ISSUE-019

The greatness of individuals can be decided only by those who live after them, not by their contemporaries.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.


In human history there have been many great people that made a difference to the course of our society. How could the greatness of an individual be decided? Some hold the view that it is only those who live after the individual that can determine his or her greatness, which I can only partially agree. In my opinion, the greatness of individuals can be decided by not only those who live after them but also their peers living coevally.

First, it should be acknowledged that one’s greatness can for sure be decided by those who live after them. Some may even argue that evaluations coming from those living afterwards will be better for two reasons. Firstly, connections with and influences by the individual could render an assessment from the individual’s contemporaries on his or her greatness largely biased. Secondly, it is possible that one’s achievements are well ahead of the time and can hardly be appreciated by the contemporaries. For example, van Gogh is often viewed by people today as one of the most genius painters in the 19th century for his audacious use of color and impressive presentation of time and space, best exemplified by his masterpiece Starry Night. However, the greatness of van Gogh, which is now almost taken for granted, was not immediately appreciated by critics of his time. Instead, throughout van Gogh’s life he was not even considered as a great painter at all for his outlandish style that was not aligned with the mainstream orthodox painting doctrines.

The case above cites van Gogh and his artwork to demonstrates that those who live after an individual may provide a better assessment on the individual’s greatness. In this case, it is van Gogh’s vision and techniques ahead of his time that made his contemporaries unable to discover his greatness. While this is the case for van Gogh, one cannot extrapolate and claim that the greatness of an individual can only be evaluated by future generations and cannot be decided by those who live at the same time. In fact, some people are instantly famous for their visible contributions to the society and their greatness can and has been indeed recognized by the public fairly quickly. An example here is Dr. Nanshan Zhong, an epidemiologist and expert on infectious respiratory diseases in China, who led the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. Despite his age and prominent status, Dr. Zhong volunteered to the front line in the city of Wuhan where the coronavirus outbreak was first publicly identified. It was also Dr. Zhong who alerted the nation about the gravity of the situation and convinced the public to take appropriate measures against the disease. His bravery and professionalism have since then been widely recognized and revered, and undoubtedly Dr.Zhong’s greatness has been firmly established.

To wrap up, I concede to the point that an individual’s greatness sometimes needs future generations to more objectively determine, as the case of van Gogh demonstrates. However, extrapolating to the extent that one’s greatness can only be decided by those who live

afterwards is an over-statement. Indeed, our society today has witnessed many great individuals whose greatness has been readily established by their outstanding contributions to the society that have already shown their positive effects.


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