Competent man  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The competent man or competent woman is a stock character who can do anything perfectly, or at least exhibits a very wide range of abilities and knowledge, making him a form of polymath. While not the first to use such a character type, the heroes (and heroines) of Robert A. Heinlein's fiction are generally competent men/women, and one of Heinlein's characters Lazarus Long gives a good summary of requirements:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

The competent man, more often than not, is written without explaining how he achieved his wide range of skills and abilities, especially as true expertise typically suggests practical experience instead of learning through books or formalized education alone. While not implausible with older or unusually long lived characters, when such characters are young it is often not adequately explained as to how they acquired so many skills at an early age. It would be easy for a reader to form the impression that the competent man is just basically a superior sort of human being, like a Nietzschean Ubermensch, or possibly the hero-entrepreneurs of Schumpeter or Rand.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Competent man" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools