Progress: Critical Thinking about Historical Change

Progress: Critical Thinking about Historical Change

Progress: Critical Thinking about Historical Change

Progress: Critical Thinking about Historical Change

Synopsis

In this work, Gastil develops a vocabulary with which to evaluate whether or not a change has been beneficial. After proposing definitions and a framework of analysis, the author considers cultural change across a wide variety of fields, including art and literature, violence, political organizations, and the significance of human life.

Excerpt

Change is the overriding fact of our time. Popular interest in its implications has generated intense interest in the future, producing, in turn, experts on the future or futurologists. Unfortunately, attempts at serious study of the future are ultimately disappointing: there can be no sustained study of the future in and of itself since in most areas of life we cannot effectively evaluate what has not been. Historical studies of change, on the other hand, may be well-grounded in scholarship, but lack the immediacy and apparent relevance of futurology. Both approaches to change are likely to fail to adequately analyze the human significance of the change that has been monitored or forecast.

A serious and sustained study of progress would serve the public's legitimate interest in the future and yet tie speculation to a firm basis in experience. Although a key to the intellectual life of the nineteenth century, the concept of progress, understood ideologically as belief in the inevitability of improvement in the human condition, withered under the calamities of the twentieth. Meanwhile, in science, technology, and finance the rate of accumulation of new understanding, application, and wealth has continued to accelerate. the widening gap between those who fear change and those who welcome it has produced an intellectual chasm impeding society's ability to reach consensus on both social goals and the means by which they should be attained.

To overcome this clash of values and gap in understanding, we must return to the concept of progress, define it neutrally as whatever actually or potentially improves our quality of life according to specified sets of . . .

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