term in historiography and the philosophy of history for (positive) change

Progress is movement towards a refined, improved, or otherwise desired state. It is central to the philosophy of progressivism, which interprets progress as the set of advancements in technology, science, and social organization efficiency – the latter being generally generally achieved through direct societal action, as in social enterprise or through activism, but being also attainable through natural sociocultural evolution – that progressivism holds all human societies should strive towards.

Painting depicting a woman draped in white robes flying westward across the land with settlers and following her on foot
John Gast, American Progress, circa 1872
The belief in indefinite progress is, all told, nothing more than the most ingenuous and the grossest of all kinds of ‘optimism’; whatever forms this belief may take, it is always sentimental in essence, even when it is concerned with ‘material progress’. ~ René Guénon
The progress of man consists in this, that he himself arrives at the perception of truth. ~ George Bancroft
The dark ages still reign over all humanity...this Dark Ages prison.. is... built of misinformation... We must progress to the stage of doing all the right things for all the right reasons instead of doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. Traditional human power structures and their reign of darkness are about to be rendered obsolete.... It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry. ~Buckminster Fuller
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. ~ C. S. Lewis
The condition of all progress is experience. We go wrong a thousand times before we find the right path. We struggle, and grope, and hurt ourselves until we learn the use of things, and this is true of things spiritual as well as of material things. ~ Felix Adler
Progress is only possible by passing from a state of undifferentiated wholeness to differentiation of parts. ~ Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Progressive and Moderate - The Motive Spirit

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  • The condition of all progress is experience. We go wrong a thousand times before we find the right path. We struggle, and grope, and hurt ourselves until we learn the use of things, and this is true of things spiritual as well as of material things. Pain is unavoidable, but it acquires a new and higher meaning when we perceive that it is the price humanity must pay for an invaluable good.
  • It is not possible to enter into the nature of the Good by standing aloof from it — by merely speculating upon it. Act the Good, and you will believe in it. Throw yourself into the stream of the world's good tendency and you will feel the force of the current and the direction in which it is setting. The conviction that the world is moving toward great ends of progress will come surely to him who is himself engaged in the work of progress.
  • A cultural delusion is widespread in the twentieth century. The extraordinary progress in science and technology that we have achieved in this century has deluded many of our contemporaries into thinking that similar progress obtains in other fields of mental activity. They unquestioningly think that the twentieth century is superior to its predecessors in all the efforts of the human mind.
  • If a given science accidentally reached its goal, this would by no means stop the workers in the field, who would be driven past their goal by the sheer momentum of the illusion of unlimited progress.
  • Those who look forward to a period of continuous and, so to speak, inevitable progress, are bound to assign some more solid reason for their convictions than a merely empirical survey of the surface lessons of history. ...Humanity, civilisation, progress itself, must have a tendency to mitigate the harsh methods by which Nature has wrought out the variety and the perfection of organic life.
  • Humanity, in the aggregate, is progressing, and philanthropy looks forward hopefully.
    • Hosea Ballou, as quoted in Edge-Tools of Speech (1886) by Maturin M. Ballou, p. 397
  • The progress of man consists in this, that he himself arrives at the perception of truth.
    • George Bancroft, Address The Necessity, the Reality, and the Promise of the Progress of the Human Race to the New York Historical Society (20 November 1854), later published in Literary and Historical Miscellanies (1855)
  • The ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.
  • Progress is only possible by passing from a state of undifferentiated wholeness to differentiation of parts.
  • For Darwinism there is nothing in the world like value or good or evil. Anything implying evolution, in the ordinary sense of development or progress, is wholly rejected. But... there is a coincidence between that which prevails and that which satisfies. ... Whatever idea satisfies or prevails (no matter what else it is) is true.
    Darwinism often recommends itself because confused with a doctrine of evolution which is different radically. Humanity is taken in that doctrine as a real being, or even as the one real being, and Humanity advances continuously. Its history is development and progress to a goal because the type and character in which its reality consists is gradually brought more and more into existence. That which is strongest on the whole must therefore be good, and the ideas that come to prevail must therefore be true. This doctrine, which possesses my sympathy, though I certainly cannot accept it, has, I suppose, now for a century taken its place in the thought of Europe. For good or evil it more or less dominates or sways our minds to an extent of which most of us, perhaps, are dangerously unaware.
    • F. H. Bradley (1846 –1924) "On Some Aspects of Truth," as quoted in Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality (2011)
  • Progress is the exploration of our own error. Evolution is a consolidation of what have always begun as errors. And errors are of two kinds: errors that turn out to be true and errors that turn out to be false (which are most of them). But they both have the same character of being an imaginative speculation. seems to me terribly important to say this in an age in which most nonscientists are feeling a kind of loss of nerve. the time science becomes a closed—that is, computerizable—project, it is not science anymore. It is not in the area of the exploration of errors.
  • What is art
    But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
    When, graduating up in a spiral line
    Of still expanding and ascending gyres,
    It pushed toward the intense significance
    Of all things, hungry for the Infinite?
    Art's life — and where we live, we suffer and toil.
  • Charging back and forth isn’t progress. Small but steady forward motion is.
  • By the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle-aged, or young; but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression.
  • A fresh mind keeps the body fresh. Take in the ideas of the day, drain off those of yesterday. As to the morrow, time enough to consider it when it becomes to-day.
  • Science has been advancing without interruption during the last three of four hundred years; every new discovery has led to new problems and new methods of solution, and opened up new fields for exploration. Hitherto men of science have not been compelled to halt, they have always found ways to advance further. But what assurance have we that they will not come up against impassable barriers? ...Take biology or astronomy. How can we be sure that some day progress may not come to a dead pause, not because knowledge is exhausted, but because our resources for investigation are exhausted. ... It is an assumption, which cannot be verified, that we shall not reach a point in our knowledge of nature beyond which the human intellect is unqualified to pass.
  • The doubts that Mr. Balfour expressed nearly thirty years ago, in an Address delivered in Glasgow, have not, so far, been answered. And it is probable that many people, to whom six years ago the notion of a sudden decline or break-up of our western civilisation, as a result not of cosmic forces but of its own development, would have appeared almost fantastic, will feel much less confident to-day, notwithstanding the fact that the leading nations of the world have instituted a league of peoples for the prevention of war, the measure to which so many high priests of Progress have looked forward as meaning a long stride forward on the road to Utopia.
  • Within any city or state or civilization... the natural operation of time was to produce internal corruption; the ordinary expected routine thing was a process of decadence. This could even be observed in a parallel manner in the physical world, where bodies would decompose and the finest fabrics in nature would suffer putrefaction. In fact, the current science chimed in with the current view of nature, for in both these realms it was held that compound bodies had a natural tendency to disintegrate. ... The reassertion of these ancient ideas on the subject of the historical process helps to explain why at the Renaissance it was almost less possible to believe in what we call progress than it was in the middle ages. If anything it was more easy to believe of something of this sort in the realm of spiritual matters than in any other sphere—to believe in stages of time succeeding one another in an ascending series... and so to find meaning and purpose in the passage of time itself.
  • Most of the basic ideas in the Renaissance view of history are still clearly present in the controversies in the latter half of the seventeenth century; but the famous quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns—the controversy in the course of which a more modern view of progress was hammered out—is already visible at the time of the Renaissance.
    • Ibid.
  • The transition to the idea of progress was not one that could be completed in a single simple stage… and at the close of the seventeenth century we can neither say that the idea had been fully developed nor feel that its implications had become generalised. Even the advocates of the Modems against the Ancients could hardly be described as the apostles of what we mean by progress. Even Perrault, though he thought that civilisation had come to a new peak in die France of Louis XIV, did not consider that the ascent would be prolonged indefinitely, but held that when the present epoch had had its run the world would return to normal, so that the process of decline would soon start over again. Perrault, in fact, was of the opinion that there would not be many things for which the France of Louis XIV would need to envy posterity. And Fontenelle, though he was conscious of the widening vistas which the future promised to the natural sciences, was too well aware of the limitations of human nature to share the illusions of the philosophes concerning the general improvement of the world.
    • Ibid.
  • Even in the eighteenth century certain of the prevailing ideas or prejudices are awkward to reconcile with any scheme of history on the basis of progress. The regard for native reason, and the view that this was liable to be perverted by institutions, led to... daydreaming about the "noble savage" and the evils of civilization... as is illustrated in the writings of Rousseau.
    • Ibid.
  • In fact, the attempt to embrace the whole course of things in time and to relate the successive epochs to one another—the transition to the view that time is actually aiming at something, that temporal succession has meaning and that the passage of ages is generative—was greatly influenced by the fact that the survey became wider than that of human history, that the mind gradually came to see geology, pre-history and history in due succession to one another. The new science and the history joined hands and each acquired a new power as a result of their mutual reinforcement. The idea of progress itself gained additional implications when there gradually emerged a wider idea of evolution.
    • Ibid.
  • Unlike Hegel’s progress model of history, which moves by stages, each containing its own logic of growth and decline, the economic model develops as the simple function of one money-variable over time, with a long-term trend which increases monotonically.
    • John Carroll, Break-Out from the Crystal Palace (1974), p. 168
  • Science discovers, genius invents, industry applies, and man adapts himself to, or is molded by, new things
    • Chicago World's Fair "A Century of Progress" of 1933, slogan
  • We are either progressing or retrograding all the while; there is no such thing as remaining stationary in this life.
  • The wisest man may be wiser to-day than he was yesterday, and to-morrow than he is to-day. Total freedom from change would imply total freedom from error; but this is the prerogative of Omniscience alone. The world, however, are very censorious, and will hardly give a man credit for simplicity and singleness of heart, who is not only in the habit of changing his opinions, but also of bettering his fortunes by every change.
  • We can trace back our existence almost to a point. Former time presents us with trains of thoughts gradually diminishing to nothing. But our ideas of futurity are perpetually expanding. Our desires and our hopes, even when modified by our fears, seem to grasp at immensity. This alone would be sufficient to prove the progressiveness of our nature, and that this little earth is but a point from which we start toward a perfection of being.
    • Humphry Davy, as quoted in Memoirs of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy (1836) by John Davy, p. 130
  • Since progress is the rare exception, and not the rule, among the communities of mankind, it is less important to speculate about the reasons for its cessation among the ancient Egyptians than to observe how the technological advances made in the Near East became by degrees more widely diffused until they penetrated Europe. Neither Mesopotamia nor Egypt had the resources which would have enabled it to develop its civilization on a basis of autarky. They had never been self-contained as regards timber or metals or even ivory: in the second millenium B.C. the development of larger ships and better organized land transport encouraged greater efforts to satisfy their needs by importations. In exchanging the products of their superior technology for raw materials they stimulated imitation. Moreover, in ancient as in modern times the needs of trade often stimulated the desire for conquest, which likewise left its mark upon the life of neighboring peoples long after the tide of conquest had receded. Aggression then provoked counter-aggression: some barbarian intruders were eventually absorbed into the life of the two empires, others clashed with them, and kept their independence.
    • T. K. Derry & Trevor I. Williams, A Short History of Technology: From the Earliest Times to A.D. 1900 (1960) Ch.1 General Historical Survey; "Mesopotamian and Egyptian Civilizations"
  • The search for justice before God, the measuring of technique by other criteria than those of technique itself—these were the great obstacles that Christianity opposed to technical progress.
  • "Can any good come out of Nazareth?" This is always the question of the wiseacres and the knowing ones. But the good, the new, comes from exactly that quarter whence it is not looked for, and is always something different from what is expected. Everything new is received with contempt, for it begins in obscurity. It becomes a power unobserved.
    • Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, as quoted in "Voices of the New Time" as translated by C. C. Shackford in The Radical Vol. 7 (1870), p. 329
  • Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress.
  • The youth of humanity all around our planet are intuitively revolting from all sovereignties and political ideologies. The youth of Earth are moving intuitively toward an utterly classless, raceless, omnicooperative, omniworld humanity. Children freed of the ignorantly founded educational traditions and exposed only to their spontaneously summoned, computer-stored and -distributed outflow of reliable-opinion-purged, experimentally verified data, shall indeed lead society to its happy egress from all misinformedly conceived, fearfully and legally imposed, and physically enforced customs of yesterday. They can lead all humanity into omnisuccessful survival as well as entrance into an utterly new era of human experience in an as-yet and ever-will-be fundamentally mysterious Universe.
    • Buckminster Fuller, "The Wellspring of Reality," Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1975)
  • War is obsolete. It could never have been done before. Only ten years ago... technology reached the point where it could be done. Since then the invisible technological-capability revolution has made it ever easier so to do. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry. The essence of livingry is human-life advantaging and environment controlling. With the highest aeronautical and engineering facilities of the world redirected from weaponry to livingry production, all humanity would have the option of becoming enduringly successful... If realized, this historically greatest design revolution will joyously elevate all humanity to unprecedented heights.
Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. ~ Kahlil Gibran
  • I must do something to keep my thoughts fresh and growing. I dread nothing so much as falling into a rut and feeling myself becoming a fossil.
    • James A. Garfield, as quoted in Garfield's Words : Suggestive Passages from the Public and Private Writings of James Abram Garfield (1882) edited by William Ralston Balch
  • Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.
    • Kahlil Gibran, A Handful of Sand on the Shore, as quoted in Alterquest: the Alternative Quest for Answers (2006) by Karen Fiala, p. 127
  • Men will become more clever and more acute, but not better, happier, and stronger in action, or at least only at epochs. I foresee the time when God will have no more joy in them, but will break up everything for a renewed creation. I am certain that everything is planned to this end, and that the time and hour are already fixed in the distant future for the occurrence of this renovating epoch. But a long time will elapse first, and we may still for thousands and thousands of years amuse ourselves in all sorts of ways on this dear old surface.
  • The facts come sometimes to belie those who are convinced of the present reality of ‘moral progress’, according to the most usual conception of it; but all they do is modify their ideas a little in this respect, or refer the realization of their ideal to a more or less remote future, and they, too, might crawl out of their difficulties by talking about a ‘rhythm of progress’. Besides this, by a much simpler solution, they usually strive to forget the lesson of experience: such are the incorrigible dreamers who, at each new war do not fail to prophesy that it will be the last. The belief in indefinite progress is, all told, nothing more than the most ingenuous and the grossest of all kinds of ‘optimism’; whatever forms this belief may take, it is always sentimental in essence, even when it is concerned with ‘material progress’.
    • René Guénon, East and West (Ghent NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001; originally published in 1924 in French as Orient et Occident), p. 23 (Ch. 1, "Civilization & Progress"). [2]
Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.
~Thor Heyerdahl
  • Look up and not down, look forward and not back, look out and not in, and lend a hand!
  • We all, naturally, want things to be better than they are, if that is possible. We all want progress. But just as nothing is ever better as such, but only ever in certain respects, there is no such thing as progress as such, or in the abstract. We are not sitting in an evolutionary elevator that has only two directions: up and down. Instead, there are many different ways of going up and going forward, many different ways of going down and backwards, and many different ways of going sideways, or around in circles, or of moving without any clear direction at all. Moreover, the ways that lead upwards in some way may also lead downwards in some other way. Things are usually more complex than we would like, and for this very reason, also more complex than we may care to acknowledge.
    • Michael Hauskeller, Mythologies of Transhumanism (2016), p. x
  • Just as the works of Apelles and Sophocles, if Raphael and Shakespeare had known them, should not have appeared to them as mere preliminary exercises for their own work, but rather as a kindred force of the spirit, so, too reason cannot find in its own earlier forms mere useful preliminary exercises for itself. And if Virgil did consider Homer such a preliminary exercise for himself and his refined age, his work has therefore remained a post-liminary exercise [Nachübung].
    • G. W. F. Hegel, Difference of the Fichtean and Schellingean System of Philosophy, in W. Kaufmann, Hegel (1966), p. 49
  • Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.
    • Thor Heyerdahl; quoted in Richard R. Lineman, 'Two-Way Ticket to Paradise', book review of Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu-Hiva, in New York Times (29 Aug 1975), 58, col. 5
  • If you think about it, the only way you can really talk meaningfully about progress is by reference to a tradition. It's by reference to how far we've gotten up to this point that we can say, okay, we're making progress. Progress, if it is meaningful, can't just mean novelty. It can't just mean doing something different than what we've done before. That means it's got to be gauged by what has been done before, and it's in light of that that we say we're making progress. And the deeper our immersion, the harder we realize it is to make progress.
    • Thomas Hibbs, Zaytuna College, 2021 [3]
  • There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.
  • There has been a general trend in recent times toward a Unitarian mythology and the worship of one God. This is the tendency which it is customary to regard as spiritual progress. On what grounds? Chiefly, so far as one can see, because we in the Twentieth Century West are officially the worshippers of a single divinity. A movement whose consummation is Us must be progressive. Quod erat demonstrandum.
    • Aldous Huxley, “One and Many,” Do What You Will (1928), p. 16
  • The progress of man... from its starting to its closing points meeting on the highest point of its circumference—is what we call the Maha Yug or Great Cycle...If using a more familiar term we call the Great Cycle the Macrokosm and its component parts or the inter-linked star worlds Microkosms, the occultists' meaning in representing each of the latter as perfect copies of the former will become evident. p. 47
    For, as planetary development, is as progressive as human or race evolution, the hour of the Pralaya's coming catches the series of worlds at successive stages of evolution; (i.e.) each has attained to some one of the periods of evolutionary progress— each stops there, until the outward impulse of the next manvantara sets it going from that very point—like a stopped time-piece rewound. p. 67
  • If somebody drives 311 miles an hour (instead of 309) in a one-man car which consumes one gallon for every two miles on an artificial driveway then he or she has furthered the sacred cause of "progress." Even human sacrifices are made to placate the sinister god of progress. Every year about 40,000 people are squashed to death on the American highways with the help of explosive motors. If somebody would start a sect which would immolate every year about 40,000 innocent people to a god named Progressilopochtli or if a medicine were to be sold which annually cures the headache of about 20,000,000 people but kills off forty thousand men, women, and children, the police would definitely step in and the head of the sect or the manufacturer of the medicine would be confined in a prison or a psychopathic ward. Yet with our present state of mind we rather advocate the psychopathic ward for the man who would plead for the abolition of automobiles.
  • We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.
  • In se magna ruunt: laetis hunc numina rebus crescendi posuere modum.
    • Great things come crashing down upon themselves – such is the limit of growth ordained by heaven for success.
      • Lucan, Pharsalia (c. 61 AD), Book I, line 81
  • Let us labor for that larger and larger comprehension of truth, that more and more thorough repudiation of error, which shall make the history of mankind a series of ascending developments.
  • Regarded as "progress" by most Americans, this unrestrained growth had negative as well as positive consequences. For Indians it was a story of contraction rather than expansion, of decline from a vital culture toward dependence and apathy. The one-seventh of the population that was black also bore much of the burden of progress while reaping few of its benefits. Slave-grown crops sustained part of the era's economic growth and much of its territorial expansion. The cascade of cotton from the American South dominated the world market, paced the industrial revolution in England and New England, and fastened the shackles of slavery more securely than ever on Afro-Americans.
  • The idea of progress … is that human knowledge tends continually to advance because each generation can build on the achievements of the preceding one. ... Faith in progress is based on the (very un-Socratic) assumption that wisdom or knowledge can not only be taught but can be “published” in the modern sense: written down in books in such a way as to be easily and genuinely appropriated, so that the next generation, after a brief period of learning, can begin where the previous one left off.

    A second, related assumption of modern progress-philosophy is that intellectual production functions in essentially the same way as economic production: the progress of both results from “teamwork,” from the practice of the division of labor or specialization within a group. And just as the essential precondition of the economic division of labor is exchange, so the precondition of intellectual specialization is the efficient exchange of knowledge—through publication.

    In the modern period, the whole enterprise of philosophy and science has been organized around this idea of progress. The pursuit of knowledge has become uniquely “socialized,” become a team effort, a collective undertaking, both across generations and across individuals within a single generation. This has affected our whole experience of the intellectual life. The modern scholar or scientist ultimately does not—and cannot—live to think for himself in the quiet of his study. He lives to “make a contribution” to an ongoing, public enterprise, to what “we know.” And at the core of this effort at collective knowing is the modern institution of publication.

    • Arthur Melzer, “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing,” Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, Issue 4, November 2007
  • There was once a time when the life of men resembled that of beasts. They dwelt in mountain caves and dark ravines, for as yet there was no roofed house nor broad city fortified with stone towers. Nor did the curved ploughs cleave the black clod, nurse of the grain, nor the busy iron tend the fruitful rows of bacchic vines, but earth was barren. In mutual slaughter they dined on food of flesh. But when time, begetter and nurturer of all things, wrought a change in mortal life—whether of the solicitude of Prometheus, or from necessity, or by long experience, offering nature itself as teacher—then was discovered holy Demeter's gift, the nourishment of cultivated grain, and the sweet fount of Bacchus. The earth, once barren, began to be ploughed by yoked oxen, towered cities arose, men built sheltering homes and turned their lives from savage ways to civilized. From this time they made it a law to bury the dead or give unburied bodies their portion of dust, leaving no visible reminder of their former impious feasts.
    • Moschion (ca. 3rd century BC) as quoted by W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy Vol. 3, "The Fifth Century Enlightenment" (1971) from an unknown play "in the spirit of the late fifth of fourth century BC."
  • We’re attracted to the amazing. The unquestioned narrative of our time is of endless and accelerating technological breakthroughs. Since this seems to have been the case for several generations, it is considered to be a constant of the human condition. But how could we be so easily fooled? It is not that hard to see the error in the story by imagining a person living around 1900 suddenly transported to 1960, while another from 1960 is popped into 2020. Which person sees more unrecognizable “magic” all around? Cars, planes, radios, televisions, computers, nuclear power, all manner of household appliances like refrigerators and washing machines came into widespread use across the first interval. But what would the 1960 person be confused by? Microwave ovens would be new. Computers and phones advanced impressively, but not beyond recognition. A citizen of 1960 would correctly guess that the rectangle held to your cheek is a dumb-looking phone whose wire has been replaced by radio communication: not magic. So are we really accelerating? Is the next 60 years going to bring back the magic, or is that phase mostly done now? Challenge your assumptions. Snap out of the maladaptive stories we tell ourselves.
    • Ibid.
  • Expecting the rest of the world to follow in the footsteps of developed countries… overlooks this colossal point: now-developed countries had the tremendous advantage of starting with a cornucopia of untapped resources. Those just arriving at the party are finding a picked-over scene that is more depressing than fun. The moment has passed, and the old playbook has been rendered obsolete.
  • The very reason [the Greeks] got so far is that they knew how to pick up the spear and throw it onward from the point where others had left it. Their skill in the art of fruitful learning was admirable. We ought to be learning from our neighbors precisely as the Greeks learned from theirs, not for the sake of learned pedantry but rather using everything we learn as a foothold which will take us up as high, and higher, than our neighbor.
  • In their time, Bentham's ideas promoted progress, reform, wider democracy, and the amelioration of undesirable social conditions. Bentham lived... when common people, the "labouring poor," had little voice and no vote... Their toil and sacrifices enhanced the power of the nation, the glory of its rulers, the wealth of industrialists and merchants, and the indolent ease of the aristocrats. Yet here was a philosopher who said that people are people regardless of their social position. ...[L]egislators ought actively to augment the total happiness of the community. Instead of the people serving the state, the state should serve the people. ...[H]is slogan for government was "Be quiet." But he did not worship laissez-faire as a principle to be accepted blindly. ...[T]he state should monopolize the issue of paper money, thereby saving interest on its borrowing. It should... operate life and annuity insurance, and tax inheritance, monopolies, [etc.] ...Bentham's idea of diminishing marginal utility of money suggested an argument for the redistribution of income. ...[M]ore happiness will be gained by the poor person than will be lost by the wealthy one. ...Bentham's devotion to the greatest good for the greatest number led him to... advocate for.. democratic reforms. He supported universal (male) suffrage, equal electoral districts, annual parliaments, and the secret ballot. He opposed the monarchy and the House of Lords, arguing that only in a democracy do the interest of the gonernors and the governed become identical. ...Bentham urged a system of national education, even for pauper children. Frugality Banks... should... stimulate saving by the poor. Public works should provide jobs for unemployed workers during slack times. ...He designed ...a model prison that would reform criminals rather than punish them. No wonder Bentham and his circle of intellects (including James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and Ricardo) were called "philosophic radicals."
    • Jacob Oser, Stanley L. Brue, The Evolution of Economic Thought (1963, 1988) 4th edition, pp. 122-123.
  • Governments never lead; they follow progress. When the prison, stake or scaffold can no longer silence the voice of the protesting minority, progress moves on a step, but not until then.
  • We are too fond of clapping ourselves upon the back because we live in modern times, and we preen ourselves quite ridiculously [and unnecessarily] on our modern progress. There is, of course, such a thing as modern progress, but it has been won at how great a cost. How many precious things have we flung from us to lighten ourselves for that race. And in some diiections (sic) we have progressed not at all. or we have progressed in a circle. Perhaps, indeed, all progress on this planet, and on every planet, is in a circle, just as every line you draw on a globe is a circle or part of one. Modern speculation is often a mere groping where ancient men saw clearly.
  • All progress, ultimately, is the result of playing with ideas and seeing new ways of connecting existing knowledge in such a way that the sum is greater than its constituent parts.
  • The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities—perhaps the only one — in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.
    • Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963) Ch. 1 "Science : Conjectures and Refutations"
  • The History of Electricity is a field full of pleasing objects, according to all the genuine and universal principles of taste, deduced from a knowledge of human nature. Scenes like these, in which we ſee a gradual rise and progress in things, always exhibit a pleasing spectacle to the human mind. Nature, in all her delightful walks, abounds with such views, and they are in a more especial manner connected with every thing that relates to human life and happiness; things, in their own nature, the most interesting to us. Hence it is, that the power of association has annexed crouds of pleasing sensations to the contemplation of every object, in which this property is apparent.
    This pleasure, likewise, bears a considerable resemblance to that of the ſublime, which is one of the moſt exquisite of all those that affect the human imagination. For an object in which we see a perpetual progress and improvement is, as it were, continually rising in its magnitude; and moreover, when we see an actual increase, in a long period of time past, we can not help forming an idea of an unlimited increase in futurity; which is a prospect really boundless, and sublime.
If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth, then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world. ~ Joseph Ratzinger
  • If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth, then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.
  • Should the nebular hypothesis ever be established, then it will become manifest that the universe at large, like every organism, was once homogeneous; that as a whole, and in every detail, it has unceasingly advanced toward greater heterogeneity; and that its heterogeneity is still increasing. It will be seen that as in each event of to-day, so from the beginning, the decomposition of every expended force into several forces has been perpetually producing a higher complication; that the increase in heterogeneity so brought about is still going on, and must continue to go on: and that this progress is not an accident, not a thing within human control, but a beneficent necessity.
  • Mathematically, progress means that some new information is better than past information, not that the average of new information will supplant past information, which means that it is optimal for someone, when in doubt, to systematically reject the new idea, information, or method.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Three: A Mathematical Meditation on History — Distilled Thinking On Your Palm Pilot — Breaking News
  • Don't talk about "progress" in terms of longevity, safety, or comfort before comparing zoo animals to those in the wilderness.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (2010) Preludes, p.7.
  • Do not preach to me of progress. Change is not desirable for its own sake, but only if it offers improvement.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 634-36.
  • Westward the star of empire takes its way.
    • John Quincy Adams, Oration at Plymouth (1802). Misquoted from Berkeley on inside cover of an early edition of Bancroft's History of United States.
  • Laws and institutions are constantly tending to gravitate. Like clocks, they must be occasionally cleansed, and wound up, and set to true time.
  • Westward the course of empire takes its way;
    The four first Acts already past,
    A fifth shall close the Drama with the day;
    Time's noblest offspring is the last.
    • Bishop Berkeley, Verses, on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America
  • Finds progress, man's distinctive mark alone,
    Not God's, and not the beast's;
    God is, they are,
    Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be.
  • Progress is
    The law of life, man is not
    Man as yet.
  • Like plants in mines, which never saw the sun,
    But dream of him, and guess where he may be,
    And do their best to climb, and get to him.
  • All things journey: sun and moon,
    Morning, noon, and afternoon,
    Night and all her stars;
    Twixt the east and western bars
    Round they journey,
    Come and go!
    We go with them!
  • And striving to be Man, the worm
    Mounts through all the spires of form.
  • So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings, goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury, and make sharper the contest between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent.
    • Henry George, Progress and Poverty, Introductory. The Problem
  • Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.
  • To look up and not down,
    To look forward and not back,
    To look out and not in—and
    To lend a hand.
    • Edward Everett Hale, Rule of the "Harry Wadsworth Club", from Ten Times One is Ten (1870), Chapter IV
  • I have seen that Man moves over with each new generation into a bigger body, more awful, more reverent and more free than he has had before.
  • From lower to the higher next,
    Not to the top, is Nature's text;
    And embryo good, to reach full stature,
    Absorbs the evil in its nature.
  • New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth;
    They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
  • "Spiral" the memorable Lady terms
    Our mind's ascent.
    • George Meredith, The World's Advance. G. M. Trevelyan in notes to Meredith's Poetical Works says the "memorable Lady" is Mrs. Browning
  • That in our proper motion we ascend
    Up to our native seat; descent and fall
    To us is adverse.
  • Quod sequitur, fugio; quod fugit, usque sequor.
    • What follows I flee; what flees I ever pursue.
    • Ovid, Amorum (16 BC), II. 19, 36
  • Il est un terme de la vie au-delà duquel en rétrograde en avançant.
  • The march of intellect.
    • Robert Southey, Sir T. More, or Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society, Volume II, p. 361. Quoted by Carlyle, Miscel. Essays, Volume I, p. 162. (Ed. 1888)
  • L'esprit humain fait progrès toujours, mais c'est progrès en spirale.
    • The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals.
    • Madame de Staël
  • If you strike a thorn or rose,
    Keep a-goin'!
    If it hails or if it snows,
    Keep a-goin'!
    'Tain't no use to sit and whine
    'Cause the fish ain't on your line;
    Bait you hook an' keep on tryin',
    Keep a-goin'!
  • When old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.
  • The stone that is rolling, can gather no moss.
    • Thomas Tusser, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. Huswifely Admonitions. Gosson—Ephemendes of Phialo. Marston—The Faun. Syrus—Maxims. 524. Pierre volage ne queult mousse. De l'hermite qui se désepéra pour le larron que ala en paradis avant que lui. 13th Cent
  • Qui n'a pas l'esprit de son âge,
    De son âge a tout le malheur.
    • He who has not the spirit of his age, has all the misery of it.
    • Voltaire, Lettre à Cideville
  • Press on!—"for in the grave there is no work
    And no device"—Press on! while yet ye may!

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • The advancement of the arts from year to year taxes our credulity, and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.
  • According to the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step".
    • John F. Kennedy, radio and television address to the American people on the nuclear test ban treaty, July 26, 1963. The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 606
  • I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.
    • Attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Representative Everett M. Dirksen, remarks in the House, September 18, 1941, Congressional Record, vol. 87, p. 7479. Reported as unverified in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953). He may have been paraphrasing this: "I hope to 'stand firm' enough to not go backward, and yet not go forward fast enough to wreck the country's cause". President Lincoln, letter to Zachariah Chandler, November 20, 1863. Collected Works, vol. 7, p. 24
  • Next came the Patent laws. These began in England in 1624; and, in this country, with the adoption of our constitution. Before then [these?], any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.
    • Abraham Lincoln, second lecture on discoveries and inventions, delivered to the Phi Alpha Society of Illinois College at Jacksonville, Illinois, February 11, 1859; in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 3, p. 357
  • The chief cause which made the fusion of the different elements of society so imperfect was the extreme difficulty which our ancestors found in passing from place to place. Of all inventions, the alphabet and the printing press alone excepted, those inventions which abridge distance have done most for the civilisation of our species. Every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially, and not only facilitates the interchange of the various productions of nature and art, but tends to remove national and provincial antipathies, and to bind together all the branches of the great human family.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England, 5th ed., vol. 1, chapter 3, p. 370 (1849). "Of all inventions, the alphabet and the printing press alone excepted, those inventions which abridge distance have done most for civilization" was inscribed on one side of the Golden Door of the Transportation Building at the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893
  • Expositions are the timekeepers of progress.
    • William McKinley, speech delivered at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, September 5, 1901. Modern Eloquence, ed. Ashley H. Thorndike, rev. Adam Ward, vol. 11, p. 401 (1936). This was McKinley's last speech, as he was mortally wounded the next day at the Exposition. He served in Congress 1877–1884 and 1885–1891
  • Two conditions render difficult this historic situation of mankind: It is full of tremendously deadly armament, and it has not progressed morally as much as it has scientifically and technically.
    • Pope Paul VI, sermon at the Shrine of Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 1967, as reported by The New York Times, May 14, 1967, p. 47
  • I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
    • Attributed to Petronius. Robert Townsend, Up the Organization, p. 162 (1970). Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989). See Charlton Ogburn.
  • Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end,… We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.
  • The day of large profits is probably past. There may be room for further intensive, but not extensive, development of industry in the present area of civilization.
    • Carroll D. Wright, U.S. commissioner of labor. Industrial Depressions, first annual report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 1885, chapter 3, p. 257. House Executive Doc. 497#150;1, part 5

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