Home > Uncategorized > The idea of  progress seems one of the theoretical presuppositions of modernity.

The idea of  progress seems one of the theoretical presuppositions of modernity.

from Ken Zimmerman (originally a comment)

Uneconomic growth is growth that produces negative externalities which reduce the overall quality of life. This is also known as unsustainable growth, where the negative social and environmental consequences outweigh the short-term value of an extra unit of growth, making it uneconomic.

But in spite of this quandary growth remains the primary goal. It holds that place because growth is equated with progress. The idea of  progress seems one of the theoretical presuppositions of modernity. One can even regard it, not without reason, as the real ‘religion of Western civilization.’  Historically, this idea was formulated earlier than generally thought, around 1680, during the quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, in  which Terrasson, Charles Perrault, the Abbé of  Saint-Pierre, and Fontenelle participated. It was then developed on the initiative of a second generation, including principally Turgot, Condorcet, and Louis Sebastien Mercier. It is not a populist notion. But very much the work of intellectual and commercial elites.

In basing our lives on the idea of progress, we must not pursue the analogy of humanity with an individual man and anticipate a period of old age. For unlike the individual, humanity “being composed of all ages,” is always gaining instead of losing. The age of maturity will last indefinitely, because it is a progressive, not a stationary, maturity. Later generations will always be superior to the earlier, for progress is “a natural and necessary effect of the constitution of the human mind.” (Fontenelle, Digression.)

Progress can be defined as a cumulative process in which the most recent stage is always considered preferable  and better, i.e., qualitatively superior, to what preceded it. This definition contains a  descriptive element (change  takes place in  a given direction) and an axiological element  (this progression is explained as an improvement). Thus it refers to  change that is oriented (toward the best), necessary (one does not stop progress), and irreversible (no overall return to the past is possible). Improvement being inescapable, it follows that tomorrow will be always better than today. Much like the precept of Calvinism, later taken on by other Protestant denominations that wealth is a physical manifestation of one’s salvation economic growth is considered a physical manifestation of progress.

  1. yoshinorishiozawa
    November 9, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    Although I admit that the idea of progress is one of the presuppositions of modernity, Ken’s criticism is only the other face of the same ideological arguments. It does not make advance our understanding of how the economic growth occurs when technological changes take place. Please read my paper
    A new framework for analyzing technological change. Journal of Evolutionary Economics 30: 989–1034 (2020). Without knowing what is happening behind the conspicuous phenomena of economic growth, one cannot device an effective method to re-orient even the direction of economic growth.

    If readers have some difficulties to obtain the paper, please send me an e-mail at y©shiozawa.net. I will be happy to send you the PDF. (Please replace © by @ when you send an e-mail.)

    • robert locke
      November 21, 2021 at 6:59 pm

      Historians have been kicking this around sinse at least the 1970s,witth my participaion, in French Industrialialization: the roehl thhesis reconsidered. exploaions i economic history, 1981.

  2. orkun
    November 17, 2021 at 11:35 am

    Yes, growth enables us progress wealth and prosperity. However, the real problematic is that the rate of growth. How much growth would be optimal to deliver a fair and stable progress. I think capitalism does not deliver this kind growth to all humanity. There is too much asymmetry among individuals and nations. While some people live extremely wealthy some people live in extreme poverty.
    I explained how this occurs in my book which is called the theory of capitalism.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    November 21, 2021 at 1:52 am

    However growth is defined, we seem to have lost or choose to ignore figuring out whether growth improves or hurts quality of life or is culturally sustainable. Why grow if it destroys too much of what sustains humanity?

  4. November 21, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    It really surprises.

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