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Posted on August 19th, 2012, by

Progress”¦ This word has always caused a lot of arguments as to its true nature and influence on the human generation. The “fruits”¯ of progress have been numerous times questioned as being truthful indicators either of the human prosperity or posses a destructive character. The generally accepted understanding of the term “progress”¯ is based on the notion that culture is uniting bridge between the nature, the primitive and culture as the symbol of high level of development. In the scientific world of philosophy, progress is interpreted from two different points of view.

The first one sees progress as the improvement of human conditions and the second one sees progress as an inevitable process with a rather doubtful impact on people. These opinions have the right to exist as additions to each other.

Nevertheless, the analysis of the facts provided by Rene Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sigmund Freud in spite of all the peculiarities of their statements leads to the understanding that progress has a positive, creative nature. This becomes especially actual, due to the fact that progress has to deal with the freedom of human’s choice and therefore leads to empathy, reason and imagination. This conclusion comes from understanding the notion of progress from its broad meaning as a process including many notions such as religion and science. It is the freedom of human choice which has led the humanity to the level of cultural development people are facing at the present moment. The comprehension of the nature of progress comes from the needs, leanings and choices made by people.

Progress is completely predetermined by them. In other words, progress is the reflection of the choices made by people belonging to a given state and to a given religion.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who

Ā cannot change their minds cannot change anything”¯.

George Bernard Shaw (MMVII Quotations Book, 67)


2. Progress: a way from nature to culture.

In order to understand what progress is, it is necessary to analyze the existing interpretations of this notion. Progress comes from the Latin word “progressus”¯, which actually means movement forward, success. It is perceived as a type of development of some kind of object with a given vector with a peculiarity of transition from primitive to high level of organization and development. According to systems analysis, progress can be related to as a system with its given elements, structure and other parameters of the developing object. For instance, if to analyze progress from the meaning of political sphere, progress gives the political process the characteristics of a movement having a vector and analyzes the development of the whole political system with its elements and structure. Therefore progressive tendencies in politics are reflected in the complication and perfection of the political relations, creation of more flexible and human forms of political power, deepening of the cognition of the political phenomena. Such development of political system is rather logical even due to due to the ancient idea of a given vector of any changes occurring in nature and in society.Ā  From ancient times progress was analyzed as a sequence of events which are followed by something invariable. The concept of historical progress gave birth to many different trends such as the Christian interpretation of progress as a development leading to “apocalypses”¯ but in the new philosophy is has taken a more optimistic character. The initial notion of progress dealt with the sphere of scientific cognition introduced by Descartes and spread to the social sphere of development supported by Rousseau. Eventually these interpretations resulted in numerous concepts of progress including the concept of cultural opposition introduced by Sigmund Freud.

Along with religion, politics and the technical progress has to deal the development of science.Ā  The scientific development is a premise of the expansion of the composition and volume of the required human needs and the changing ways of their satisfaction, way of life, culture and everyday life. Progress is a way from nature to culture as the most important criteria of historical progress is the level of mastering of the elemental forces, reflected in the growth of working efficiency, and human liberation from socio-political inequality and spiritual backwardness. In terms of the indicated criteria the shift of the socio-economic formations represents the shift of the naturally determined stages of the progressive development of the humanity. Nevertheless, this process is ambiguous, contradictory, and its types and rates are diverse. As it has been mentioned before, progress is development for the better, it is perfection. The nature of progress has a theological character: it is immanent to an ideal and is determined by the goal.Ā  Both the “good”¯ and the “bad”¯ have the peculiarity to develop according to a given vector.

Therefore, it is the notions of what is “right”¯ and what is “wrong”¯ that predetermine the development and correspondingly without the understanding of these ethical categories, the theory of progress cannot survive.

Progress has a dialectic nature and therefore needs to be understood and not worshiped.

2.a. Rene Descartes

From the opinion of Rene Descartes, science, progress, reason, epistemological certainty and human individuality are inseparably linked with each other and with the notion of the objective universe. This synthesis is the base of the paradigm of contemporary thinking. Human reason is and must be the inexhaustible source of human progress.

According to this understanding progress is the correlation of scientific knowledge and of the theory and experience (empirical data) (Descartes, 143). Descartes introduced his analytical method of reasoning. His principle “I think, therefore I am”¯ according to his conclusion led to the consolidation of the knowledge accessible to the human mind.

Descartes developed a model of “new truth”¯ of the world around which had to deal with certain standards (Descartes 34). This method stated that the “truth”¯ may be considered to be one only if there is enough evidence to do so. Any problem according to Descartes needed to be divided into smaller ones and the final “truth”¯ was based on the constant synthesis of all made conclusions “to distinguish the true from the false, in order to see”¦ [the] way clearly”¦[and] to go forward with confidence”¯ (Descartes 6). As progress is seen as a system, in terms of the Descartes’ laws it gets a rather conflicting meaning. First of all it is necessary to say that the disproof of the Descartes system may called an outdated clichĆ© of scientific progress, according to which the theory, displacing its precursor becomes the “truth”¯. The idea of the scientific progress does not correspond to the historical reality. In terms of this, it is important to mention that the Descartes’ laws in a way contradict each other as sometimes the suppositions that are not “clare et distincte”¯ may be truthful, as they face experience opposition. Nevertheless, it’s vital to mention that Descartes was taking mathematical approach as the base because “”¦of the certainty and the evidence of its reasoning”¯ (Descartes 4). Descartes talked about the progress of human knowledge as a premise of the progress in general.

2.b. Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau introduced a thesis according to with the progress of science and art has brought immeasurable harm to humanity. Nevertheless, this thesis is shocking only from the first glance. The reason Rousseau made this conclusion is because he discovered the discrepant character of the development of the human civilization. One “fruit”¯ of development brings good to some people and suffering to the others. This is the reason Rousseau brought up the idea of the “Golden Age”¯ where private property did not exist, people lived under universe equality and people were the children of nature. Rousseau’s “man of nature”¯ was partially based on Christian religious canons as the author of the theory wanted to eliminate all the “undesirable fruits”¯ of progress (Rousseau 68). Rousseau neglected “the progress of time and of the things that have disfigured this nature”¯ (Rousseau 379).

What Rousseau understood was that the world around him had some sort of misbalance but the truth is that each process has to opposing ends and even the yin-yan balance has both the black and the white in it. Rousseau questions whether “the progress of the sciences and the arts contributed to the corruption or the purification”¯ of the world around (Rousseau 342). It cannot be said that progress brings only negative consequences or only positive aspects. The elimination of any of these parts would make this process artificial. It is the right of choice which gives more black or more white to the general vector of development.

As it has been mentioned before the principle of Descartes is attributed to the intellectual and sensory self-knowledge, uniting the first and the second (Rousseau Ā 70). Descartes makes a stress on the first one, leaving the second one without proper attention. Rousseau, at the contrary, bases this theory of rational self-knowledge on the sensory self-knowledge. Rousseau sees the existence of a man not from the fact of his intellectual activity as Descartes does, but from the sensory existence. Rousseau believed that the sensory experience comes before the intellectual acts. He does not oppose the sensory self-knowledge to the intellectual one, but to make the sensory self-knowledge the premise for any type of intellectual activity. The consolidation provided by Rousseau results in the sensory reflection of the world which implies both rationalism and sensualism. According to Rousseau scientific progress is the result of the accumulated sensory experience (Rousseau 63).

2.c. Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud had a rather unique perception of what human development actually is. According to Sigmund Freud the development of a person starts from the “principle of pleasure”¯ till the acceptance of the “principle of reality”¯, which sets the limits of satisfaction of instinctive inclinations (Freud 7). Generally, in Freud’s opinion people tend to pursuit happiness, which is interpreted as an exclusion of pain and discontents and obtaining intensive pleasure.

Therefore, the goal of human life according to Freud is the actual realization of the program of the “principle of pleasure”¯. Nevertheless, the achievement of a strong feeling of satisfaction comes into collision with many difficulties including the adaptation of the body to the experienced pleasure. At the same time the person is constantly under the danger of sufferings caused by the organism which inevitably gets older, experience destruction, causes pain and anxiety. Also the person faces the external world consists of the powers which exceed the strengths of the individual; deficiency of the institutions regulating the relations within the family, state and society. As a result the leaning to escape these difficulties prevail over the leaning to get pleasure (which in its turn may be analyzed as a choice made by an individual). Freud turns to the analysis of the social sources of sufferings experienced by the individual and considers that the civilization is the caused of their majority. Civilization is synonymous to culture and represents the scope of achievements and rules, which makes the life of contemporary people different from the life of their animal ancestors (Freud 78). These achievements and rules have two goals ”“ to protect people from nature and regulate their interpersonal relations. Therefore the progress of civilization is based on the necessity to create defense remedies from the threats. Progress is associated with the process of taming nature, acceptance of the value of the “cleanness”¯ and order, respect and approval of intellectual, scientific and creative achievements, the substitute of the individual power with the power of society. Freud thinks that the human conflicts are engendered by predominantly contradictory requests of the individual and the cultural requests of the group of people. According to Freud, within the process of development of the civilization occurs the conflict between love and necessity. Culture n terms of this notion “is the by-product of the struggle”¯ (Freud 9).

Also Freud mentions the fact that destruction is an essential element of the development of the civilization and the instinct of death: “”¦cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction”¯ (Freud 152). Ā The progress of civilization is possible only under the condition of the instinct of death. This in its turn causes the dialectic nature of civilization because the progress of civilization leads to the release of the destructive powers. Therefore Freud provides the understanding that the progress of the civilization depends of the needs of the society which is in seek of satisfaction of its requirements in order to feel safe.

3. Conclusion

Throughout the whole history of development the basic focus of the philosophic thinking has been dedicated to the idea of progress. The majority of the mankind believes in progress and therefore not only in evolution but also into the advancing movement of the humanity to one higher reasonable goal, to the ideal of the universal welfare which justifies all the sacrifices and destructions. The nature of the progress is in the awareness of the freedom of choice.

The question of progress is not just a simple question of speculation, but actually is a life question concerning the destiny of every individual in particular and the humanity in general and of the whole world existence in its broadest sense. The progress of development implies the accumulation of the qualitative new formations and its direction depends on the choice made by people. The positions of Rene Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sigmund Freud prove that progress has a dual character but nevertheless the progress leads for the betterment of the life of the human beings. Progress has led the human race to the appearance of culture as a result of restraining passion and making choice to do so. In spite of all the attitudes to progress one thing is certain ”“ it is an inevitable process which has both pleasure and discontentment as its results. The vector of the progress and the domination of its negative or positive “fruits”¯ are determined by the freedom of choice. Only under the condition that this choice will have an empathic character, science, religion, state, art, etc. will bring positive manifestations. The vector of the progress comes form the human beings themselves the same way as religion does. The fruits of the progress are completely up to the mankind!!!

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