You are on page 1of 4

s Human Progress an

illusion ?


WednesdaySEP 2011



human progress, illusion

I do not wish to judge how far my efforts coincide with those of other
philosophers. Indeed, what I have written here makes no claim to novelty
in detail, and the reason why I give no sources is that it is a matter of
indifference to me whether the thoughts that I have had have been
anticipated by someone else.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


Humankind changes. Noone can deny that. Over the thousand years we
exist on Earth, we have developed many ideas, changed views on almost all
issues, fought wars, discovered human rights, advocated even animal
rights, explored space, tried to explain the existence of the universe,
analyzed mathematical truths, changed our own human genome, increased
our knowledge on almost every scientific field, recognized that disabled
people must be treated with respect and not as outcasts, build up the idea
of democracy. Despite all the above many people think that humans do not
actually progress. They advocate that even though we seem to progress, we
actually only change but still remain the same as species. For example, we
may have improved technology, but the use of that technology hasnt
changed our life much. We still do the same things, just the tools have
changed. We still use fire, but in the form of an electic oven. We still
communicate, but with e-mail and not simple mail. The underlying reality
they claim remains the same, just the surface changes. And that is not

enough to claim that progess exists. On the other side, other people
(including me) think that progress actually is there as a fact.
Progress as an illusion

The ones who believe that human progress is an illusion have some
examples to support their opinion. The first example is that of technology
progress. In that frame of thought, all things that appear as technological
progress are mere a change in the appearance and not something truly real.
The cases of fire and mail were already mentioned in the introduction
Many others exist. One may think that using cars, living in modern houses,
having court justice system, using political parties as an expression means
in a democratic system is something that differentiates us from the people
in ancient times. That is simply not true. Ancient Greeks had all these and
in some cases they used it more wisely than we do now.
As far as moral laws are concerned, it can be claimed that people have not
morally changed much in the years they exist. People continue to try to
steal you, as they did in the old times. People still try to decieve you so as
to earn money, as they did in the old days. People still cheat on their wifes /
husbands. In a way, things have not changed much in the aspect.
All the above-mentioned observations have led some people to believe that
we as species remain the same. We do not progress, just change in
order to adapt to our environment as all other species do. That is also the
reason why many darwinists are in favour of that idea althrough not
everyone who believes that human progress is an illusion is necessarily a
darwinist. Many free thinking people who believe in the special traits of
humans against the other animals debate on that.
Progress as a reality

There are some counter-arguments in favour of the idea that human

progress is true and exists. Before saying anything we must define the word
progress. It can be said that progress is changing in a positive way. With
that definition in mind, we will attempt to show that such a thing exists.

The first argument in favour of actual progress has to do with the increase
of human knowledge on how the cosmos works. For many years now we
have learned a great deal about physics, the nature of matter, how particles
interact with each other, how the planets move, why various phenomena
take place and so on. That vast increase in knowledge can only be
considered as something positive change, as progress. The fact that we
know why it rains, that we understand that lightning bolts are not an act of
some god to punish us but a simple natural phenomenon, that we have
discovered the underlying nature of numbers, that we know chemistry and
that we can predict the weather for the next day (even though not with
great accuracy sometimes) seems to be actual progress no matter how
someone looks at it.
A second argument comes from the morality field. It is true that we have
not been more moral in the modern days when compared with the people
who lived in the old days. But one cannot deny that some progress has
been made when it comes to human rights. Only in the last 50 years have
we recognized as society the equality of all races, the respect for the
different, the right of human dignity that applies for all people equally, the
right to vote for women, the right to have an unpolluted environment to live
Ofcourse some could argue that these are mere products of our current
society and not reall change of our selfs. But I will answer to them that we,
humans, are social beings. Society should be considered a part of our
nature, in the same way as living in groups is considered part of the nature
of lions. And there is not reason why every accomplishment of human
societies should not be attributed to humans but to some entity called
society which has nothing to do with us. We formulate society and we
decide via our own free will how societies operate. Recognizing the
freedom of speech as a human right is our progress, not the progress of an
alien entity.
Some other might argue that the progress in human rights is an
accomplishment of western society only and that other societies remain

unaware of things like the freedom of speech. That is true, but I do not
think it nullifies the fact that in total, human race has progressed. Even if
not everyone is aware of the notion of the freedom of speech, the fact that
some people are clearly is an indication of progress.
Technology is not progress

During the last 50 years, the word progress is closely related to the word
technological progress. I do not agree with that way of thinking.
Technology is a way to make your life easier, but it has nothing to do with
the progress of humankind. An animal can also make its life easier by using
a tool. That doesnt mean it progresses. The dominant materialistic way of
thinking in the 21st century has distrorted the idea of progress and we
need to go back to the true definition: progress concerns improvements in
our soul and mind, not the use of a stick to get insects out of a hole. And it
must be emphasized that the progress promised by the materialistic
based science at the end of the 21st century is not delivered. In contrast to
the recent past when scientists thought was more holistic, we cannot claim
that today we have made substantial progress on many sectors. Science
today only collects vast amount of data, without suggesting any essentially
new theories for the cosmos. I certainly hope that will lead science to go
back to more holistic ways of thinking, as it used to think back in the good
old days of Aristotle or even Albert EinsteinHaving CD-ROMs and DVDs is
not progress

This article is here to just present my thoughts on the matter and certainly I
do not claim the novelty of any ideas written here. The purpose of the
article is to stimulate thought on others.