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Goethe's three questions

How can you benefit from knowing world history?

Goethe once said that "all of us seek answers to three big questions in life: What is the story of all mankind? What is the story of my time? And what story is mine alone?"

This web site is about the first of Goethe's questions. How should the story of world history be told? Having some idea of the answer, we can then go on to the second question: What is the story of my time? Where in the sweep of world history are we? What is happening today of lasting significance? A few can then take that answer and address the third question: What story is mine alone? How can I participate in the great events of my time?

In other words, knowledge of world history can give purpose to life. To be grounded in reality, a person should have some idea of what answer to give in each of Goethe's three questions.

What does this web site contribute to the discussion? With respect to "the story of all mankind", it proposes that this story can be divided into five coherent parts. Each is the life story of a "civilization". A civilization in this view is a cultural organism representing a certain type of society. Each appears at a certain time in history. Starting from primitive tribal communities, human societies have become progressively more complex and pluralistic. They develop in discrete stages that correspond to the different civilizations.

With respect to Goethe's second question, the general answer is that we presently find ourselves in the fourth civilization with a fifth on the horizon. In other words, we (Americans at least) are living in the entertainment age. A few computer buffs may be knocking on the door of the next civilization which is the fifth to appear in world history.

This particular scheme of history keys the development of civilizations to: (1) the dominant communication technology and (2) the emerging institutions of power.

And so we have by the first criterion: ideographic writing (Civilization I), alphabetic writing (Civilization II), printing (Civilization III), electronic broadcasting and recording (Civilization IV), and computer technology (Civilization V).

By the second criterion, we have: government (Civilization I), world religion (Civilization II), commerce and secular education (Civilization III), news and entertainment media (Civilization IV), and the Internet (Civilization V).

This theory of world history is presented in the book, Five Epochs of Civilization, by William McGaughey (Thistlerose Publications, 2000). The web site www.worldhistorysite.com allows you to explore its various facets at your leisure.

See also a discussion of personal identity at http://www.identityindependence.com.

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