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phoebusg's avatar

What do you think is the significance of Goethe's quote: "If you don't know your history, you don't know yourself"?

Asked by phoebusg (5241points) February 11th, 2010

Goethe is a German poet, quote is a summed translation.
What does this mean to you?

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16 Answers

deni's avatar

Your experiences in life are what make “you” who “you” are…so your experiences can I guess pretty much be thought of as your history, therefore, if you’re in touch with what you’ve gone through in life you should be pretty in touch with yourself. Right?

phoebusg's avatar

@deni what of the history of your people?

odali's avatar

I think it goes for more than the you taken here.. but even if it is just you as a person, to know what you have done and your family has done is a good indicator of what is to come. Furthermore, in the sense of knowing your history eg, that of your nation and those around you – you will better understand what is going on now, and what will most likely happen in the future.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Your history, as in the history of your culture, places a template that your personal life has been formed around. Some people consciously rebel against the predominant culture, but that culture is still a reference point.

stump's avatar

When I read the book “Trinity” by Leon Uris for the first time, I was struck by the parallels in my own life. The relationships between the characters reminded me of my family so strongly, it was as if the author knew me personally. That is when I understood that who we are is so profoundly influenced by where we came from. The book is set in Ireland in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. My family has been in the US for five generations, but we are still a reflection of that place and time.

dr34m3r's avatar

If you had amnesia, would you still be who you are?

The_Idler's avatar

I think it is important to know history, for it gives a context for the present to be interpreted within.
Without context, any interpretation is either severely warped or utterly meaningless.

Knowing History without working in the Present makes you an academic,
but working in the Present without knowing History makes you a fool.

mattbrowne's avatar

We are not only a product of genetic evolution, but also cultural evolution.

The_Idler's avatar

...and understanding the criss-crossing paths of both, so far, is undoubtedly essential, if we are not to take a wrong turn, in the future, and find ourselves uncomfortably close to the precipice of oblivion.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@The_Idler Good point about us elderly history-types.

TexasDude's avatar

We are all the effects of historical causes.

You don’t understand the past, and you don’t even know how any of us got here to begin with.

YARNLADY's avatar

So that would be like saying orphans who are adopted can’t be anybody? No, that’s nonsense. A knowledge and understanding of history could help, but no way does it make us who we are.

phoebusg's avatar

@YARNLADY so if it’s not the culture that’s a big part of who you are, when what is it? Can you provide an alternative?

You don’t need parents to be affected by a culture.

liminal's avatar

Practically speaking, I think about this idea when it comes to understanding politics. I feel very limited in my ability to “know my mind” today because of my ignorance of yesterday. (Okay, I have heard tell that the republican party has not always been scary.~) I think of this question when I think about medical history too. My children are adopted and we do not have information on the bio parents, it has added some kinks to caring for them and knowing them fully (biologically speaking).

Inter-personally, as my understanding of human history (in particular those who have been oppressed) my understanding of myself has increased.

Jeruba's avatar

Are you writing an essay for school?

YARNLADY's avatar

@phoebusg I don’t see any connection between the culture/society a child is raised in and knowing the history of that child. An adopted child often will have zero idea what his/er history is. Have you changed the question when I wasn’t looking?

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