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29/03/2017 Progress(StanfordEncyclopediaofPhilosophy)

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Progress
FirstpublishedThuFeb17,2011

Philosophicalproponentsofprogressassertthatthehumanconditionhas
improvedoverthecourseofhistoryandwillcontinuetoimprove.
Doctrinesofprogressfirstappearedin18thcenturyEuropeandepitomize
theoptimismofthattimeandplace.Beliefinprogressflourishedinthe
19thcentury.Whileskepticsofprogressdidexistalongsideitssupporters
fromthebeginning,itwasnotuntilthe20thcenturythattheoristsbacked
awayenmassefromthenotion.Many20thcenturythinkersrejectedthe
notionofprogressafterhorrendouseventssuchasthetwoWorldWars,the
Holocaust,andtheuseofnuclearweaponry.

Ingeneral,writingsonprogresstendtobearacloserelationshiptotheenvironmentinwhichtheywere
produced.Becauseofthestrongconnectionbetweendoctrinesofprogressandhistoricalevents,thisarticleis
organizedbytimeandplace.However,thatprincipleoforganizationdoesnotmeanthateachdoctrineshould
notbeassessedonitsownmerits.Tohelpthereader,thenextsectionbrieflysummarizestheconceptual
frameworkthatisusedthroughouttherestofthearticle.

1.OverviewofConceptualIssues
2.PreEnlightenmentThought
3.EnlightenmentViewsonProgress
4.19thCenturyViewsonProgress
5.CriticismsoftheDoctrineofProgress
6.The20thCenturyandBeyond
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1.OverviewofConceptualIssues
Theproblemofprogresscanbeapproachedfrommanydirections.Threequestionswillprovidethestarting
pointsforthisparticularanalysis.Theseare:(1)Doesthetheoryunderconsiderationrigorouslydefinea
conceptionofhumanwellbeingand,ifso,whatisit?(2)Whatcausesoflongtermimprovementand,
especially,whatlawsofhistoricaldevelopmentdoesthetheoristpropose?(3)Whatevidenceorreasonsdoesthe
theoristprovidefortheaforementionedcausalaccount?Notethatthefirstquestionisnormative,thesecond
belongstosocialscience,andthethirdismethodologicalandepistemological.

Toarguesuccessfullythathumanwellbeingisincreasingoverthelongterm,theoristsofprogressmustofferan
interpretationofwellbeingcompatiblewiththatclaim.Theyarecommittedeithertointerprethumanwellbeing
asasinglevalue,orasasetofincommensurablevaluesthatareempiricallyconnected.Inthefirstcase,value
monism,thelistofcompellingalternativesisnotlong.Itincludesfreedom,happinessorutility,andthe
realizationofhumancapabilities.Inthesecondcase,theoristscandrawonawiderrangeofvalues,butwill
havetoshowthattheincommensurablecomponentsofhumanwellbeingreinforceeachothercausallyorat
leastdonotclash.Aswewillsee,facedwiththedifficultiesofthetask,sometheoristsdonotdefinewellbeing

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rigorously.Theymay,however,formulateaconceptionofimprovementforacircumscribeddomainofsocial
life,thedescriptionofwhichisapartoftheiroverallaccount.

Next,eachtheoristofprogressoffersacausalstorytoexplaintheimprovementinthehumanconditionthathe
thinkshasoccurred.Thenotionofauniversalhistory,ahistoricalnarrativetakingallofhumanityasitssubject,
cametoprominenceduringtheEnlightenment.Universalhistoriansaspiredtosurpassordinaryhistoriansin
breadthanddepthandaimedtopenetratethesurfaceplayofeventstodiscoverfundamentallawsofhistorical
development.Theselawswouldnotonlyexplainthepast,butcouldbeusedtopredictthefuture.Althougha
universalhistoryneednotbeanaccountofimprovement,allaccountsofprogressrestexplicitlyorimplicitlyon
auniversalhistory.

Thecontentofthelawsofprogress,however,isanobjectofcontention.Manythinkers,includingHegeland
AugusteComte,viewthedevelopmentofideasovertimeasthefundamentalchangethatcausesoverall
improvement.Marx,incontrast,regardsthegrowthofthemeansofproductionasprimary.Kantrepresentsa
thirdcategory,arguingthatatensionwithinhumannatureitselfisthesourceofchange.Wewillalsosee
theoristswhooffermoreeclecticcausalstoriesand,becausetheiraccountsofchangearemorecomplicated,are
lessinclinedtoformalizetheirconclusions.Nexttocontent,thinkersdifferintheirtreatmentofepisodesof
devastationandconflictandperiodsofdecline.Itishardforanyonetosustaintheargumentthatimprovementis
perfectlylinear,butsometheoristsmorethanothersemphasizethatsuchepisodesanderascanbepartofa
patternoflongtermimprovement.Furthermore,theextenttowhichthelawsaredeterministicvaries.Some
authorsleavelittleroomforchoiceandcontingency,whileothersframetheirgeneralizationsasloosetrendsthat
constrainratherthandeterminethecourseofevents.Authorsinthelattercategoryoftenpresenttheirwritingsas
politicalinterventionsthatcanshapethefutureaswellaspredictit.

Finally,thequestionofmethodarises.Mostoftheauthorstreatedinthisstudywrotebeforequantitativeand
statisticalmethodsinthesocialsciencesbecamewidespread.Nevertheless,theydoremarkonmethod,insome
casesindetail.Themoststrikingdistinctionisbetweenthosewhorelyonapriorireasoningandthosewho
generalizefromempiricalfactsinasocialscientificfashion.Whilethisstudywillnotconcentrateonmethod,a
priorireasoningandproblematicempiricalassumptionswillbeattendedto.

2.PreEnlightenmentThought
Whetheranyancientphilosophersproposedadoctrineofprogressisamatterofscholarlycontention(Bury
1932,11Nesbit1994,xi).However,itisclearthatthefiguresofantiquitywhoexertedthemostinfluenceon
laterthinkersdidnotbelieveinprogressintherobustsenseusedinthisarticle.

PlatoandAristotleholdacyclicalviewofhumanaffairs.Theyallowthatcertaindevelopmentsoccur
spontaneously,butalsoseedisasteranddeclineasinevitable.IntheLaws,Platoproposesthathumansociety
beginswiththefamily,thenmovesthroughintermediateforms,andfinallyarrivesatthecitystate(680a682d).
InthePolitics,Aristotlealsopresentsthisprogressionofforms(1252a241253a4).Notonlyismanapolitical
animalasamatteroffact(Politics,1253a2),itisalsotruethathumanexcellenceisonlypossiblewithinacity
statewithagoodconstitution.Butunhappilythereisnotendencyforthecitystate,onceachieved,torealizeor
maintainsuchaconstitution.Forinstance,whileAristotlecautiouslyadmitsthatlawscanandshouldimprove
(1269a1214),BookVofthePoliticsshowsthatallconstitutionalformsbadandgoodareunstable.

LargescalenaturaleventsalsoplayanimportantroleinPlatoandAristotle'spresentationofhumanaffairs.In
theStatesman,PlatoadoptsthetraditionalGreekstoryofagoldenageandasubsequentdecline,writtendown
byHesiodinWorksandDays.Hesiodtellsthestoryoffiveracesofmen:thegoldenrace(Lines109120),the
silverrace(121139),thebronzerace(140155),thedemigods(156169b),andtheironrace(170201).The
goldenraceisthebestofall,andthepresentrace,theironrace,istheworst.AccordingtoPlato'sstory,theages
describedbyHesiodcorrespondtopartsofacycleduringwhichtheearthrotatesfirstinonedirectionandthen
inanother.Whiletheearthmovesinthefirstdirection,thegodsoverseetheaffairsofmankind.Asaherdsman
looksafterhisflock,thegodstendtotheneedsofhumanbeings.Becausetheyareundertheperfectcareofthe
gods,humansdonotneedtogovernthemselves(Statesman,271e272a).Platosuggeststhatthegoldenage,the
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eraofthegoldenrace,occurredduringsuchaperiod.Whentheearthchangescourse,aperiodofchaosensues,
whichcorrespondstotheendofthegoldenage.Finally,whentheearthmovesintheseconddirection,people
areleftontheirown,whichexplainstheotheragesdescribedbyHesiod.IntheLaws,Platodoesnotreturnto
thiselaboratemyth,butendorsestheviewthatthehumanracehasbeenrepeatedlyannihilatedbyfloodsand
plaguesandmanyothercauses,sothatonlyafractionofitsurvived(Laws,677a).Aristotlealsoentertainsthe
possibilityofperiodicflooding(Meteorology,352a2932)andsuggeststhatmythsmaycontaintheremnantsof
thewisdomofdestroyedcivilizations(Metaphysics,1074b913).

AfterPlatoandAristotle,themostinfluentialearlyphilosopherisSt.AugustineofHippo(354430C.E.).In
TheCityofGodagainstthePagans,Augustinepresentsaradicallynew,Christianvisionofhumanhistory.
Somehumans,God'select,arepredestinedforheaven.Therestofhumanityispredestinedfordamnation.Those
whoaresavedbelongtotheCityofGodandthosewhoaredamnedbelongtotheCityofman(426,XV.1).
Augustinerejectscyclicalaccountsofhumanaffairsforalinearone.Heisespeciallyconcernedtorepudiatethe
doctrineofeternalrecurrence,whichsaysthateventsidenticalinallrespectsrepeatoverandoveragain.He
emphasizesthatthebirth,death,andresurrectionofChristareuniqueoccurrences(426,XII.14)andcompares
thehistoryoftheelecttoanindividuallife(426,X.14).

Insofarasitislinear,Augustine'snarrativeofsalvationresemblesdoctrinesofprogress.Buthisemphasisonthe
CityofGodcontrastswiththeworldly,inclusivevisionoftheoristsofprogress.Aswewillsee,thesetheorists
areconcernedwithhumanityasawhole,ratherthanwithapartofit.Andtheirfocusisonearthratherthanon
heaven.

3.EnlightenmentViewsonProgress
Thewritingsonprogressofthe18thcenturydrewinspirationfromtheintellectualachievementsofthe16thand
17thcenturies.Duringthistime,Europewitnessedanexplosionofscientificandmathematicalactivity.Inthe
naturalsciences,themainfieldsofinvestigationwerephysicsandastronomy.Majorfiguresincluded
Copernicus(14731543),Galileo(15641642),Kepler(15711630),andNewton(16421727).Newton
synthesizedtheworkofthepreviousthinkerstobringthebehaviorofbodiesonearthandbodiesinspaceunder
asinglescientificlaw,thelawofuniversalgravitation.Thislawstatesthattwobodiesattracteachotherin
proportiontotheirmassesandininverseproportiontothesquareofthedistancebetweenthem(Palmer1965,
265271).

Thediscoveriesofthesescientistshadbroadimplications.Firstofall,thesuccessofthenewphysicsinunifying
distinctphenomenaandpredictingbehaviorvindicatedanunderlyingparadigmofscientificinvestigationand
explanation.Second,therapidgainsencouragedanoptimisticviewofhumans'capabilitytounderstandand
shapetheirworld.Herewasaclearexampleofacommunalactivityinwhichonehumanbuiltonandimproved
theworkofhispredecessor.Theactivityresultedinthediscoveryofascientificlaw,thelawofuniversal
gravitation,ofunprecedentedpower(Palmer1965,271273).

TwothinkersoftheFrenchEnlightenment,AnneRobertJacquesTurgot,BarondeLaume(172781),andMarie
JeanCaritat,MarquisdeCondorcet(17431794),integratedreflectiononscientificdiscoveriesintotheir
writingsonprogress.Turgot,aministertoLouisXVI,producedtwoinfluentialworks,APhilosophicalReview
oftheSuccessiveAdvancesoftheHumanMindandOnUniversalHistory.CondorcetwasinspiredbyTurgotto
writeOutlinesofanhistoricalviewoftheProgressofthehumanmind,apiecethatechoesmanyofTurgot's
convictions.AlthoughCondorcetwrotehisessayinprisonduringtheTerror,he,likeTurgot,evincesoptimism
aboutthefutureofFranceandofhumanityasawhole.

Bothauthorssuggestthatphilosophicalprogressisthedeepestconditionofscientificprogress.Influencedby
Britishempiricism,TurgotandCondorcetassertthatallhumanknowledgeisgroundedinexperience.According
toTurgot,therenaissanceofsciencefirstrequiredanempiricistturn,theabandoningofexplanationsappealing
tofacultiesandessences.Thescientificexperimentthenfounditsplaceasthecenterpieceofthescientific
methodandthevehicleoffurtherprogress(Turgot1750,451751,10001).Condorcetreiteratesthesepoints
andalsoprovidesawealthofexamplesofrecentscientificdiscoveries(1795,168170).TurgotandCondorcet
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agreethatscientificprogressisdependentonmathematicalandtechnologicalprogress,andviceversa(Turgot
1750,45Condorcet1795,231).

Althoughneitherauthorrigorouslydefineshumanwellbeing,bothbelievethat,overthelongterm,scientific
discoveriesandpoliticalfreedomreinforceeachotherandtogetherfurtherit.Turgotconsiderstherolethat
politicalinstitutionsplayinadvancingscience.Hethinksthatindividualgeniusmovesscienceforward.Political
institutionsareimportanttoscientificprogressinsofarastheyallowgeniusestoflourish.Variationinscientific
achievementistobeexplainednotbytheconcentrationofgeniusbutbytheinstitutionsthateithersuppressor
encourageit(1751,88).Despoticgovernmentisbadforgenius,whilerepublicsnurtureit.Condorcetalso
remarksthatfreeinstitutionsarethenativeenvironmentofscientificdiscovery(1795,129).Inturn,thegrowth
ofscientificknowledgewilladvancepoliticalfreedom(Turgot1750,43).

TurgotandCondorcetalsoholdthatshorttermdeclinecanbepartofapatternoflongtermimprovement.Inthe
intellectualrealm,thepathtotruthisrocky,anderrorsarefrequentlythefirstresultofreflection(Turgot1750,
44Condorcet1795,3738).Forinstance,thefalsescientificphilosophyoffacultiesandessencesisbornof
reflectiononphenomena.Intherealmofaction,devastatingeventslikewarandconquestcanultimatelyunite
scatteredgroupsofpeopleandamelioratepoliticalorganization(Turgot1751,712Condorcet1795,51).
Moreover,Turgotarguesthatindividualsandgroupsthatcontributetoprogressareoftenmotivatedbyemotion
orpersonalinterest(1751,6970).Thesecondobservationisrelatedtothefirst,sinceTurgotthinksthatthe
agentsofcreativedestructionareusuallynarrowlyselfinterestedoremotiondriven.

Despitetheirmanycommonconvictions,CondorcetandTurgotpartwaysonthequestionofreligion.Turgotis
generallypositiveaboutChristianity,whileasignificantpartofCondorcet'sessayconsistsofpolemicsagainst
religionandespeciallypriests(1795,123124).Condorcetstatesthatasscientificknowledgespreads,an
enlightenedpopulationwillthrowofftheshacklesofreligionanditspriestsanddemandgreaterfreedom.

TheScottishandFrenchEnlightenmentwereroughlycontemporaneousandgrappledwiththesamesocial
phenomena.Itisdifficulttodrawhardandfastcontrastsbetweenthetwobodiesofthought,andbetterto
considerindividualauthors.SoweturntowritingsofDavidHume(17111776),whicharecharacterizedby
bothnaturalismandskepticism.Hume'sessaysonpoliticalquestionsreflecthisgeneralphilosophical
orientation.AlthoughheislesslikelythanCondorcetandTurgottomakesweepingcommentsaboutprogress,
heexploresthetopicofsocialdevelopmentinvariousinterestingways.

InOftheRiseandProgressoftheArtsandSciences,Humeconnectspoliticalandintellectualdevelopment.
Hebeginswiththepresumptionthatscientificandartisticprogressrequiresabackgroundofpoliticalsecurity.
Fromthisclaim,hearguesthattheartsandsciencescannotariseinasocietywithouttheruleoflaw.Humealso
assertsthatnomonarchycandeveloptheruleoflawonitsown,whilerepublicsmustdeveloptheruleoflawif
theyaretosurviveatall.Heconcludesthattheartsandsciencesfirstemergeinrepublics,notmonarchies(1777,
5962).

Althoughtheartsandscienceshavetheirriseinrepublics,theymaybetransplantedintocivilizedmonarchies
(67)andcontinuetoimproveinthatenvironment.Civilizedmonarchiesarethosethathavelearnedtheruleof
lawfromneighboringrepublics.Humeevensaysthattheartsprogressmorequicklyincivilizedmonarchies
thaninrepublics,becausetheyareusefulforflatteringmonarchs.Ontheotherhand,accordingtoHume,the
generalpopulationismoreimpressedbyscientificdiscoverieswithobvioustechnologicalapplicationsthanby
artisticcreations.Thereforethesciencesprogressmorequicklyinrepublics,inwhichthegeneralpublicholds
power,thaninmonarchies(6869).

Humethinksthatcountriescanaffecteachother'sprogress.Forinstance,competitioncanspurgreaterprogress,
andisolationcancauseacountrytostall(645).Ontheotherhand,countriescanintimidateeachotherinto
inactivity(76).Humealsoassertsthattheartsandsciencescannotprogressindefinitelyinasinglecountry.One
theyreachacertainheight,membersofthenextgenerationaretoointimidatedbytheirpredecessorstostrike
outontheirown(7576).

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AsecondScottishEnlightenmentfigure,AdamSmith(17231790),isoftenregardedasaneconomist,butin
facthebeganhiscareerasaphilosopher.Hisfirstwork,TheTheoryoftheMoralSentiments,addressedthe
philosophyofmoraljudgmentandaction.ItisthereforenotsurprisingthattheWealthofNations,theworkon
economicgrowthforwhichheisbestknown,hasadeeperphilosophicalresonance.

Smith'scentralobservationisthat,ineconomiclife,itoftenhappensthatindividualsinpursuitoftheirself
interestneverthelesscontributetothecommongood(1776,484485).Itisasthoughtheyareledbyan
invisiblehand(485)totakesociallybeneficialactions.Forinstance,Smitharguesthatthedivisionoflaboris
thespontaneousoutcomeofthehumanpropensitytotruck,barter,andexchangeonethingforanother(14).
Humansengageinthisactivityforselfinterestedreasons.Butgrowthintheproductivityoflaborinasocietyis
largelyduetoagreaterdivisionoflabor(3).Itisbecauseofagreaterdivisionoflabor,Smithcontends,thatthe
poorestmembersofEuropeancountriesarericherthantherichestmembersofsocietiesinotherpartsofthe
world(13).

Failuretoseetheworkoftheinvisiblehandwillleadtounwisepolicies.Smithsaysthat,intheabsenceof
governmentintervention,selfinterestleadseachnationtoproduceonlythegoodsinwhichithasacomparative
advantage.Selfinterestedbehaviorinthepresenceofgovernmentattemptstosupportdomesticindustries
actuallyresultsinaworseoutcome.Onegoalofthebookisadmittedlypractical:toattackmercantilism,the
doctrinethatdominatedeconomicpolicyinEuropefromthe16thcenturyonward.Mercantilismholdsthat
aggressivegovernmentinterventionisthekeytoincreasingnationalwealth.Accordingly,duringthistime,the
governmentsofEuropeattemptedtosteerandpromotedomesticindustries,mostnotablybyplacinghightariffs
onforeignimports(Palmer1965,102).Smitharguesagainstthesepolicies.Hewritesthattariffsonimports
harmthenationasawhole,bymisdirectingitsresources(1776,485487).Ingeneral,hesays,thegovernment
shouldplayacircumscribedroleintheeconomiclifeofacountry,confiningitselftotheprotectionofproperty
rights,thesupportofanationaldefenseforce,andtheprovisionofafewotherkeypublicgoods(745).

Smith'semphasisonspontaneousimprovementineconomiclifewarrantstreatinghimasatheoristofprogress.
But,givenhisworriesaboutmercantilism,itisclearhethinksthatthistypeofdevelopmentisfragile.Nations
willnotmaximizetheirwealthunlesstheyhavethewisdomtoallowspontaneousgrowthtooccur.Smith
intendstheWealthofNationstohelppolicymakersrecognizethephenomenathathebelievestohavecorrectly
identified.

ThethinkersoftheScottishandFrenchEnlightenmentauthorsareempiricists.Unlikethem,theGerman
EnlightenmentfigureImmanuelKant(17241804)reasonsinanapriorimannertotheconclusionthat
humanityisprogressing.Kant'swritingsonprogressconsistofaseriesofshortpiecesfromthe1780sand90s,
includingIdeastowardaUniversalHistorywithCosmopolitanIntent,andPerpetualPeace.Inadditiontoits
relianceonapriorireasoning,Kant'sworkisnoteworthyforitsemphasisonworldpeaceanditsdetailed
descriptionofthedomesticandinternationalinstitutionsneededforpeacefulconditions.

Kantremarksthatcertaintrendsarecompatiblewithprogress,butcautionsthatnotrajectorycanbeinferred
withcertaintyfromthefacts(1784,50).Hisaprioriargumentbeginswiththepremisethatallanimalshave
naturalfaculties.Ifnatureisnottobeinvain,wemustassumethatthefacultiesofananimalcanbedeveloped.
Unlikeotheranimals,thehumanbeingcannotdevelopallofitsfacultiesinalifetime.Ifthefacultiesgivento
humansarenottobeconsidereduseless,thentheonlyotherpossibilityisthatthehumanraceasawhole,over
time,willdevelopallthehumanfaculties(1784,4244).Theprogressfromoneeratoanotherismeasuredby
thedevelopmentofhumanfacultiesduringthattime.

Kantthinksthathumanfacultiescanreachtheirfullestexpressiononlyinfreeandpeacefulcircumstances
(1784,50),whichinturnrequireaparticularsetofinstitutions.Afederationofrepublicswillmarkthefinal
stageofhumandevelopment.Arepublicisastatebasedontheruleoflawwhosemembersarefreeandequal
citizens(1795,99).Afederationisagroupofnationswhohaveagreedtoobserverulesofpeacefulconductin
theirmutualrelations(1795,98ff).Kantarguesthatthedomesticandinternationalfeaturesofthisinstitutional
constellationwillreinforceeachother.Republicswillnotgotowarwitheachotherbecauseadeclarationofwar
requirestheconsentofthepublic,whoarereluctanttopayawar'sprice(1795,100).Inturn,domestic
conditionswillbeimprovedintheabsenceofastate'sconstantinvolvementinwars(1784,49).
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ThedetailsofthedevelopmenttowardthepeacefulfederationaregivenbyKant'suniversalhistory.This
narrativeispresentedas,atbest,consistentwithempiricalevidence.Kantarguesthat,forthemostpart,human
psychologyandthenaturalenvironment,ratherthanhumanreason,couldhavedriventhehumanraceforward.
First,heattributesprogresstotheunsocialsociability(1784,44)ofhumanbeings.Humansaresocialbecause
theycannotdeveloptheircapabilitiesinisolation.Yettheyareunsocialbecausetheyalwayswanttogettheir
ownway.Thesecharacteristicsleadthemtoformassociationsinwhichallvieforstatus(1784,44).These
associationsaretheseedsofrepublics.Butprogressivehumanactivityneednotbelackinginawareness.Kant
maintainsthataphilosophyofprogresscanaccelerateprogress(1784,51).

4.19thCenturyViewsonProgress
The19thcenturywritersonprogresstookupandelaboratedthenotionthatconflictisanessentialpartofa
progressivenarrative.G.W.F.Hegel(17701831)isanexampleofsuchawriter.Hegeldoesnotgivea
straightforwardaccountofhumanprogress.Butheputsaversionofuniversalhistoryatthecenterofhis
metaphysics,fromwhichanarrativeofprogresscanbederived.AccordingtoHegel,theworldasawholeisin
theprocessofdevelopmentthroughconflict.Partoftheworld'sdevelopmentistheselfrealizationofits
spiritualaspect,knownsimplyasGeist,orSpirit.ThefreedomofSpiritisachievedthroughtheachievementof
freesocialinstitutionsandfreehumanbeings.So,welooktohumanhistorytounderstandtherealizationof
Spirit.ConverselywerecognizethattheselfrealizationofSpirit,anentitynotreducibletohumanity,isthetrue
meaningofhumanhistory.

ThestateiscrucialtoHegel'sphilosophyofhistory.ForHegel,thestateisthemarchofGod[Spirit]inthe
world(1821,258Z).Atanypointintime,astateorgroupofstatesrepresentthehighestpointachievedby
humanitythusfar.Hegelthinksthatatthetimeofhiswriting,thestatesofWesternEuropeplaythisrole.Inthe
PhilosophyofRight,hearguesthatthesestates,howeverimperfectly,combineindividualfreedomwithsocial
unityintooneenduringwhole.Thepoliticalconstitutionofthesocietyhedescribesisaconstitutionalmonarchy.
ItapproximatestheneveradoptedconstitutionthatPrussianreformersdrewupin1819(Wood1990,13).

History,accordingtoHegel'smetaphysicalaccount,isdrivenbyideologicaldevelopment.Ideologicaland
thereforehistoricalchangeoccurswhenanewideaisnurturedintheenvironmentoftheoldone,and
eventuallyovertakesit.Thusdevelopmentnecessarilyinvolvesperiodsofconflictwhentheoldandnewideas
clash.AsecondaccountofchangeiscontainedinthemasterslavedialecticofHegel'sPhenomenologyofSpirit
(1807,143152192198).Certainformsofsocialhierarchyareintrinsicallyunstable.Thehumandesirefor
recognitiondrivessocialdevelopment,whichconsistsofrepeatedstrugglesforrecognition,untilitreachesthe
liberalsolution.Intheliberalstate,slaveandmastersareabolished,andallrecognizeallasfreeandequal.This
arrangementlacksthecontradictionsinherentinprevioussocialforms.

AccordingtoHegel,conflictoccurswithinandbetweenstates.Butworldhistorical(1988,35)individuals,
likeNapoleanBonaparte,alsohaveakeyparttoplayindrivinghistoryforward.Thesegreatmenareoften
motivatedbynarrow,personalgoals.Hegelpaintsadisturbingpictureofthehistoricaltendencyofgreatmento
trampleonanduseordinaryones,buthethinksgreatmenareultimatelytoolsaswellofSpiritanditsself
realization(1988,35).Hegel'sjustificationofwaranddestructioninthenameofprogressreflectshisoverall
philosophy.Heholdsthatwecanbereconciledtonegativeelementsbyseeingtheirplacewithinalargerpattern.
InthePhenomenologyofSpirit,hesummarizeshisthesisinthefollowingslogan:Thetrueisthewhole(1807,
11).

Finally,incontrasttoKant,Hegelthinksthatwarismorethananengineofprogress.Hegelarguesthat,without
war,individualsinliberalsocietiesbecomeselfabsorbedandweak,unwillingtoworkforthecommongood.
Thereismoreovernooutletforhumanaggression.Forthesereasons,warisineliminable.Itwillbeafeature
evenoftherationalsystemofstatesthatmarkstheendofhistoricaldevelopment.

KarlMarx(18181883)adoptedHegel'ssinglefactormodelofhistoricaldevelopmentbutturned[Hegel]right
sideup(1873,302)byreplacinghisidealismwithmaterialism.AccordingtoMarx,thefundamentalfactabout
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asocietyatagivenmomentisnotitsideologicalorientationbutratheritsproductiveforces(1845,150),by
whichMarxmeansitsmaterialandtechnologicalresources.Overthelongrun,theproductiveforcesdetermine
otheraspectsofthesociety,startingwiththerelationsofproduction,theinformalandformalrulesthatdefine
andregulateproperty(1845,151).Marxbuildsontheseassumptionstodefinecapitalismandcommunismand
topredicttheformer'seventualtransformationintothelatter.

LikeHegel,Marxassertsthatconflictdriveshistoricaldevelopment.ButinMarx'saccount,conflictoccurs
whentheproductiveforcesoutgrowtherelationsofproduction(1845,196).Adifferentclassofsociety
representseachsideoftheconflict.Theclassthatbenefitsfromtheoutmodedrelationsofproductionseeksto
maintainthem,whilethelosingclassseekstodestroythemandreplacethem.Forinstance,capitalismemerged
fromfeudalaristocracywhenthemerchants,throughrevolution,rewrotethelawsintheirfavor(1848,4778,
484).Capitalismisasysteminwhichlandandlaborarecommoditiesabletobeboughtandsoldonthefree
market.Marxpredictsthatcommunismwillemergefromcapitalismbecausetheproductiveforcesdeveloped
withinacapitalistsocietywilleventuallymakecapitalistpropertyrightsunworkable(1848,477).Atthispoint,
theworkingclass,orproletariat,willsuccessfullyoverthrowtheoldorder(1845,1612).

Marx'sphilosophyofhistorycanseemlikeadeterministicmaterialismthatignoresideasandpassesno
judgmentonthechangeitdescribes.However,thispictureisincomplete.Firstofall,Marxthinksthat
consciousnessofhistoricaltrendswillguideatleastsomeofthefuturerevolutionaries(1848,481).Second,
Marxclearlythinksthatcommunismissuperiortocapitalismbecauseiteliminatesbarrierstofreedomsuchas
alienationandexploitationandreplacesthemwithacommunityoffreeproducers(1845,197).Marx'searly
writingspublishedafterhisdeathshowthatthevalueoffreedomwasascentralaconcernforhimasitwas
forKantorHegel.

Among19thcenturythinkers,theFrenchsociologistAugusteComte(17981857)putsrelativelylittleemphasis
onviolenceandstruggleasasourceofchange.ComteactuallycoinedthetermSociology(1853v.2,201)to
describethescientifictreatmentofhumansocietiesandtheirdevelopment.Comtesawhimselfasgiving
sociologyitscontentinadditiontoitsname.Butmanyofhisargumentsarenotparticularlyoriginal,including
hismostfundamentalclaim,thatintellectualimprovementdrivesprogress(v.2,307).Hisrealcontributionisto
claimthatintellectualdevelopmentshouldbeunderstoodaschangeintheformofexplanationemployedby
individualsseekingtounderstandtheworld.Theformofexplanationeffectssociallifeinsofarasitcorresponds
toawayofpredictingandmanipulatingevents.Itistruethatthisargumentisimplicitinthewritingsofearlier
thinkerssuchasTurgotandCondorcet.But,unlikehispredecessors,Comteworksitoutsystematically.

Comte'smainsociologicallawisthateverysciencegoesthroughthreestages,whichhetermsthetheological,
themetaphysical,andthepositive(1853,v.1,2).Inthetheologicalstage,scientificexplanationisgovernedby
theassumptionthatnaturaleventsarecausedbydivinities.Inturn,humansattempttoaffectnaturaloutcomes
byappealingdirectlytothegodsorGodtotakeaction.Themetaphysicalstagefollows,inwhichphenomena
areexplainedbyreferringtotheabstractessencesthatentitiesaresupposedtopossess.Thethirdphase,the
positivephase,explainsphenomenabyformulatingscientificlawsandthensubsumingindividualphenomena
underthem(2).Humanscannotchangetheselaws,buttheycanusetheirknowledgeofthemtopredictand
shapeevents.Thepositivestageisthemostmodestinitsepistemologicalaspirations.Unliketheothertwo,it
organizesappearancesratherthanlookingbeyondthem(v.1,2,4).However,itisthemostsuccessfulofthe
threestagesinguidinghumaninterventionintonature.Thisisnoaccident,sincethesamepracticalconcerns
thatmotivatescientificactivitydrivescientificdevelopment.ForComte,theultimatemotivationforscientific
activityispractical:FromScienceComesPrevision:FromPrevisionComesAction(1853,v.1,21).

WhileComteholdsthatthedrivingforceofhumanprogressisintellectualdevelopment,heassertsthatprogress
itselfconsistsinmoralimprovement.Comterefrainsfromclaimingthathumansarebecomingsubjectively
happier(1853,v.2,232).Instead,despitehisrejectionofAristotelianmetaphysics,Comteinvokesaformof
humanflourishingakintoAristotle'sintheNicomacheanEthics(1097b221098a17).Comteclaimsthathuman
excellenceisexercisingtheuniquelyhumancapacityforreason.Thehumanraceisprogressingbecausehumans
arebecomingmorerationalandlessemotional(v.2,299).

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Inthefinalpartofhiscareer,Comteturnedhisattentiontopoliticaltheory.Hehadalreadyrejectedas
metaphysicalcertainbuildingblocksofthetheoryofliberaldemocracy,includingpopularsovereignty(1853,
v.2,1556)andlibertyofconscience(v.2,151).InSystemofPositivePolity,heenvisionsasocialistsociety
governedbyafewunelectedofficials,whoareinturneducatedandadvisedbyanelitepriesthoodofsocial
scientists(1875(51),82).Guidedbytheprinciplethatthetemporalandspiritualpowersofsocietyshouldbe
separate,Comteemphasizesthatthepriestsofpositivismshouldnotexercisepoliticalleadershipthemselves
(170).Comteappealstothesameprincipletojustifytheexclusionofwomenfrompubliclife(197).Heexplains
thatwomenwieldspiritualpowerasmothersandwives(2601),andtheirspiritualauthoritywouldbe
jeopardizediftheyweretopursueavocationoutsidethefamily.

JohnStuartMill(18061873),Comte'scontemporary,admiredhisprogressivephilosophyofhistory(Mill1865,
106)andsharedhisrespectforscientificexpertise(97).ButMillwasdisappointedbyComte'sbasicdistastefor
democraticfreedomandindividuality(Mill1865,181).UnlikeComte,Millthoughtthatastrong,scientifically
orientedsocietycouldbealiberaldemocracy.Suchasocietywouldbestmaintainthegainsalreadyachieved
andnurturefurtherimprovement.Millarticulateshistwincommitmenttoprogressandliberaldemocracyinhis
majorwritings,includingASystemofLogic(1843),Utilitarianism(1861),OnLiberty(1859),andOn
RepresentativeGovernment(1861).

Mill'swritingsestablishconnectionsamongutility,liberty,andpoliticalinstitutions.Likehisfather,JamesMill,
andJeremyBentham,Millisautilitarian.Utility,oraggregatepleasure(1861b,137),providestheultimate
standardforcomparingtwohistoricalerasortwocontemporaneoussocieties.Theclaimthathumanityis
progressingmeansthatutilityisincreasingovertime.Then,inASystemofLogic,Mill,followingComte(606),
arguesthatthedevelopmentofideasdrivesthedevelopmentofsocietyasawhole(604).Finally,inOnLiberty
andOnRepresentativeGovernment,Millconsidershowasociety'sinstitutionscanretardoraccelerate
ideologicaldevelopment.

Millthinksthatitisimpossibletofindasinglesetofinstitutionsthatisprogressiveforalltimesandplaces.The
mostthatwecandoistospecifywhatinstitutionsarebestforsocietiesatagivenlevelofcivilization.Mill
controversiallyarguesthatdespoticgovernmentsmaypushbarbarianstothenextlevelofcivilization(1859,
1415).ButMillarguesthatinmoreadvancedsocieties,freeinstitutionspromotefurtherprogress.Theydoso
byallowingideologicalconflict,whichisapowerfulengineofideologicaldevelopment.Millworriesaboutthe
transitionfromonesetofinstitutionstoanother.Civilizationscanreachacertainlevelofdevelopmentandthen
stagnatebecausetheydonotundergoinstitutionalchange(1861a,2345).

DespitehisreputationasaclassicVictorianprogressive,Millismorecautiousandlessdeterministicthanthe
other19thcenturywriterstreatedbythisessay.Hebelievesthatcontinuedimprovementispossible,butnotby
anymeansinevitable.ProgressinEuropewillcometoahaltifinstitutionssilencesociety'screativemembers
(1859,8082).Mill'sworksderivetheirurgencyfromthefactthatheclearlythinkstheycanmakeareal
difference.OnLibertyfocusesontheargumentforgovernmentnoninterference.OnRepresentative
Governmentdiscussessomeofthewaysthatdemocraticinstitutionscouldbereformedtopromotedifferent
pointsofviewactively.

AfellowVictorianphilosopher,HerbertSpencer(18201903)ismuchmoredeterministicthanMill.Spencer
viewshumanprogressasoneaspectofauniverseinperpetualdevelopment.Spencerconstructshisexplanatory
frameworkfrommaterialsfromthebiologicalsciences.Heiskeenlyinterestedintheoriesofbiological
evolution,bothLamarckianandthenDarwinian.

UnderstandingSpencer'stheoreticalorientationrequiressomebackgroundin19thcenturybiology.Darwin's
theoryofevolutionwasnotthefirstmodernattempttoaccountfordiversityoflifeontheplanetwithout
invokinganactofdivinecreation(LevinsandLewontin,1985,2728).JeanBaptisteLamarck(17441829)
explainedtheapparentmatchbetweeneachanimalspeciesanditsenvironmentbypositingthatindividual
animalscouldacquireandpassonadaptivecharacteristics.Thisexplanationrequires,firstofall,thatanimals
strivetoadapttotheirenvironment.Second,itrequiresthattheanimalschangephysicallyasaresultoftheir
efforts,andthird,thattheypassontheiracquiredcharacteristicstotheiroffspring(LevinsandLewontin,30).In
contrast,Darwinhypothesizedthatrandomlyoccurringvariationamongindividualorganismscouldbe
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preservedordestroyedinthepopulationoforganismsthroughdifferentialreproductivesuccess.Thatis,he
conjecturedthatsomecharacteristicsarecorrelatedwiththeabilitytoproduceagreaternumberofoffspring.
Thesecharacteristicswilltendtoincreaseinapopulationovertime.Darwincalledthismechanismnatural
selection.Naturalselectionbypassestheproblematicassumptionthatindividualorganismscouldalter
themselvesthroughdeliberateeffort.Yetitcanstillexplainwhyorganismsseemtofitintotheirnatural
environmentsowell(LevinsandLewontin,1985,3134).

InSocialStatics,Spencerassertsthatevilisneverpermanent(59).Hereasonstothisconclusionfromtwo
premises.First,hedefinesevilasthenonadaptationofconstitutiontoconditions(1841,59).Second,he
claimsthatalllivingbeingsgraduallychangetofitintotheirenvironment(5960).Helistsagreatnumberof
naturalphenomenathatsupposedlyillustratethislaw(60).Atthepointofwriting,SpencerwasaLamarckian,
buthelatermaintainedessentiallythisargumentasaproponentofDarwinism.Evilinthehumansenseexists
becausehumanbeings,byvirtueoftheirselfishness,areunsuitedtosocialliving.Butthisvarietyofevil,likeall
evil,willpassawayashumansadapttotheircircumstances.Hedefinesprogressastheevolutionofhumans
fromselfishnesstoselflessness(1841,63).

InProgress,itsLawandCause,Spencermakesadifferentargument.Hedefinesprogressasanadvancefrom
homogeneityofstructuretoheterogeneityofstructure(1857,v.1,9).Progressoccursbywayofsuccessive
differentiations(10).Thelawofprogressissimplythateveryactiveforceproducesmorethanonechange
everycauseproducesmorethanoneeffect(37).Spencerclaimsthatallphenomenaexhibitthesame
developmentfromthesimpletothecomplexforthissamereason.Hefindsevidenceforprogressinastronomy
(1011),geology(1213),andlinguistics(234).

ThemodernliteratureonprogressgenerallyarguesthatEuropeanscience,culture,andinstitutionsarethebestin
theworldatthetimetheauthoriswriting.ButclaimsorinsinuationsthatEuropeansarebiologicallysuperior
arerarer.Turgot,aswehaveseen,statesthatindividualgeniusoccursasfrequentlyamongnonEuropeansas
amongEuropeans.NordoMill'sclaimsforEuropeansuperiorityrestonbiologicalarguments(1859,80).In
otherwords,theparadigmaticprogressnarrativeshowsEuropeanssettingthestandardsandthentherestofthe
worldcatchingupuntileveryoneisafullparticipantinanenlightenedorder.

TheintroductionofbiologicalevolutionintowritingsonprogressenabledanewformofEurocentrism,one
foundedonbiologicalracism.Spencerenlistsevolutionarytheorytoclaimthatdifferentracesofhumanbeings
existandformaclearhierarchy:Thecivilizedmandepartsmorewidelyfromthegeneraltypeoftheplacental
mammaliathandothelowerhumanraces(1857,18).Thisincludesmentalcharacteristics:Judgingfromthe
greaterextentandvarietyoffacultyheexhibits,wemayinferthatthecivilizedmanhasalsoamorecomplexor
heterogenousnervoussystemthantheuncivilizedman(1857,18).Spencer'sracismiscentraltohisviewof
humansasagroupandofhumanpotential.Ultimatelyitcallsintoquestionwhetherhecanbesaidtrulyto
proposeanaccountofprogress.

5.CriticismsoftheDoctrineofProgress
Ifthe19thcenturyisthehighwatermarkofprogressnarratives,thefollowingperiodistheeraofcritics.In
general,criticismsofthedoctrineofprogressfallintotwocategories.Thefirstcategorycontainsstraightforward
denialsoftheclaimthatthehumanconditionisimproving.Thesecondcategoryconsistsofcondemnationsof
thedoctrineofprogressonskepticalgrounds.

Considerthefirstgroupofcriticisms.Ifthehumanconditionisnotimproving,eithercircumstancesaregetting
worse,ortheyarefluctuatingbetweensomeupperandlowerbound.Eachalternativeiscertainlyarguable.
Horrifichumancatastrophes,suchasthegenocides,wars,andenvironmentaldestructionofthe20thcentury,
canbolstertheargumentthatthingsaregettingworse.Butlessdramaticevidence,likeincreasingalienationin
industrializedsocieties,couldbecitedinsupportofthesameclaim.Thentherearethosewhoemphasizethat
naturallimitswillkeepthehumanconditionwithincertainbounds.Eitherthenaturalenvironmentorhuman
naturecouldplacelimitsonimprovementand,forthatmatter,ondeterioration.

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Thepreviouscriticismstakeforgrantedthatitmakessensetospeakofthehumanconditionasimprovingor
declining.Butonecanquestionwhetherthesestatementsaretrulycoherent.Tovindicatesuchsweepingclaims,
itmustbepossibletoconstructanorderingofpast,present,andfuturestatesofaffairs.But,inreality,itis
sometimesdifficulteveninthecaseofindividualstosaywhetherchangeshavebeenimprovementsornot.
Considerthepersonwhoisforcedtoreflectandregroupafteramildsetback.Intheperiodimmediatelyafterthe
setback,thepersonislesscontentbutactingwithgreaterautonomy.Toevaluatethechangeintheperson'sstate,
wemusttreatthevaluesofbeingcontentandbeingautonomousascommensurable,andsomewillarguethat
theyarenot.Evaluatingachangeinanentiresocietyinvolvesthesamekindsofdifficultcomparisons,plusa
wholecollectionofadditionalonesbasedondistributiveconcerns.Forinstance,ifasocietybecomeswealthier
andlessegalitarianovertime,isthisanimprovementornot?Finally,evenifwethinkacompleteorderingof
statesofaffairsisachievable,wemightquestiontheuseofdialecticalaccountstojustifyviolenceand
catastrophes.Whyshouldwebereconciledtoaviolentwarjustbecauseitsetthestageforinstitutional
improvement?

Otherskepticalargumentspointtothedifficultyofinferringbroadhistoricallawsfromavailableevidence.In
pursuitofauniversalhistory,mosttheoristsrefusetocreateaprioriaccountsandinsteadrelyonempirical
inferences.Itispossibletoattackthegroundsonwhichtheoristsinfertrendsfrompastandpresentsocial
phenomena.Forinstance,itisamistaketoequatetemporalandspatialdistance.Theoristssometimesuse
contemporaryreportsofAmericaorAfricatodrawconclusionsaboutanearliertimeinEurope.Or,theytake
whattheyknowabouttheirownhistoryandmakeassumptionsaboutprimitivesocietiesbasedonthat
information.Finally,evenifoneaccuratelycapturesatrend,itisdifficulttoextrapolateintothefuture.Ifwe
viewhumansasfree,aslongasinstitutionalarrangementsleaveroomforchoice,thefutureisnotentirely
predictable.

Alltheseargumentsappearinthewritingsofcriticsofprogress.Providingacomprehensivesurveyofthecritics
isbeyondthescopeofthisarticle.Instead,thenextsectionwilltreatafewimportantauthorswhorejectthe
doctrineofprogress,aswellasonewhoattemptstoreviveit.Notallofthecriticsconsideredarepessimists.
Onemaypointoutthepossibilityofabrightfuturewhileemphasizingthatitisuptohumanstochooseit.

6.The20thCenturyandBeyond
Someofthedeepestcriticismsofprogresswereproducedduringandafterthecatastrophesandupheavalsofthe
20thcentury.TheodorAdorno(19031969)wroteMinimaMoralia,acollectionofshortpieces,duringWorld
WarIIanditsaftermath.Thisworkaddressesavarietyofinterlockingtopicsrelatingtofascism,capitalism,and
thewar.AsaGermanandaJewinexile,AdornoisconcernedtoconfrontNazismandtheHolocaust.Givenhis
intellectualbackgroundasascholarofHegelandMarx,thisconfrontationtakestheshapeofacritiqueof
Hegel'sphilosophyofhistory.RecallthatHegelclaimsthatareflectiveindividualwhosurveysthecourseof
historywillbereconciledtotragedieswhenheunderstandstheircontributiontoprogressoverall.Adornois
viscerallyrepulsedbythisnotion.Henoteswithindignation:MillionsofJewshavebeenmurdered,andthisis
tobeseenasaninterludeandnotasthecatastropheitself(1951,55).

AdornoattacksHegelfromtwodirections.FirstAdornoissimplyskepticalthatfascismandtheHolocaustcan
bepartofanyupwardhistoricaltrend(556).Second,hepointstoatensioninHegel'sownthought.Henotes
that,inthePhenomenologyofSpirit,Hegeladvisestarryingwiththenegative(1807,32),whichmeans
givingthenegativemomentsinhistoryafulldoseofphilosophicalattention.However,Adornosays,inpractice
Hegeloftenmovespasthumanevilsandindividualfatesinacursoryfashion(1951,1617),hurryingtowardthe
stageofreconcilation.Adornoproposesanewmethodofexamininghistoryformeaning,exemplifiedby
MinimaMoralia,thatdwellsonindividualexperienceandcatastrophe.Theoretically,AdornoreversesHegel,
assertingthewholeisthefalse(Adorno1951,50).

InMinimaMoralia,AdornomentionsthatthewritingsofWalterBenjamin(18921940)areaninspirationto
him.IntheThesesonHistory,BenjaminoffersasimilarcriticismoftheHegelianandMarxianphilosophyof
history.Theninththesisperhapsspeaksforitself:

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AKleepaintingnamedAngelusNovusshowsanangellookingasthoughheisabouttomove
awayfromsomethingheisfixedlycontemplating.Hiseyesarestaring,hismouthisopen,hiswings
arespread.Thisishowonepicturestheangelofhistory.Hisfaceisturnedtowardthepast.Where
weperceiveachainofevents,heseesonesinglecatastrophewhichkeepspilingwreckageupon
wreckageandhurlsitinfrontofhisfeet.Theangelwouldliketostay,awakenthedead,andmake
wholewhathasbeensmashed.ButastormisblowingfromParadiseithascaughtinhiswingswith
suchviolencethattheangelcannolongerclosethem.Thisstormirresistiblypropelshimintothe
futuretowhichhisbackisturned,whilethepileofdebrisbeforehimgrowsskyward.Thisstormis
whatwecallprogress.(Benjamin1941,2578)

BenjaminreversestheHegelianworldviewpoetically,justasAdornodoessotheoretically.

Decolonizationpresentedasecondoccasionforrethinkingtheconceptofprogress.Inthetwentyyearsafter
WorldWarII,theEuropeanpowersrelinquishedthevastmajorityofthenonEuropeancoloniesstillintheir
possession(Huntet.al.1995,99699).ScholarsfromtheformerEuropeancolonies,reflectingonthecolonial
past,havenotedthatEuropeanapologistsforcolonialismclaimedthatitmodernizedthesupposedlybackward
nonEuropeanworld.Inotherwords,theapologistssituatedcolonialisminaprogressnarrative.Implicitlyor
explicitly,postcolonialcriticsholdthatthisuseoftheconceptofprogresscallsitintoquestion.

Beyondthiscommoncore,thecriticismsofferedvary.Forinstance,SamirAmin'sstudyEurocentrismis
concernedtocriticizeaparticularconceptionofprogress.Thisconception,whichhetermsEurocentrism,
characterizesallmajorhistoricalinnovationsasEuropean.Italsoviewscapitalistdemocracyastheidealsocial
systemandcolonialismasinstrumentalinspreadingitthroughouttheworld(Amin1988,108).Finally,
Eurocentricismholdsthatcurrentglobaleconomicinequalityiscausedbyinternalfeaturesofindividual
countries(77)andisinprincipleeliminable(111).Now,Amindoesnotrejecttheprojectofidentifyingmacro
historicalmovements.Hisreasoningis,infact,influencedbyMarxism.HeseeksonlytoreplaceEurocentrism
withatrueraccount.Todoso,hefirstpresentsanalternatesketchofhistoricaldevelopmentthatshineslighton
nonEuropeancontributions.Henextarguesthatcurrentglobalinequalityisproducedbyinternational
capitalismandcannotbeeradicatedwithoutdismantlingthatsystem(11214).Heendsbystatingthatsome
formofsocialismistheonlystableandhumanepoliticalsystem,althoughitisfarfrominevitable(152).

PostmodernpostcolonialtheoristsofferamoreradicalcritiqueofEuropeanprogressnarrativesthanAmindoes.
MichelFoucault,theFrenchhistorianofideas,isamajorinfluenceontheschool.Foucaultholdsthatdiscourses
arewhatconstituteandempowerthesubjectsthatmakehistory.Thushetakesdiscoursesasthefundamental
objectsofhistoricalstudy.InOrientalism,EdwardSaid(19352003)appliesFoucault'smethodofdiscourse
analysisto18th,19th,and20thcenturywritingsabouttheMiddleEastbyBritishandFrenchnovelists,
travelers,andacademics(Said1978,201).AttheheartofthediscourseofOrientalismistheconvictionthatthe
countriesoftheMiddleEastlagbehindthoseofEuropeandcanonlyimproveunderthetutelageofEuropeans
(172,20506).SaidarguesthatthediscourseofOrientalismlaidthefoundationforthecolonialprojectand
supporteditonceitwasunderway(210).InadditiontoSaid,thehistoriansofthesubalternstudiesmovement
haveadaptedaFoucauldianviewofhistory,intheircasetoanalyzeIndiancolonialhistory(Prakash1994,
1480).Theyhavedrawnattentiontohistoricalactorstheytermsubaltern.ThesearenoneliteIndiansthat
challengedthediscoursesofbothcolonialismandantiBritishnationalismbyexploitinginconsistenciesinthose
discourses(14823).Althoughatoddsinmanyways,bothdiscoursesdrewheavilyfromprogressnarratives
(1475).Ingeneral,postmodernpostcolonialistsaimtoshowthatthetypicaluniversalhistoryisonediscourse
amongmanyincommensurablediscourses,noneofwhicharewithoutinconsistencies.

Sofar,wehaveseenhowtheeventsofthe20thcenturyprovokedcriticismsofthetypicalEuropeanprogress
narrative.Incontrast,thecollapseofcommunisminspiredaminorrevivalofthetraditionalprogressnarrative.
Inhis1989articleTheEndofHistory?FrancisFukuyamaproclaims:Whatwemaybewitnessingisnotjust
theendoftheColdWarbuttheendofhistoryassuch:thatis,theendpointofmankind'sideological
developmentandtheuniversalizationofWesternliberaldemocracyasthefinalformofhumangovernment
(1989,3).Thisarticleanditscompanionbook,TheEndofHistoryandtheLastMan,endorseHegeliansocial
theoryasFukuyamainterpretsit.ForFukuyama,Hegelatonceoffersanidealisttheoryofsocialchangeand

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championsliberaldemocracy.Fukuyamaarguesthat,accordingtoHegel,historyentereditsfinalphasewhen
theprinciplesofliberaldemocracyfirstmotivatedaworldhistoricalevent,namelytheFrenchRevolution(1992,
xvii199).Afterthatcrucialpoint,nomoremajordevelopmentswereinstore,butinsteadthegradualspread
andrealizationoftheliberaldemocraticideal.

Ofcourse,thisargumentwasseriouslychallengedbytheriseoffascismandcommunisminthe20thcentury
andtheconflictsthatensued.ButFukuyamain1989wasmaximallysituatedtodefendHegelandtoarguethat
theseideologicalalternativestoliberaldemocracywereessentiallydeviationsfromdeepertrends.Accordingto
Fukuyama,fascismclearlyfailedbythemidcentury(1617)andnow,withthefalloftheSovietUnion,itwas
evidentthatcommunismwasalsoadeadend.FukuyamastatesthattheproximatecauseoftheSovietregime's
fallwasitslackoflegitimacywiththegoverningelite(301).Theelitelostfaithintheregimebecausetheysaw
thatitwasideologicallybankrupt(31).

AccordingtoFukuyama,liberalism'sgreatideologicalrivalsfailedinthelongtermfortworeasons.Firstofall,
communismhasthewrongtheoryofeconomicmanagement(40,9395),andcouldnotprovidelongterm
economicprosperity(2829).ThusMarx'sclaimthatcapitalismwasmateriallyunstableprovedtrueof
communisminstead.Second,followingHegel,Fukuyamaassertsthatonlyliberalismcansatisfythehuman
desireforrecognitioninastablefashion.

FukuyamaendshisbookwithanintriguingconsiderationofHegel'sviewofwar.FukuyamaagreeswithHegel
thatliberaldemocracy'sgreatestweaknessisitstendencytoproduceselfishandeffetebourgeoistypes.Buthe
pointsoutthatwaratleastmodernwarisdestructiveratherthaninvigorating(1992,335).Heassertsthat
WorldWarIwascausedpartlybywidespreadrestlessness(331332),butitsresultwastodevastateratherthan
reenergizeEurope(335).Itmaybethatthosewhowishtoabolishwararenaive,butFukuyamaargues
persuasivelythatHegel'sviewofwarisequallynaive.

UnlikeFukuyama,JohnRawls(19212002)neverarguesthattheliberaldemocraticidealisthenecessary
endpointofhistoricaldevelopment.Instead,Rawls'sfirstpriorityisthejustificationofaparticularconceptionof
liberaljustice,onethatsupportsbasicpoliticalandcivilfreedoms,andalsodictatessignificanteconomic
redistribution.Atthesametime,influencedbyKantandHegel(2000,330),Rawlsisconcernedtoshowthatthe
idealhedescribesispossible(1996,xx).Bythis,hemeansthatitisreachablefromthepresentand,once
attained,capableoflastinginperpetuity(1971,1311996,18).Healsointendsforhisdemonstrationofajust
society'spossibilitytoincreaseitsprobability:heclaimsthattheWeimarRepublicdisintegratedintoNazism
becauseitsmainplayerslostfaithintheideaofapluralisticsociety(1996,lxilxii).

Rawlsdefinesawellorderedsociety(1971,4)asajustsocietywhosemembersunderstand,endorse,andact
fromtheprinciplesofjustice,andmoreoverareawareofeachother'sattitudes.Awellorderedsocietyis
stable(1971,455)ifitsjustinstitutionsnurtureratherthanthwarttheappropriateattitudesinitsmembers.
Thusastablewellorderedsocietyisonewhoseinstitutionsarereproducedovertimebyinformed,morally
motivatedcitizens.PartIIIofATheoryofJusticearguesthatasocietysatisfyingRawlsianliberalprinciplesof
justicewillbestable.

InPoliticalLiberalism,Rawlsyokesthequestionofthepersistenceofaliberalsocietytothequestionofits
emergence.Rawlsdrawsonfamiliarhistoricaleventstoillustratehowhisidealsocietycouldemerge.Henotes
thatfreedomofreligionstartedasamodusvivendi(1996,xli),orpracticalsolution,tothewarsofreligion
betweenCatholicsandProtestants.Bothgroupsagreedtothesolutionbecausetheywereexhaustedbythe
fighting,notbecausetheyendorsedfreedomofreligionforitsownsake.YetovertimeEuropeanscameto
endorsefreedomofreligionondeepergroundsthantheirimmediateselfinterest(xxvxxvii).

Rawlsthinksthatpoliticalliberalismextendsfreedomofreligiontomoralworldviewsingeneral.Thushehopes
thatananalogouspathcouldleadtotheemergenceofawellorderedsociety.Individualscouldfirstchoose
principlesofjusticeascompromisestopersistentmoraldisagreements,andovertimecometoendorsesuch
principlesfortheirownsake.RespectfulpublicdebatewhatRawlscallstheuseofpublicreason(1996,213)
willaidthetransformation(1996,16567).Overtimeasocietyofmanycompetingworldviewsor
reasonablecomprehensivedoctrinescancometoanoverlappingconsensusonprinciplesofjustice
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governingthepublicsphere(1996,134).Otherremarkssuggestadifferentpathtothesamesituation.Here
Rawlssuggeststhathistheoryisanimmanentworkingoutofideasalreadyembeddedinourpubliclife(1980,
307).Thisideologicalconnectiontothepresentshouldatleastfacilitatetheemergenceofamorejustsociety.In
thisway,Rawlscombinesoptimismandrealism,rejectingthedoctrineofprogressbutemphasizingthe
possibilityoflastingimprovement.

IncontrasttoRawls'basicoptimism,environmentalistshaverecentlyproducedsomeofthemostalarming
criticismsoftheideaofprogress.JaredDiamondandRonaldWrightareexamples.Theauthorssharethree
basictheoreticalcommitments.First,theypointtothenaturalenvironmentasthemostimportantdeterminantof
longtermsocialstabilityandchange.Next,theyappealtohistoricalexamplestoarguethatchangeisnonlinear
andthatenvironmentalvariablesexplainthenonlinearity.Then,extrapolatingfrompastcollapses,theyargue
thatrecentgrowthratesshouldnotencourageoptimism.Instead,globalcollapseisarealpossibility.

Diamond'sfirstbook,Guns,Germs,andSteel(1997),beginswiththeColumbianencounter.Diamondaskswhy
theEuropeansconqueredtheAmericans,ratherthantheotherwayaround.Assumingthattheanswerlieswith
Europe'stechnologicaladvantageovertheAmericas,Diamondarrivesatasecondquestion.Why,inthelate
15thandearly16thcenturies,didtheEuropeanshavethisadvantage(1997,15)?Ifallprehistoricpeoples
beganroughlyatthesamestartingpoint,thisquestionimpliesathird:WhydidpreColumbianratesof
developmentvarysomuchworldwide(16)?Appealingtorecentresearchinscientificanthropology,Diamond
arguesthatenvironmentalvariationsatisfactorilyaccountsforthecorrespondingsocialandtechnological
variation.Diamonddefendsthethesisthatfeaturesofthenaturalenvironment,andthetechnologytheydirectly
enable,arethedrivingforcesoflongrundevelopment(1997,87).

Wright'sAShortHistoryofProgress(2004)alsoarguesfortheprimacyofenvironmentalvariables,butshifts
thefocusawayfromdifferentialratesofdevelopment.Wrightstatesthatwhatistrulysurprisingisthesimilarity
amongdevelopmentalpathsinareasisolatedfromoneanother(2004,50).InbothEuropeandtheAmericas,we
seeamovementfromilliterate,egalitarianhuntergatherersocietiestocomplexandhierarchicalagriculturally
basedones.Atthetimeoftheirconfrontation,theworldsoftheSpanishandtheAztecsweremorealikethan
theyweredifferent.Wrighttakesthesimilarityasstrongevidencethatuniversalenvironmentalfeaturesand
humanneedsdrivedevelopment(51).

Thetrajectoryfromsimplicitytocomplexityappearslinear.ButWrightandDiamondarguethatappearancesare
misleading.Lookingcloselyathumanhistory,weseemanyinstancesofcollapse.Understandingthecauseof
circumscribedcollapsesinthepastwillfosterhealthyskepticismaboutwherethehumanraceasawholeis
headed.WrightlooksatfailedsocietiessuchasthekingdomofUr,AncientMayaandRome,andEasterIsland.
Diamond'ssecondbook,Collapse(2005),considerssomeofthesamefailures.Failuresoccurwhensocieties
enteraprogresstrap(Wright2004,5).Aprogresstrapisapracticethatdrivesenvironmentallyunsustainable
growthandisdifficulttohaltonceitisinmotion.AlthoughtheconceptisWright's,Diamondstudiesessentially
thesamephenomenonandtracestheprocessingreaterdetailthanWrightdoes.

Assumethegrowthofasocietyisdeterminedbyitsabilitytoexploitthenaturalresourcesthatitpossesses.
Assumethatitwillexploitthemtoitsfullpotential.Asthesocietygrows,itsabilitytoexploititsenvironment
increases,whichinturncausesittodevelopfurther.Growthisnotconstantbutaccelerating.Thesocietygrows
exactlyuptothepointatwhichitsresourcesaredepleted.Atthatmoment,therateofdevelopmentandthelevel
ofdevelopmentareatamaximum.Immediatelyafterwards,withthematerialfoundationofsocietygone,a
dramaticcollapseoccurs.Notonlydoespastgrowthnotmeanfuturegrowth,thetrajectoryisvirtually
discontinuousatthemomentofcollapse.

Thistrajectorypresupposesthatthesocietymakesnoattempttorenewtheresourcesonwhichitdepends.
Diamondisolatesfactorsthatexplaintheblindness,oneespeciallyimportantonebeingtheadherenceto
dysfunctionalvaluesystems(432434).Wrightspeaksofstickingtoentrenchedbeliefsandpractices[and]
robbingthefuturetopaythepresent(2004,79).ForDiamond,thefactorsarechangeablebyindividualand
collectiveactsofwill.UnlikeWright,Diamonddocumentssuccessesaswellasfailures:societiesthat
recognizedandalteredtheirunsustainablepracticesbeforeitwastoolate.Historicalexamplesoftheseinclude

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/progress/ 13/16
29/03/2017 Progress(StanfordEncyclopediaofPhilosophy)

Tokugawa,Japan(2005,294306),andTikopia,anislandintheSouthPacific(2005,28693).Thesesocieties
wereflexibleandfarsightedwhereunsuccessfuloneswererigidandfocusedonthepresent.

WrightandDiamondseevariousaspectsofthepresentasdangerous,includingthegrowthofpopulationand
pollution(Wright2002,128),andthedepletionofcrucialresources(Diamand2005,487490).Thesearethe
featuresofacivilizationimmediatelybeforeacollapse.Wright(2004,64)andDiamond(2005,118119)
suggestthatincreasinginterconnectednessmeansthattheglobewillsucceedasawholeorfailasawhole.But,
ultimately,neitherauthorisacompleteenvironmentaldeterministoracompletepessimist.Diamondsuggests
thatsamekindofcollectiverationalitythathaspreventedsmallscalecollapsecanpreventglobalcollapse
(2005,522).UnlikeDiamond,Wrightisnotdetailedinhisrecommendationsforchangeandhisvisionofatruly
sustainablegloberemainsmurky.Buthetoothinksthatinthenext100years,individualandgroupchoiceswill
determinewhetherornotcollapseoccurs(2004,130132).

Theideaofprogressiscomplexenoughthatithasattractedmanytypesofcriticism,andsomeofthemseem
especiallyhardtorefute.Foronething,thedeterminisminherentintheideaofprogressisdifficulttomaintain.
Itistellingthatmanyofthetheoristsdonotincorporatetheiractofwritingandthereceptiontheyhopeforinto
adeterministicframework.Second,whetherweagreewiththepreciseclaimsmadebyDiamondandWright,it
isnowclearthatnaturallimitsongrowthexist.Theexactlimitscannotbeknownforcertainunlesstheyare
reached.Butratherthanproceedingasifnoenvironmentallimitsexist,itismoreprudenttoestimatethelimits
anddeveloppolicyaccordingly.Itisbettertoslowdownandcometoahaltafewfeetbeforeabrickwallthan
toignoreitandslamintoit.

Forthosewhorejecttheideaofprogressfortheseorotherreasons,whycareabouttheoriesofprogress?Notall
componentsofthewritingsonprogressareequallyproblematic.Threeseemespeciallyworthwhile.First,
theoriesofprogressdrawattentiontothepoweroftheWesternscientificparadigm.Next,sometheoristsof
progressformulateplausiblenormativestandardsforindividualdomainsofhumanlife.Last,thewritingson
progresscontainsomeofthemostpowerfulstatementsoftheEnlightenmentidealsoffreedom,equality,and
cosmopolitanjustice.

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