A Study of Charles Van Doren's 'A History of Knowledge'

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A History of Knowledge Pages 243-283 of Charles Van Doren's A history of knowledge: Past, present and future (Van Doren, 1991), chronicle numerous inventions and new ideas that form the basis of Modernity. Several of these new ideas involved the economy. In the old, feudal system, the economy was chiefly based on agriculture: the peasants grew crops on land belonging to a lord or the King, gave some of the crops to the lord or King and were allowed to keep some crops in order to live; also, clerics were happy with the crops given to the Church; consequently, there was little knowledge or need for money and earning just what a person needed was the acceptable way of life. In contrast, the new, 19th Century concept of economy involved the retail trade of everything, including human labor, and profiting by earning money was an important part of this new economic system. Based largely on the ideas of Adam Smith and his book, Wealth and nation, the idea that everything is for sale in Capitalism became the main way of thinking. Smith also warned about the "Faustian Choice": the fact that capitalism and the extensive use of fossil fuels allows people to live better than even the wealthiest people under the feudal system but that this system is ultimately unsustainable because fossil fuels are finite and the Earth cannot keep absorbing all the waste products. Some 19th Century ideas were famous for "shocking the Bourgeoisie," who owned and benefitted most from capital. Karl

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