Progress (history)

In historiography, progress (from Latin progressus, "advance", "(a) step onwards") is the study of how specific societies improved over time in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, longevity, quality of life, freedom from pollution and so on. Specific indicators can range from economic data, technical innovations, change in the political or legal system, and questions bearing on individual life chances, such as life expectancy and risk of disease and disability.

Many high-level theories, such as the Idea of Progress are available, such as the Western notion of monotonic change in a straight, linear fashion. Alternative conceptions exist, such as the cyclic theory of eternal return, or the "spiral-shaped" dialectic progress of Hegel, Marx, et al.

Historian J. B. Bury argued that thought in ancient Greece was dominated by the theory of world-cycles or the doctrine of eternal return, and was steeped in a belief parallel to the Judaic "fall of man," but rather from a preceding "Golden Age" of innocence and simplicity. Time was generally regarded as the enemy of humanity which depreciates the value of the world. He credits the Epicureans with having had a potential for leading to the foundation of a theory of Progress through their materialistic acceptance of the atomism of Democritus as the explanation for a world without an intervening Deity.

Robert Nisbet and Gertrude Himmelfarb have attributed a notion of progress to other Greeks. Xenophanes said "The gods did not reveal to men all things in the beginning, but men through their own search find in the course of time that which is better." Plato's Book III of The Laws depicts humanity's progress from a state of nature to the higher levels of culture, economy, and polity. Plato's The Statesman also outlines a historical account of the progress of mankind.

During the Medieval period, science was to a large extent based on Scholastic (a method of thinking and learning from the Middle Ages) interpretations of Aristotle's work. The Renaissance of the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries changed the mindset in Europe towards an empirical view, based on a pantheistic interpretation of Plato. This induced a revolution in curiosity about nature in general and scientific advance, which opened the gates for technical and economic advance. Furthermore, the individual potential was seen as a never-ending quest for being God-like, paving the way for a view of Man based on unlimited perfection and progress.

The scientific advances of the 16th and 17th centuries provided a basis for the optimistic outlook of Bacon's 'New Atlantis.' In the 17th century Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle argued in favor of progress with respect to arts and the sciences, saying that each age has the advantage of not having to rediscover what was accomplished in preceding ages. The epistemology of John Locke provided support and was popularized by the Encyclopedists Diderot, Holbach, and Condorcet. Locke had a powerful influence on the American Founding Fathers.

This page was last edited on 17 November 2017, at 12:05 (UTC).
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

Related Topics

Recently Viewed