A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future
Charles Van Doren
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A one-voume reference to the history of ideas that is a compendium of everything that humankind has thought, invented, created, considered, and perfected from the beginning of civilization into the twenty-first century. Massive in its scope, and yet totally accessible, A HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE covers not only all the great theories and discoveries of the human race, but also explores the social conditions, political climates, and individual men and women of genius that brought ideas to fruition throughout history.
"Crystal clear and concise...Explains how humankind got to know what it knows."
Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club
fortu nate contemporaries. Why then does the majority remain deprived? The minority at the top may have a near monopoly of force, but force alone is not the answer. A system of social differentiation must be found in which all believe, not just some. The universal acceptance of the caste system ensures its perpetuation. It is easy to blame the Indians for living under a caste system when we do not. However, social classes have many affinities to the castes of India. . Members of the lowest class
unique in his time. He is one of the most remarkable and charismatic men in history. Judea-Christianity and Islam Compared Mecca possessed a large Jewish community during Muhammad's life time; he was certainly influenced by it and learned much from Jewish historians and thinkers. He was also conversant with Christian lore. He accepted Abraham as the first patriarch (so that Abraham is a holy man in all three religions) and believed that Christ had been the greatest of the prophets before
establish ment of political and social order became the most important task. Often, order was imposed by force alone. When threatened by immediate and painful death, most people, then as now, would remain quiet and obedient-as long as the force remained. The problem became, then, how to keep order when force was not present, as it could not be at all places and times. We have seen that the Egyptian solution entailed an aversion to change. Things as they stand may not be perfect, but any change
Thales and his followers changed knowledge from a "mystery" into a public thing. Anyone who could read might share in its benefits. Anyone who could understand its principles might add to it, for others' benefit as well as his own. Here as in so many other realms of knowledge Aristotle was the knower par excellence. He established different methods and diflerent criteria of knowledge for a variety of su�ject matters. When approaching any sub ject, he always reviewed the contributions of his
was hardly recognizable. Classical Greek tragedies had dealt with cruel murders and unnatural acts, such as incest and parricide. The stories were usually religious myths, which could be understood on many levels, and the poet-authors had filled their plays with profound psychological examination and analy sis of the ancient myths. Seneca retained the lurid Greek stories, such as the series of dynastic murders in the House of Atreus (source of Aeschylus's trilogy of the Oresteia) , but he by and