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
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.
Felix Adler, Life and Destiny (1913), Section 8: Suffering and Consolation
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 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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
Progress is man's indifference to the lessons of history.
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"
"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)
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
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.
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
The flower of humanity, captive still in its germ, will blossom out one day into the true form of man like unto God, in a state of which no man on earth can imagine the greatness and the majesty.
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.
To become a popular religion, it is only necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy. The superstition of progress had the singular good fortune to enslave at least three philosophies—those of Hegel, of Comte, and of Darwin.
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.
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."
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.
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"
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.
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.
If you strike a thorn or rose,
If it hails or if it snows,
'Tain't no use to sit and whine
'Cause the fish ain't on your line;
Bait you hook an' keep on tryin',
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.
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)
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.