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Progress is perceived very differently and is a question of perspective

In philosophy , politics , technology and economics, progress denotes fundamental improvements through significant changes in existing conditions or processes in human societies . There is no generally accepted definition of the term; An example is provided by the sociologist and economist Ferdinand Tönnies in 1926, who viewed progress as the increasing overcoming of deficiencies. Opposite terms are regression or standstill .

Any progress requires deliberate and targeted changes, which are known as innovations . Its evaluation is anthropocentric and not holistic : In the case of desired innovations, it serves the operating interest groups to justify and implement their ideas - regardless of their actual use. If the effects of such changes can be identified, which are assessed positively by a large part of society (mostly because they noticeably improve the quality of life ), the attribution as progress receives broad approval. Modern industrial societies in particular have developed according to this pattern .

The idea of ​​progress emerged as one of the decisive leading categories of modernity during the Enlightenment period in the 18th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries this idea established itself in the context of the scientific worldview of industrial societies , which presupposes a constant social and cultural higher development of humans. Progress and development are now considered to be the key drivers of socio-cultural change .

The ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss recognized two fundamentally different principles of human societies, which he called “cold and hot cultures” . The "cold" cultures - which today are only found in a few ethnic groups living close to nature - insist on the tried and tested traditions , since they regard any human interference in the cosmic context as a potential risk. Most modern civilizations and their historical antecedents, however, represent the "hot" cultures that much more of cognitive ability and creativity trust of the people and a "greedy need" of cultural change have to Lévi-Strauss. In the course of history this has caused an increasing distance from the state of nature : mankind tries more and more to adapt nature to its needs. In this sense, progress is based on the hopeful striving for an "ideal society". The resulting problems and risks are the primary starting point for the diverse criticism of progress ( cultural criticism ) that has existed since the concept was formed.

The (often derogatory ) term belief in progress is used by critics to make it clear that the attribution is based on the values ​​of the beholder or to indicate an (allegedly) dogmatic use of the concept of progress. Various authors such as Hermann Lübbe , Harald Haarmann , Eva Horn and Walter Benjamin speak of an ideology of progress in order to make it clear that “progress” is used in different contexts in order to ideologically justify changes without further justification .

Concept: background and change in meaning

While any change in nature must inevitably adapt to the functional relationships of the higher-level ecosystems in order not to endanger their conservation, every development of human cultures is subject to the limited, incomplete and fallible judgment of humans . This realization led to a great skepticism towards human abilities in the mythical, earthly hunter-gatherer cultures. The successes of the Neolithic Revolution, however, strengthened the self-confidence of the arable farmers and cattle breeders , so that a steadily strengthening development began that has led to today's civilizations. Meanwhile, contradictions and setbacks in history reminded people of their fallibility.

In the course of European expansion, and much more so since the beginning of the industrial revolution , the impact of humans on the earth left its mark. In this context, progress became a political catchphrase : the term is linguistically a noun (of progress ) and a positive connotated collective singular (collective term in the singular, although there is a plural). Such terms are used to give a subjective content the character of objectivity, to give it greater weight and to let it appear in an exclusively positive light. In this way, value-free facts are to be assessed positively and uncritically even before a thorough analysis of their meaning with the help of the Red Herring "in the name of progress", in which they ennobled with Kant's idea of ​​constant "progress towards perfection [...] from worse to better" become. According to Kant, a “hidden plan of nature” is recognizable in history, which would lead to a perfect state in which man can develop to perfection.

In the context of this idea, the concept of progress was coined by the humanists in the 19th century as a leading social category in the sense of the belief in an inevitable perfection ("perfectibility") of the human being Innovations would appear, provided that they increase the "mastery of nature" and the standard of living . They did not see this as a steady process, but rather as a "turbulent" development with a number of setbacks and stark contrasts, although progress always prevails in the end. Only on the basis of material progress can a more humane (more just, more moral, more cultivated) interaction between people - a “truly human progress” - be established. Hegel also saw the development as permeated by many un moral “moments”; Contradictions, setbacks and conflicts. Even so, he recommended that these things should only be viewed as necessary by-products of progress. If one were to focus too much on the negative, the history of mankind would appear like a “slaughter on which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states and the virtue of individuals are sacrificed”.

Despite the politically intentional dominance of the term, the progress category has been controversial since the term was formed. Even at the beginning of industrialization , criticism was loud. Friedrich Nietzsche , for example, warned that the “price of progress” was too high because something had to be sacrificed to him that would ultimately outweigh its benefits.

The philosophical view has been almost exclusively critical of progress since the middle of the 20th century at the latest. In today's development trends, it is mainly the downsides that are discussed. Against this background, many trends that broad sections of the population regard as progress - as historical improvements in the human world - appear in philosophical literature as regression, so that the term is taken ad absurdum.

In the first half of the 20th century Albert Schweitzer complained :

“The will to progress made Europe great before the other grants. [...] He referred to both spiritual and material goals. Today the face becomes clearer, it loses this tension and loses its dignity. [...] Progress is only understood in a material sense: more coal, more oil, more power, more profit. Progress in the quality of man, and that is what matters, because what use are the treasures of the earth if man loses intrinsic value? "

- Albert Schweitzer

Erich Fromm expressed himself very similarly and saw in this changed understanding of progress a danger to the mental health of people, which would express itself in a pathological drive to work and what is known as pleasure.

Since the emergence of the environmental movement in the 1970s, the assumption that (material-technological) progress is unlimited has been criticized, as it is directly related to the increase in production, which would not allow an unlimited increase due to the scarcity of resources , as well as existence-threatening, global environmental changes cause. Against this background, the critics see the possible end of any progress or the urgent task of completely redefining the concept of progress.

At the beginning of the 21st century, for example, the philosopher Denis Mäder tried to reinterpret the concept of progress as "contemporary" and to give it back positive evidence. He would like to see ethically justifiable developments in progress by proposing to link the concept of progress to the choice of means:

“Progress presupposes that the chosen means do not appear to us like the making of sacrifices; or at least it presupposes the willingness to make sacrifices and thus to pay a price "

- Denis Mäder

He proposes to equate progress in this sense with its original meaning - improvement - and to recognize that there are developments that represent regression and positive developments that are limited in time and space and do not encompass all of humanity. He speaks of "progress as opposed to".

Current discussion

The discussion about the concept of progress is still controversial, as is clear from the example of two quotations that clarify the two positions:

The American-Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker is particularly representative of the proponents . He believes that progress can be assessed objectively by measuring development against universal values that would apply everywhere regardless of cultural influences .

“Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than illness. Food is better than hunger. Prosperity is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Security is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Alphabetism is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than stupidity. Happiness is better than suffering. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All of these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress "

- Steven Pinker : "Enlightenment now. For reason, science, humanism and progress. A defense. "

The environmentalist, philosopher and winner of the “alternative Nobel Prize” Edward Goldsmith expressed a very far-reaching criticism of progress in 1992 with his book “The Path - An Ecological Manifesto”. Here it stands for the associations that critics of globalization , environmentalists and other socially critical currents bring in connection with the concept of progress.

“Today, with the globalization of progress, we are rapidly striving towards a worldwide ecological disklimax in which modern man will have effectively reversed three thousand million years of evolution in order to create an impoverished and destroyed world that is less and less able to Carrying complex forms of life such as humans. [...] Progress creates conditions that are increasingly outside of our "tolerance range". - This is a process which, if allowed long enough, must ultimately mean the extinction of our species. "

- Edward Goldsmith : "The Way - An Ecological Manifesto."

The following discusses the trends that are often seen in relation to progress . The ambivalence of the developments makes it clear that the decision as to whether and how developments are assessed and named is ultimately left to each person.

Shorter working hours

Researchers Michael Huberman and Chris Minns published estimates of weekly working hours dating back to the late 19th century. The data show that the number of hours worked has fallen sharply. Full-time employees now work 20 or even 30 hours a week less than in the 19th century.

If one extends the observation period, however, it becomes clear that the extremely long working hours during the industrial revolution (for example up to 85 hours a week in Austria in 1830) are an exception in human history. According to Bert Rürup , the weekly working time of a worker in Europe in the 16th century was just under 40 hours. If you subtract the modern holiday entitlement, that was little more than it is today. According to calculations by ethnologists, hunter-gatherer cultures in fertile, nutrient-rich regions only had to spend 14 to 21 hours per week for food procurement and preparation for millennia. Marshall Sahlins therefore referred to them as the original affluent societies .

Incidentally, the attitude towards work differs from culture to culture: While work in the West is mainly associated with “suffering or hardship”, there are very many cultures in which the concept of work is exclusively positive. The perception of which activities are regarded as work or leisure, fate or meaning in life is also very different.

Increasing literacy

Estimates of the proportion of the population over the age of 14 who can read and write for the period 1800–2014

The literacy to that is the ability to read - - is considered fundamental indicator initiated by the industrialized countries development cooperation and is therefore considered the most critical as progress.

While the earliest forms of written communication date from around 3,500 to 3,000 BC. For centuries, literacy remained an infrequent skill that was closely related to the exercise of power. Book production only increased in the Middle Ages and literacy among the general population slowly gained in importance in the western world. It is true that the endeavor of general literacy in Europe was a fundamental reform that emerged from the Enlightenment . However, it took centuries for it to be fully implemented. It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that literacy became standard in the early industrialized countries.

From a historical point of view, the literacy rate of the world population has risen dramatically in the last few centuries. While only 12% of the world's people could read and write in 1820, the proportion has now reversed: Only 17% of the world's population are still illiterate. For the past 65 years, the global literacy rate has increased by 4% every 5 years - from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015.

The ability to read is an essential prerequisite for imparting a standardized general education , which - viewed superficially - should lead to a continuous reduction in educational inequalities. At the same time, however, the norms and values ​​of market-oriented cultures are conveyed. This promotes acculturation and ultimately the assimilation of people in developing countries into global society in a highly efficient manner : traditional knowledge , which enables a concrete, holistic orientation in the context of local contexts and is a pillar of every culture, is achieved through a unified, universal education which is artificial and remote from life for the locals because its primary goal is the integration of people into consumer society . In this context, Ivan Illich spoke of an unconscious (educational) ritual with which the West was constantly creating new "progressive consumers" and maintaining the " myth of endless consumption". According to Richard Münch , from a sociological point of view, standardized education promotes a reduction in cultural diversity , which in the long term could prevent the evolution of alternative knowledge. Such alternative worldviews are the basis for completely new, innovative solutions to big problems.

Another danger of literacy lies in the random use of the new media , which result in an enormous, worldwide acceleration of communication . On the one hand, this poses a further threat to cultural diversity and, on the other, according to some scholars, it could lead to an unchecked spread of destabilizing ideologies of all kinds.

Security trends

According to a study published by Manuel Eisner in 2003, the relative frequency of murders in some European countries has continuously decreased since the Middle Ages. The United States is an exception among the industrialized nations: the murder rate between 1900 and 2000 was four to nine times as high as in Great Britain. In addition, the curve shows much greater fluctuations and a downward trend only becomes apparent after 2000.

The death rate in Asia and South Africa has fallen significantly - albeit still very high. In contrast, there are increasing numbers for many countries in Central and South America.

Increasing life expectancy

The life expectancy of people has more than doubled in the past 150 years. In Europe this development began in the 1770s, the other continents followed around 100 years later. At the bottom is Africa, where life expectancy only began to rise in the 1920s.

Increasing life expectancy is changing the age structure of society. This has social effects that can put pressure on the coexistence of generations .

According to an American study from 2011, the increased life expectancy goes hand in hand with the deteriorating health of the elderly. The number of years of life in which people suffer a serious illness has also increased. In 2008, however, a study by the Social Science Research Center in Berlin came to the conclusion that most countries in Europe and the USA could also show a significant increase in healthy life expectancy.

Falling child mortality

Since the beginning of the Enlightenment , child mortality has fallen rapidly. In the rich countries it is now far below 1%. This is a new development that was only achieved after a huge decline. In the early modern period, child mortality was very high: in Sweden every third child died in the 18th century and in Germany every second child died in the 19th century. With increasing wealth and knowledge and corresponding offers in the health care system, child mortality fell very quickly worldwide in the 20th century: from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015.

Especially in the so-called developing countries , the birth rates are traditionally very high in order to compensate for the high child mortality. While mortality continued to decline there, too, the birth rates remained high, so that more children are growing up. This has partly led to overpopulation there, with significant consequences for the availability and regenerative capacity of natural resources, the supply of the population with food and water, and for social peace.

Medical progress

Since the aim of medicine is to improve human health and living conditions by detecting, slowing down, alleviating, curing or preventing diseases at an early stage, the evaluation of medical progress is widely recognized. Ideas about the deterioration of the human gene pool , which assume an interruption of the natural evolutionary factors by medicine (see also eugenics ), are now considered outdated. There are a number of indications that human evolution continues to take place - in some cases with new changes.

Less wars and war casualties

Percentage in the years 1500–2015 in which “great empires” were at war with one another

The data collections and processing of Our World in Data suggest that we are currently living in the most peaceful time in human history. The graph shows the percentage of years in the period from 1500 to 2015 in which “great empires” were at war with one another . The data is aggregated over segments of 25 years. In the Middle Ages , war was practically the norm. There has been a decline since the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment around 1700. The curve has been at zero for several decades. The number of war deaths per total population and duration of the conflict has also decreased significantly.

The report of the Human Security Report Project from 2013 prepared for the UN recognizes the effects of international mediation policy, mutual economic dependencies, increasing democratization, more effective state authority and the outlawing of military force by the international community.

In the second decade of the 21st century, individual peace researchers doubt whether this progressive trend will continue. On the one hand, warnings are given about the risks that arise from a shift or split in the “power blocs”. International cooperation is dwindling; Mainly due to the unresolved exit of the United Kingdom from the EU (Brexit), a lack of unity within the European Union , a threatened departure from its European allies and an unclear foreign policy of the USA under President Trump , as well as changed foreign policy aspirations of Russia and China .

On the other hand, the probability that an erroneous launch or an accident with a nuclear missile occurs, that terrorists come into possession of weapons of mass destruction or that irresponsible military leaders conduct a preventive strike with such weapons despite the devastating consequences is high due to the arsenals available. It can be assumed that the subsequent nuclear escalation would wipe out humanity.

Income, standard of living and distribution of goods

By the end of the 20th century, the gap between the median incomes of rich and poor countries grew steadily. Since then the picture has changed: While some developing countries have been able to improve their standard of living on average due to enormously high growth rates, an increasing number of rich and rising incomes in the middle class and are now counted among the emerging countries , the differences between rich and poor are in many industrialized countries have become larger. Economic globalization is the cause of these shifts towards new patterns of inequality, with often even greater differences. Material prosperity alone - in other words: the availability and diversity of consumer goods - has increased almost everywhere as a result of world trade.

This “progress” is visible, for example, in the enormous amounts of plastic waste in the environment, which is almost never recycled or incinerated in developing countries . Since the modern lifestyle is primarily based on consumption , the international study Living Planet Report , which is published annually by the Global Footprint Network , says that we would need almost five more planets like the earth if all people lived like the Americans today (2014). In Germany, the ecological footprint is more than twice as large as the average available biocapacity worldwide .

Risk of epidemic

The steadily increasing population density in many regions of the world , in connection with the also greater mobility , led to numerous epidemics at an early stage , which in the course of history left many millions of deaths. The danger of the plague and smallpox , which occurred again and again on a massive scale over the centuries, was able to be drastically reduced, above all through the development of preventive vaccination technology . The same applies, but not yet fully, to typhus and cholera . Some pathogens - such as flu viruses  - are very adaptable and variable, so that new vaccines have to be constantly developed. There are as yet no vaccines against some dangerous pathogens (for example, the following are being developed: malaria vaccine , dengue virus vaccine and HIV vaccine ). In the 1970s, science was still confident that it would soon have conquered all infectious diseases . Since the turn of the millennium, however, there have been increasing numbers of voices predicting the exact opposite. Although the pathogens and routes of transmission are very different, the modern way of life of humans favors their spread and with it the danger of worldwide pandemics with millions of victims. Even though the threat level is growing, it is still true today that on average significantly fewer people die when an epidemic outbreaks than before.

  • The factory farming increases the frequency of mutations in the pathogens and thus the risk that a dangerous virus created
  • The increase in international air traffic and the migration of large population groups can lead to an enormously accelerated and uncontrollable spread of disease
  • The Global Warming favors the spread of tropical mosquito and tick species and live in the water protozoa in adjacent regions and with them of diseases such as dengue fever , malaria and typhoid . The World Health Organization estimated in 2018 that almost half of the world's population is at risk of dengue infection.
  • The clearing of tropical rainforests and the introduction of livestock into these biologically diverse and highly dynamic ecosystems increases the likelihood of novel combinations of living beings. Pathogens that previously only attacked animals adapt to the human organism.
  • The rapid growth of cities in developing and emerging countries as well as the emergence of ever larger slums without adequate supply and disposal systems (pipe networks, sewer systems, garbage disposal) promote unsanitary conditions. In connection with poverty and inadequate education of the new citizens from poorly educated classes, ideal conditions for pathogens of all kinds are created there

Technical progress

Modern weapon systems are also the result of technical progress

Today, the concept of progress is often reduced to technical progress alone . This is hardly surprising, since the increasingly faster change to ever more powerful, technical systems is obvious. The sociologist Johannes Weyer writes that technical innovations are perceived by society “as a kind of practical constraint that controls us and dictates how we should use them” . However, he points out that the direction of these developments does not follow a “law of nature”, but is guided by political decisions. One example he cites is the electric motor, which was the most common form of drive for vehicles at the beginning of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the internal combustion engine prevailed, favored by various interest groups. Only in connection with the current sustainability debate does the electric drive experience renewed interest. Which form of propulsion will prevail at the latest after the oil reserves have dried up and whether and how future problems in the areas of environment, energy or transport will be solved will in turn depend largely on the influence of very different actors - and not (only) on rational considerations. In order to minimize wrong decisions here, the instrument of technology assessment was created, which only works if politicians take the prognoses into account.

History has shown that technical development in particular often creates new problems that are anything but “progressive”: The most impressive example of this is nuclear energy , the many risks of which the anti-nuclear movement made public known, or misuse this form of energy for the atomic bomb as a weapon of mass destruction .

environmental issues

The critics of the idea of ​​progress refer above all to the increasing burden on ecosystems due to the increasing ecological footprint of mankind, which in turn could only arise through the enormous increase in the effectiveness of modern technology. The planet's stress limits are already exceeded in five out of ten parameters worldwide: The extinction rate is ten to a hundred times higher than normal; the CO 2 concentration in the atmosphere, which is decisive for global warming, is strongly 15% above the natural value; the phosphorus input into the waters is more than twice as high as acceptable; the binding of nitrogen approaches the three times the representative amount; and the total forest area calculated for the stability of the global climate is already around 20% smaller than determined due to changes in land use .

Historical-philosophical consideration

The Progress of America , Domenico Tojetti , 1875, Oakland Museum of California

The interpretation of history under the interpretation of a progressive development is called a progress- theoretical interpretation of history (e.g. numerous pioneers of the Enlightenment , Critical Rationalism by Karl Popper ), the opposing approach is called a decay- theoretical approach to history (e.g. golden age , end of history ).

The ambiguous term has considerable historical and cultural-philosophical effects and shapes the worldview of western modernity in a special way . It was first coined by the Stoics as προκοπή (prokope) and later entered the Latin vocabulary as progressus or progressio . In addition to its philosophical importance, including with Cicero , it also spread to other areas, e.g. B. as a military expression for the advance of an army in contrast to the re-gressus , the retreat. Via the French progrès, the word finally found its way into the German language at the beginning of the 18th century and from 1830 was considered a catchphrase in politics and philosophy with regard to the further development of mankind. Hegel's famous sentence from his lectures on the philosophy of history should be mentioned here as an example : "World history is progress in the consciousness of freedom - progress that we have to recognize in its necessity." From a linguistic point of view, the word progress is concerned a loan translation from the Latin pro-gressus .

In modern times, progressive thinking prevailed in Europe and North America. In the Age of Enlightenment , the idea of ​​continuous human progress received a significant boost. Their dissemination was also supported by the dissemination of the idea of evolution as an alternative to the traditional cyclical images of history (ancient Egyptian ideas, Thucydides ) or the end of history heading towards a redeeming end goal ( Christianity , Augustine ). To many people in the western cultural area the idea that there is “progress” seems so natural that they are not aware that there are also completely different, contradicting ideological axioms .


Progress thinking includes the following axioms of the philosophy of history:

  • The historical development is linear .
  • The general condition is getting better and better , possibly interrupted by setbacks (“cultural optimism”).
  • The natural state is getting worse and worse ("natural realism").
  • Possibly there is also the idea that the changes are heading towards a goal (“ teleology ”).
  • The belief in progress is often associated with the idea that history develops according to plan .

The associated adjective progressive also has a laudatory meaning in internal communist discourses for (e.g. 'bourgeois') theorists who are not Marxists.

Linearity of historical change

The idea of ​​linearity implies basic concepts of our political orientation. It shall be deemed progressive or progressive who (one-dimensional!) On this precedes way, that accelerates the historical process as it were. As a conservative in this sense, however, is someone who wants to slow down the linear motion or stop as reactionary who reverse it, so go backwards, wants. It should be noted that these terms lead to talk past one another if the interlocutor does not accept the axiom of a linear historical change at all, or if he sees it running in a different direction.

Natural realism

In the sense of natural realism, (technical) progress always means removing humans from the connection with nature. This is preceded by the belief that human beings are not part of nature, but are superior to nature and have to develop it systematically. This corresponds to the central motivation of modern civilizations , which ethnology also calls “hot” societies. In contrast, there are the “cold” societies - the nature-adapted communities - that have developed diverse cultural institutions in order to avoid progress and to preserve the tried and tested way of life → see Cold and Hot Cultures or Options .

Cultural optimism

Progress at the expense of "democracy" ( East Timor )

The modern Enlightenment optimism for progress began in the 18th century with Turgot , Voltaire and Condorcet . Voltaire wants to replace the hitherto prevailing theology of history of the Christian doctrine of the faith with a conception of history based on reason and open to progress. Auguste Comte adds in the 19th century with the conviction that history, in addition to technical progress, brings ethical progress (solving social problems, general increase in humanity) with it. For Hegel , history is the constant growth of reason through a dialectical process.

Cultural optimism assumes that change is usually an improvement. This results in a positive evaluation of the “new” and a negative evaluation of the “old”, ie “obsolete”. According to this thinking, our civilization today is valued as better than previous ones and it is believed that civilizations of the future will be better than ours today.

Thinking about progress often also includes the idea of being able to realize “ utopias ” ( Greek ou tópos = no place, nowhere), perhaps of a socio-political nature. To the culture optimist, something that has never been seen before appears to be fundamentally achievable, indeed as the content of political thought.


Teleology ( ancient Greek τέλος télos , German 'purpose, goal, end' and λόγος lógos 'doctrine') is the doctrine that actions or development processes are oriented towards purposes and consistently expedient.

The belief in an ultimate goal of historical changes is very old and in our cultural area is based on old biblical ideas. The ideas of what this end goal will look like (descriptive) or should look like (normative) differ widely.

Nonetheless, an end-to-end purpose is a common notion. Religiously there is the belief in a “ Third Kingdom ” (after the first until Jesus Christ and the second after), which lasts forever (“for a thousand years”). Adolf Hitler took up these mythical ideas and made use of them by suggesting that the Reich planned or started by him was an end goal and pursued end goals.

Also of communism , has also under the influence of Hegel , such a teleological conception. The classless society of Marxist theory, which ultimately also lets the state wither, is a society in which everyone can live according to their needs. When this can be achieved and whether it comes automatically, so to speak, or whether it has to be brought about through actions ( class struggle ), the various fractions of the Marxist world view are divided.

A teleological concept is not always associated with thinking about progress: Progress can also be thought without a definite end, i.e. open-ended.

Evolution, providence

Iconography of Biological Progress.
This popular representation of the evolution of the upright gait can give the false impression that evolution is a directed improvement process.

The idea that the course of history has in principle already been determined is often associated with progressive thinking. We could then either not influence this run at all or only slightly or at most at the speed of the process. The word of development, which is very common today, comes from this idea: According to this, the course of history is already B. been "wound up" by God. This already wound up story is now developing. So we cannot change the thread of history ( preformation theory ). We can only brake or accelerate a little, which has already been described under the point linearity. In a more religiously neutral form, we do not speak of God, but of “ Providence ”, an institution, however conceived, which foresees the course and - although this is not in the word, but in the usual use of the word - makes decisions that the development can proceed according to plan.

Where philosophers who are committed to progressive thinking make predictions for the future, these are conceived as extrapolations from the past. Karl Marx, for example, uses “iron laws” of history to describe not a repetition or the same behavior of what is known from the past, but a further development, the direction of which can be determined from the past.

Alternative historical-philosophical concepts

Cultural pessimism

The cultural optimism of the (constant) progress of human civilization is opposed to the cultural pessimism of those who believe they recognize a constant decline from an original state that is perceived as good or heavenly. There are cultural pessimists from a Christian point of view (see Paradise ) as well as from a respect for the “ noble savage ” (“bon sauvage”) in contrast to the “depraved” civilized people. “ Back to nature ” is the battle cry in the 18th century that is often ascribed to Rousseau , but cannot be traced in his work. Despite his culturally pessimistic attitude, Rousseau, with his conception of progress as the essential training of the actual, true human being, which can lead to the maturation of humanity in the sense of its destiny, is one of the fathers of the (theoretical) concept of progress. However, Rousseau saw in the development of modernity the exact opposite of progress.

Admirers of antiquity such as the cultural philosopher Julius Evola, who is close to fascism (book title “In the midst of ruins”, which means the ancient ruins), are among those who hope for a moral improvement in mankind in “Back!” (See also Decadence ; Golden Age ), as well as reactionary systems of ideas in general, such as National Socialism , chauvinism in general and socialism .

Constant proportions

Another historical-philosophical view believes that the relationships - at least with some abstraction - always remain the same. It follows that the advocates of this point of view are convinced that one can empirically derive general laws from history that are timeless. One of the most famous thinkers of this direction is Niccolò Machiavelli .

At the end of the 20th century, Francis Fukuyama took the view that the "end of history" had come with the worldwide introduction of liberal democracies .

Many empirical social scientists assume that at least parts of the examined social structures and their regularities will also be preserved for the future, i.e. will remain constant.

Cyclical history

Samsara , the wheel of life and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism

Yet another conception of the philosophy of history is that especially in Eastern, i.e. H. of India affected, countries prevailing, history run cyclically from. After that there is neither progress towards the good nor a slide into the bad, but also no standstill, but a circular movement. History is always changing, but it comes back where it began.

Critical turning point

The term global acceleration crisis, which was coined by the physicist Peter Kafka , comes from considerations of systems theory . After that, accelerating progress with very rapid and globally standardized structural change inevitably leads to an unstable overall situation of human civilization and the philanthropic biosphere . However, this view is not culturally pessimistic, because the crisis is not understood as inevitable decline and decline, but as a singular turning point in the history of progress, at which the "leaders" of evolution - people - probably led to a more future-proof reorientation in the central ideas find their civilization.

With reference to Ulrich Beck , Johano Strasser assumes that progress is still possible in the future when citizens enforce that e.g. B. its scientific-technical dimension is legitimized and justified on a social scale.

See also



  • Steven Pinker : Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress . Allen Lane, 2018.
    • German: Enlightenment now: For reason, science, humanism and progress. A defense. Translated by Martina Wiese. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2018, ISBN 978-3-10-002205-9 .
  • Hans Rosling , O. Rosling, A. Rosling Rönnlund: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Flatiron 2018, ISBN 978-1-250-12381-7 .
    • German: factfulness - how we learn to see the world as it really is. Ullstein, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-550-08182-8 .
  • Mark Blaug : Economic Theory in Retrospect. 5th edition. Cambridge 1997, ISBN 0-521-57701-2 , p. 129 ff (critical consideration of Ricardo's view of technical progress).
  • John Brockman (Ed.): Which Scientific Idea is Ripe for Retirement? The leading minds of our time about ideas that prevent us from making progress. Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2016, ISBN 978-3-596-03395-9 .
  • John Bagnell Bury : The Idea of ​​Progress. An Inquiry into its Origin and Growth , Macmillan 1932; Reprint: Dover 1955.
  • Hubert Cancik : God's justification through the “progress of times”. On the difference between Judeo-Christian and Hellenic-Roman conceptions of time and history. [1983]. In: Richard Faber, Barbara von Reibnitz , Jörg Rüpke (eds.): Antique - Modern. Contributions to Roman and German cultural history. Stuttgart / Weimar 1998, pp. 25-54.
  • Eric Robertson Dodds : The ancient concept of progress and other essays on Greek literature and belief. 1973.
  • Hans-Günter Funke: On the history of Utopia. Approaches to Enlightenment thinking about progress in the French travel utopia of the 17th century. In: Wilhelm Vosskamp (ed.): Utopia research. Interdisciplinary studies on modern utopia. Vol. 2, Frankfurt am Main 1985, pp. 299-319.
  • Peter Kafka : Against the downfall. Creation principle and global acceleration crisis. Munich / Vienna 1994, ISBN 3-446-17834-1 .
  • Wolfram Kinzig : Novitas Christiana. The idea of ​​progress in the ancient church up to Eusebius. (= Research on church and dogma history. 58). Göttingen 1994. (on the development of the concept of progress before the Enlightenment).
  • Pauline Kleingeld: Progress and Reason. On Kant's philosophy of history. Wuerzburg 1995.
  • Helmut Kuhn , Franz Wiedmann (ed.): Philosophy and the question of progress. (= Negotiations of the 7th German Congress for Philosophy, Münster. 1962). Munich 1964.
  • Till R. Kuhnle: The trauma of progress. Four studies on the pathogenesis of literary discourses. Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-86057-162-1 .
  • Heinz Maier-Leibnitz : The divided Plato. A nuclear physicist on the dispute over progress. Zurich 1981.
  • Rudolf W. Meyer (Ed.): The problem of progress - today. Darmstadt 1969.
  • Werner Mittelstaedt: The principle of progress. For a new understanding of the challenges of our time. Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 978-3-631-57527-7 .
  • Friedrich Rapp : Progress. Development and meaning of a philosophical idea. Darmstadt 1992.
  • Andreas Urs Sommer : Creation of meaning through history? On the origin of the speculative-universalistic philosophy of history between Bayle and Kant. Basel 2006, ISBN 3-7965-2214-9 . (analyzes the emergence of the idea of ​​progress in the philosophy of history).
  • Robert Spaemann : Under what circumstances can we still speak of progress? In: ders: Philosophical Essays. Extended edition. Stuttgart 1994, pp. 130-150.
  • Johano Strasser: The drama of progress. Bonn 2015, ISBN 978-3-8012-0477-8 .
  • Ulrich van Suntum : The invisible hand . Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 2000, ISBN 3-540-41003-1 , pp. 117 ff. (Economically sound consideration of the relationship between technical progress and unemployment ).
  • Pierre-André Taguieff : L'Effacement de l'avenir. Paris 2000, ISBN 2-7186-0498-0 .
  • Pierre-André Taguieff: You Progrès. Biographie d'une utopie moderne. Paris 2001, ISBN 2-290-30864-1 .
  • Pierre-André Taguieff: Le sens du progrès. Une approche historique et philosophique. Paris 2004, ISBN 2-08-210342-0 .
  • Werner Thiede : The digital progress trap. Why the gigabit society is threatened with freedom and health regressions with 5G mobile communications. Bergkamen 2018, ISBN 978-3-88515-297-2 .
  • Eckart Voland : The illusion of progress. In: Spectrum of Science. 4/07 from April 2007 (for text and discussion see: and )

Web links

Wiktionary: progress  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Patrick Henßler, Josef Schmid : Population science in becoming: The spiritual foundations of the German population sociology. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-14793-2 , p. 151 ( page preview in the Google book search).
  2. ^ Daniel Speich Chassé : Progress and Development. Version: 1.0. In: Docupedia contemporary history. September 21, 2012, online on May 13, 2019.
  3. ^ Claude Lévi-Strauss : The wild thinking. 4th edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M. 1981, ISBN 3-518-07614-0 , p. 270.
  4. a b c Edward Goldsmith : The Way: An Ecological Manifesto. Bettendorf, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-88498-091-2 , pp. 16, 263 ff. And 412-413.
  5. Example sources : Ilse Tödt: Belief in progress and reality: Working on a question of our time. Kaiser, Munich 1983; Bedrich Loewenstein: Belief in progress. WBG, Darmstadt 2015; Wolfgang H. Lorig: Neo-Conservative Thinking in the Federal Republic of Germany and in the United States of America. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 1988, section Belief in progress and cultural pessimism , pp. 25-27.
  6. Heike Silvia Scheminski: Mensch und Technik: Examples of anticipatory texts before and during the industrial revolution in France. Diplomica, Hamburg 2002, pp. 10-12.
  7. a b c d e f g Denis Mäder: Against the criticism of progress: With an appendix on progress as human enhancement. In: Momentum Quarterly . Volume 3, No. 4, 2014, pp. 190–194 and 198–201.
  8. ^ Franz Josef Radermacher, Bert Beyers: World with a future: The eco-social perspective. Murmann Publishers, Hamburg 2011, without page ( references in the Google book search).
  9. Patrick Masius: Environmental history and environmental future: on the social relevance of a young discipline. Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2009, p. 37.
  10. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche: On the genealogy of morality. Works. Critical Complete Edition, VI, 2. 1887, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968.
  11. Waldemar Augustiny: Albert Schweitzer and you. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1959, pp. 129 and 146.
  12. Erich Fromm, quoted in Konrad Lorenz: Der Abbau des Menschlichen. 6th edition. Piper, Munich 1986, p. 164.
  13. Iring Fetscher , quoted in Heinz Abosch: The end of great visions. Junius, Hamburg 1993, p. 91.
  14. Heinz Abosch : The end of great visions. Junius, Hamburg 1993, pp. 108-109.
  15. Steven Pinker : Enlightenment Now. For Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress: A Defense. S. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2018, ISBN 978-3-10-403068-5 , Chapter 4: Fear of Progress .
  16. Max Roser: Working Hours. In: 2020, accessed on February 29, 2020 (English; working hours 1870–2010).
  17. Peter Huber: In the Middle Ages there was less work than today. Article in, (online) , Vienna, February 27, 2013, accessed on June 5, 2019.
  18. The material culture of the Australian Aborigines - a "stone" age? (PDF; 104 kB). Website of the ethnological office Corinna Erckenbrecht. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  19. How people became diligent . FAZ website. Article dated November 5, 2011, accessed June 5, 2019.
  20. Sabine Eylert, Ursula Bertels, Ursula Tewes (eds.): From work and people: surprising insights into the working life of foreign cultures. Waxmann, Münster / New York 2000, introduction by Christiana Lütges: pp. 13–22, here pp. 16–18.
  21. ^ A b Max Roser, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina: Literacy. In: September 20, 2018, accessed on February 29, 2020 (English; literacy rate 1475–2015).
  22. Clara Steinkellner: Human education in a globalized world. Perspectives of a civil society self-administration of the educational areas in the field of tension between market and state. Diploma thesis, University of Vienna, 2011. pdf version , pp. 60–71; to Richard Münch: 60, 63, 69, 71; to Ivan Illich: 35, 60, 71, 114.
  23. ^ Bernd Lindemann: Language, writing, culture. Lecture in the Forum Philosophicum, University of Vechta, May 21, 2015, with the title Language and writing as a motor of culture , p. 8 ( PDF at
  24. Manuel Eisner: Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime . The University of Chicago, 2003 ( Download [PDF]).
  25. Steven Pinker: Violence: A New History of Humanity . S. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2011, ISBN 978-3-10-061604-3 , pp. 150-153.
  26. Tillmann Elliesen: Sieben Mythen über Kriminalität, in, Association for the Promotion of Development Political Journalism, Frankfurt am Main June 26, 2016, (online) , ISSN  1865-7966 "welt-sichten", accessed on 29. February 2020.
  27. Max Roser, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Hannah Ritchie: Life Expectancy. In: October 2019, accessed on February 29, 2020 (English; life expectancy 1543–2019).
  28. Article on LONGER LIFE means BEING SICK LONGER , April 19, 2011.
  29. ^ Suggested Citation: Kroll, Lars E .; Lampert, Thomas; Lange, Cornelia; Ziese, Thomas (2008): Development and influencing variables of healthy life expectancy, WZB Discussion Paper, No.SP I 2008-306, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Berlin
  30. ^ Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie, Bernadeta Dadonaite: Child and Infant Mortality. In: November 2019, accessed on February 29, 2020 (English; child and infant mortality 1800–2017).
  31. Entwicklungspolitik.html at, accessed on May 31, 2019.
  32. Katrin Esslinger: Significant Effects of Medical Progress on Society Thesis, Göttingen 2011, p. 2ff, accessed on May 30, 2019.
  33. Sample essays : Where evolution is driving us or Philipp Mitteroecker (University of Vienna): How evolution is still changing us , accessed on May 31, 2019.
  34. a b Max Roser: War and Peace. In: 2020, accessed on February 29, 2020 (English; Times of War and Peace 1500–2015).
  35. George Szpiro: Despite wars, violence is decreasing worldwide . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . March 8, 2014, p. 8 ( PDF [accessed June 3, 2019]).
  36. Christoph von Marschall: Conflicts increase, the danger of war increases. In: February 11, 2019, accessed on June 3, 2019 (article on the “Munich Security Report 2019”).
  37. Bright future. In: ADLAS - magazine for foreign and security policy. Volume 12, No. 1, 2018, ISSN  1869-1684 (Sebastian Nieke p. 50, Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm: p. 16–18, Oliver Teige: p. 40–42 ff .; PDF at adlasmagazin.files.wordpress. com).
  38. ^ Franz Garnreiter: The worldwide distribution of income: The last 40 years and the perspectives. Institute for Social-Ecological Economic Research , Munich November 22, 2015, online version , accessed on June 3, 2019.
  39. The Footprint - An Introduction . ( Memento of September 29, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Website of the Global Footprint Network , accessed on June 3, 2019.
  40. WWF Living Planet Report 2014. WWF in collaboration with Global Footprint Network, Water Footprint Network, ZSL Living Conservation . P. 21 (English; PDF on
  41. Jakob Simmank: Welcome to the Age of Epidemics , article on from September 6, 2018, accessed on June 11, 2019.
  42. Sascha Vukelic: Corporate identity as a resource. Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2000, ISBN 3-663-07970-8 , p. 83.
  43. ^ Johannes Weyer: Technical progress - curse or blessing . (online) , Federal Agency for Civic Education , article from March 8, 2017, accessed on June 5, 2019.
  44. Aissa Marabou: The technical progress: causes, effects and limits. Grin, Munich 2014, p. ?? (Introduction).
  45. ^ Emil Angehrn: Philosophy of History: An Introduction. Schwabe, Basel 2012, pp. 67–76.
  46. ^ Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, Scott Lash: Reflexive Modernisierung. A controversy. Frankfurt am Main 1996.
  47. ^ Johano Strasser: The drama of progress. Bonn 2015, ISBN 978-3-8012-0477-8 .