where current experience is most directly or immediately encountered.In Tolstoy's great novel,the accomplishing heroes tend to be humble,almost comic figures who have no sure guides in their attempts to come up with solutions to perplexing,because novel,problems.In a word,they must innovate,thus accomplishing accomplishment.
Rob, Your reference to a minor Soviet diplomat is of interest. I have not read Manchester's book. The second edition appears to be dated 1988. Five Days in London May 1940, by historian John Lukacs, 236 pages, was printed 1999, Yale University Press. Lukacs calls himself an uncategorized historian, with one advantage over many British historians, Lukacs's familiarity with documents and other materials relating to Hitler, in this case especially in 1940. Any further information you can think of to relate Manchester's discussion of Churchill's decision to fight against Hitler's Nazi forces will be appreciated.