Consensus "Greatest" things

How about some undisputable things?

Greatest atmospheric constituent: oxygen
Greatest oceanic constituent: water
Greatest women: the ones that love you

and one that might be disputable:
Greatest invention: the alphabet

You’re right, in the sense that nothing I’m saying is very rigorous or precise. But I do think there’s an important distinction. If I polled 100 reasonable knowledgdeable fans, and asked them two questions:
(a) who is the greatest baseball player of all time?
(b) regardless of your feelings about this player, who do you think will be named the most times by your fellow fans in response to the previous question?

I think the answers would be all over the map. The number of players who would be named for (a) would probably be at least a dozen or so, with many of them getting significant votes for (b).
If I asked the same question about Hockey players, however, and assuming that people were answering honestly, not trying to somehow fool the survey, there would be close to 100% agreement in (b), at least.


Probably true, unless the question was phrased in terms of long term influence, success, popularity, and fame… there’s certainly something about the Beatles that sets them ahead of even bands like the Rolling Stones, although how precisely to quantify it is not immediately clear.


For the purposes of the question, I was only caring about people who are at least moderately familiar with the field.

People are answering this question in weird ways, which is of course their right, but I do think it’s interesting that there are certain fields in which there is a single, pre-eminent, assumed best, even if some would legitimately disagree with it. Certainly one could argue that other paintings are better than the Mona Lisa. But if you combine its fame, cachet, enduring appeal, iconic nature, and the incredibly high respect in which its painter is held by critics, it’s hard to argue that any other painting challenges it for the title of “de facto world’s greatest painting”.
(Oh, and Boyo Jim is right, I’m greviously misusing the word “consensus”, and my Quaker college would be ashamed of me.)

I think people are missing the point of the OP.

Literally, consensus means 100% agreement, of course, but that’s not what’s being sought.

I think a better definition of what the OP seeks is “things that are deemed the greatest frequently enough, and by a great enough majority, that one can speak of them by the eptithet ‘the greatest X’ without saying their name, and be understood by anyone well-versed in Western culture.”

Greatest playwright - Chekov over Shakespeare? Please.

Greatest playwright - Shakespeare.
Greatest hockey player - Gretzky.
Greatest boxer - Ali.
Greatest race horse - Secretariat.
Greatest children’s author - Dr. Seuss.
Greatest silent movie comedian - Charlie Chaplin.
Greatest ‘Western’ movie star - John Wayne.

I’m sure somebody out there disagrees with each one of these, but that’s not the point. I could talk about each one of these without using their names, and everybody out there would understand who I mean (albeit grudgingly in some cases :wink: ).

Greatest rock guitarist - Hendrix.

Sure, there are lots of others that you might prefer to listen to, but I think Jimi’s claim to the title is fairly rock solid. I have very seldom heard anyone who might be deemed to know what they’re talking about seriously dispute Hendrix’s place in the pantheon. He completely transformed our understanding and perception of what was possible on the electric guitar, and what it could be made to do. He played with passion, fire, genius, flair, fun, energy, demonic presence and seemingly ‘effortless’ fluidity that blew away everyone who saw him when he first broke through (including Clapton and other greats). He made sounds that no-one had made before, and that no-one has been able to make since. His gift for improvisation and expression was apparently limitless, and his playing is so packed with power, feeling and passion that it can’t fail to make an impact - even if it’s “not your thing”. It also seems that his work has truly enduring appeal. There’s still plenty of people buying and enjoying and celebrating Hendrix’s music, and the guy stiffed in 1970.

Nitrogen kicks oxygen’s butt around the block!

Sorry about the hijack, MaxtheVool, but do you/did you go to Whittier?

In the thread I linked to earlier, Angel of the Lord posted a statement upon which we might achieve consensus:

No luck, there was an objection.

I’m quite sure there are a number of categories where we could find a majority agrees on. In fact I’m rather stunned that no one has noted:

Greatest basketball player ever: Michael Jordan.

But IMHO you need to free yourself from the concept of consensus. Just won’t happen unless you redefine the term.

This is why I read the dope. akennett, you made me squirt diet coke out of my nose [shakes fist], but damn that was funny.

I would agree with what people have said. Probably the only thing that people can agree on is that people cannot agree on things like this.

Many of the people that would be put forward will depend on how knowledgable someone is on a topic, how old you are and where you come from.


I’m afraid I cannot agree with this. Though I’ve argued in this thread that consensus is impossible, I do retain the dream that we may find the magic statement that, if we do not actively support, at least we won’t object to it.

IOW, I have inner conflicts that prevent me from agreeing even with myself. :stuck_out_tongue:

Greatest soft drink: A&W Cream Soda.

Or at least if there isn’t consensus on that, there certainly should be.

Greatest Monty Python movie: Holy Grail.

Greatest soft drink: Diet[ A&W Cream Soda

Greatest invention: Moveable type

Greatest Pole Vaulter : Sergei Bubka :smiley:

Glad I could be of some service…and that my humor doesn’t go entirely unnoticed.

Gretzky is not the greatest hockey player ever, by the way… Everyone who knows two hoots about hockey knows that Mr. Hockey, the great Gordie Howe is, was, and ever will be the greatest hockey player ever.

Prepared to defend… you bet I am. Gordie Howe was the total player. Gretzky could not check, could not play defense, and would have been turned into pulp by other players if Marty McSorley wouldn’t have been defnding his wimp ass all the time.
Gordie Howe could skate beautifully on vastly inferior skates, score amazing goals with vastly inferior straight sticks, and play in a league with talent that was not watered down by expansion. Also, goaltending was much better back then. (evidence: Terry Sawchuk has over 100 shutouts… the closest modern player today is Ed Belfour with 64).

There is a reason why Gordie Howe was Wayne Gretzky’s idol.

Michael Jordan.
Willie Mays?

Are you serious? When is the last time you saw it? I saw it again this month (third time in my life) and hardly enjoyed it anymore. Whereas Life of Brian is still funny after several viewings.

I know something universally acknowledged.

Greatest sneaker: Chuck Taylors.

Greatest moderator:


Babe Ruth!

bup If you talked about them without there names I would think you were talking about …

Greatest race horse - Red Rum.
Greatest children’s author - JK Rowling
Greatest ‘Western’ movie star - Clint Eastwood

caused mostly by my British background :wink:

and who is Gretzky never heard of him.

Some to add (and get knocked down…)

Greatest Golfer - Tiger Woods
Greatest Soccer Player - Pele