Principles of categorisation for our short biographies
To categorise a biography as a biography of a scientist, a biography of an artist, or a biography of a whatever, it is important to ask what a scientist, artist, or whatever is. The recorded use of the term 'science' in English dates from the 14th century, when it referred to any branch of knowledge or learning. At this time, ‘the seven liberal sciences’ ( also called ‘the seven liberal arts’) were the foundation of University studies. They were:
- The Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric)
- The Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy)
The liberal sciences were thought to be the only ones worthy of a free man (free women were not thought worthy of pursuing them in those sexist times.) Other sciences, like medicine, were thought to be servile or mechanical and not worthy of a gentleman. But when one thinks of the vast variety of pursuits pursued by Victorian gentlemen, and today's respected people, it is difficult to see how such a separation can be supported.
The term science has been applied to systematic accounts in all areas of knowledge, including areas as disparate as card games, divinity and law. Therefore, perhaps, we can define a scientist as anyone who studies any area of human knowledge in a systematic fashion, and gives some account of his studies.
Marlon Brando has not written a significant systematic account of the science of acting, nor has Elizabeth I written a significant systematic account of political science. So they may be famous, but they are not scientists. You might point to, say, an interview where Marlon Brando has given a fairly systematic account of the art of acting as proof that he is a scientist. But to be a famous scientist rather than famous and a scientist, the person has to have produced scientific work of some significance, as judged by accepted experts in the science.
It is difficult to place some people in the scientist category. For instance, Columbus is a famous explorer, but is he a famous scientist? He had a superb knowledge of the sciences of navigation and climatology (trade winds). He may not have greatly advanced the technical aspects of these sciences, but he used them to great effect. An applied scientist is also a scientist. But if we classify Columbus as a scientist we must come back to the question of Marlon Brando. As Marlon Brando used systematic theory to inform his acting--"the method"--isn't he an applied scientist?
Wittgenstein pointed out that it is impossible to define the word "sport". There are always borderline cases, like "darts" or "snooker". The same is true for most words, including "scientist". The difficulty in classifying many biographies under one heading, like "scientist" or "artist" led to the decision to classify our biographies in the simplest fashion possible -- alphabetically by surname. .
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