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ETpro's avatar

Is a person's legacy their life-long work, or what they actually got done?

Asked by ETpro (34552points) September 30th, 2010

Albert Einstein is widely remembered today as an eccentric old professor from Princeton, a man with wild hair and even wilder intelligence. Not so many know that physics was not his only passion. He was deeply involved in politics, and a tireless advocate for world peace and for Zionism.

When he saw the atrocities Hitler was committing, Einstein was forced to abandon the politics of pacifism for a time. He realized that Nazism had to be stopped. Einstein knew that German scientists were aware of the potential for a nuclear weapon hidden in his Theory of Special Relativity, E = MC². So he reluctantly wrote to President Roosevelt urging the US to begin development of a nuclear weapon. Even the lifelong man of peace knew that there was too much at stake to let Germany beat us to the punch in the nuclear weapons race.

Einstein said that his two passions were politics and equations. However, he noted that “Equations are more important to me, because politics are for the present, but an equation is something for eternity.” Isn’t it ironic that Einstein’s lifelong political push for world peace is yet to be realized, but his equations gave us man’s most terrifying weapon of war—and that lives on. So which is more important in the long term? What determines a true legacy? Is it what a person tries ceaselessly to do, or what they actually accomplish that lives on when they are gone?

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13 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Life-long work IS what got done.

Completion having nothing to do with it.

ETpro's avatar

@ChazMaz I suppose it’s true that the very fact I was able to refer to Einstein’s efforts to establish world peace testify that his efforts to that end live today.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Each of us has a legacy. The way I measure legacy is, how much positive impact does all that an individual does throughout his or her lifetime have on the universe?

zophu's avatar

An artist hastily invents a method with which she feels she can best express her beautiful philosophy. Decades of work devoted to this philosophy spread throughout the world, influencing countless people. But, these people are mainly just other artists who learn from the method the artist believed to be trivial compared to her assumed purpose, which is left unnoticed after her death. One’s legacy is just the affect one’s life has, not the intention one devotes the most effort to. But would the artist’s method have been developed and spread without her unfulfilled intention? Not to disrespect the value of fulfilled intention in life, but I don’t think it matters much within a context as broad as legacy.

ETpro's avatar

@CaptainHarley I really like that, but it sure leaves me some work yet to do. :-)

@zophu I take your point, and it gives me heart. Thanks.

Cruiser's avatar

Doing something truly historic or being the best there ever was at something is great and all but not what their loved ones will remember them for. I want my legacy to be that I was a great father, companion and good friend to those who love me.

ETpro's avatar

@Cruiser That’s an admirable ambition. Knowing you, I have a feeling you will pull it off.

Jabe73's avatar

Well circumstances vary with each person’s life. I think the amount of effort you put into something and the intentions behind them should be what matters the most here. Even Eienstein doubted his own Theory of Relativity would be able to hold out in the future. However any great scientist/physicist will have doubts about their own findings. As far as the other things you mentioned unfortunately anything good can have something bad come from it (as far as the nuclear weapons go). I think intentions and effort are the most important here.

ETpro's avatar

@Jabe73 One might actually make a reasonable argument that Mutually Assured Destruction has prevented a third world war now for 65 years. Before the nuclear threat, when did mankind go 65 years without a single massive war?

CaptainHarley's avatar


Have work yet to do? Rejoice! : D

ETpro's avatar

@CaptainHarley Great attitude!

CaptainHarley's avatar


The time will come all too soon when you can no longer work. I would much rather have work still to do, than to be unable to perform work. : )

ETpro's avatar

@CaptainHarley I’m 66. The time will come all too soon. But I will work till my body won’t let me any longer.

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