Friday 12 April 2024

The Doctrine of Progress

 Yet this doctrine of progress in the form in which it was originally announced is already, I think, ceasing to hold the field. For this there are various reasons. Partly, I suppose, we see how little support it finds in known facts; how short is the period and how small the area over which even what we call progress has prevailed; insomuch that we can hardly deny the dictum of Sir Henry Maine that progress, so far as our positive knowledge goes, must be regarded rather as an exception than as the rule. Partly, we see how doubtful is even such progress as we think we can recognize; how gains are counterbalanced by losses; and how hard it is to sum up the total result. If, for instance, we have gained in scientific knowledge and practical capacity, have we not lost in imagination, in nobility and spiritual force? Such considerations undoubtedly have damped our belief in progress. They affect however rather the fact than the conception, and it is with the latter that we are at present concerned. Is the conception of progress, in the form in which it has become popularized, sufficient to bear the weight of Western optimism? I doubt it; and for this reason. Progress has been commonly conceived as progress not of the individual but of the race. The individual has been thrust into the background, under the influence of biology; and the world-process has come to be regarded as a movement towards the perfection not of All, but of some remote generation. The progress of humanity has extruded that of the individual, who has thus been reduced to a mere means towards an end in which he has no participation.
G. Lowes Dickinson, Religion and Immortality (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), pp. 39-40.