Any suggested reading on the Idea of Progress? I am thinking of the idea that sprung within the West and during the Enlightenment, that promoted the belief that humanity (or at least parts of it) are in a constant, albeit intermittent, path to betterment. This idea does not seem to exist before this time or outside the bounds of the West.

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  • That betterment brought people closed to monkeys. Proved Darwin's theory but in reverse. What progress do you mean ? Science is at a scam-halt, general products are of the lowest quality ever recorded in history and humans are more sick than ever.
    – Overmind
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 11:27
  • The so-called neo-Thomists were contra this line of thought. E.g J. Maritain. We can probably add Alasdair Macintyre too. || Also anti-modern were Heidegger and Gadamer (though not to the extent of Heidegger). In France, at least Derrida. || On the side of the Enlightenment project, Habermas. Good book: Title: The philosophical discourse of modernity : twelve lectures Author: Habermas, Jürgen. Publisher:MIT Press,Pub date:c1987.
    – Gordon
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 22:02
  • We discussed cyclical history recently philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/51998/… Rome fell. China went through a phase of powerlessness. The world wars burned up much of the booty from colonialism. Progress as inevitable sounds like 'an end to boom and bust', expansion and contraction, development and destruction, seem to be inevitable parts of economies and social development. Progress is a historically-bound phenomena which could be unravelled by dystopias, war, or varied apocalypses. We may be modern trilobytes
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 23:36
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Thanks! Very helpful links.
    – Mike M
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 9:19

2 Answers 2


There is an unsurveyable amount of writings on The Idea of progress, on progress in general or in some distinct area. Sweepingly, one may be tempted to assert that the West progresses uniformly ever since the antiquity even if the Dark Ages appear definitely to be a period of regress (see. e.g. Ian Morris and his data). A briefest overview is Reinhard Koselleck's "Progress" and "Decline'': An Appendix to the History of Two Concepts (Practice of Intell. Hist. p218-35). The Idea of Progress ed. by A. Burgen, P. McLaughlin, J. Mittelstrass (1997) is a collection of essays by notable contemporary authors.

A recent work by Daniel Špelda, Veritas filia temporis: The origins of the idea of scientific progress (Annals of Sci, 2016) proposed an original development which merits some attention and also provides good references.

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    The Dark Ages is a name primarily about the lack of records, rather than of progress
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 23:38
  • @Crigl Yes, it's just a name, they were able to do Feynman integrals, but we lack records of that. (Added a link to Morris & data).
    – sand1
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 9:11
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    @CriglCragl I wonder how much of such records were destroyed as part of the anti-catholic movements of the reformation, French Revolution and etc (particularly in terms of ransacked and burnt monastery libraries).
    – luchonacho
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 2:33

In Ancient Greece there were no term corresponding to the modern one for progress.

In spite of this, there are many ideas and beliefs that we must consider :

both dissonant with the modern idea of progress.

But there were alsio the myth of Prometheus, which conveys the idea that man has risen and not fallen, stressing man's intellectual progress.

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    You call the Golden Age & Eternal return myths, but not progress..?
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 23:39
  • It has been argued that key to the Rennaissance was the idea that the great thinkers of antiquity could be corrected, and their great works surpassed. I read an analysis saying the average living standard in Rome before it fell was not matched until London in the 1720s, which puts the blios we call economic depressions into perspective. For more than a millennia the great ruins of the past showed people progress was backwards. And now, the way frame economics we can't really imagine permanent falls, not recessions but collapse, though it may be inevitable for a range of reasons..
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 12:58

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