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Progress, Idea of

Bernd Weiler

Subject History
Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory, Sociology of Knowledge

Key-Topics modernity

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The idea of progress, commonly considered one of the most influential and multifaceted ideas in the philosophy of history, states that material, political, social, intellectual, and moral conditions have continually and by necessity improved throughout human history and that such an improvement will continue in the foreseeable future ( Nisbet 1980 : 4–5). Since the Enlightenment the idea of progress and the controversies concerning its validity and ideological connotations have played a crucial role in modern social science discourse. The idea has not only been employed as a powerful conceptual framework to explain social change and the emergence of a new type of society, but also as a means to legitimate the entire endeavor of social science itself. By discovering the mechanism of societal progress and by identifying possible obstacles to progress, social scientists have claimed an authoritative role for themselves in the management of society's affairs. This sociocratic promise, encapsulated in the Comtean positivistic formula savoir pour prévoir, prévoir pour pouvoir , has drawn and continues to draw its strength from the fact that knowledge of nature's laws has been accompanied by an increased control over nature. Regarding the question of the intellectual origins of the progressivist idea, four ideal-typical positions can be distinguished. According to one line of thought ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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