The Possibility of Progress

My philosophical question for this post is ‘is intentional progress possible?’  By this I mean progress on a large societal scale, but this progress must be created by autonomous action.  Non-autonomous development is ceaseless; the gears of the world never stop, for good or ill.  Progress, however, must be intentional.  It can not simply be better, but it must be better that we have caused.

Progress is difficult to define at a societal level in terms of autonomy.  At the individual level I see three elements of progress – we can progress towards autonomy, we can progress in the development of their autonomous ends, and we can progress our environment through action.  The second two are symptomatic of the first, the more autonomy we have the more that we develop our ends and realize those ends.  To the degree we are autonomous we do the second and third, though the actual influence that we can exert is only somewhat related to our degree of autonomy.  Here rests the distinction that I would make between personal progress and world progress.  At the individual level I would define progress either as progress towards autonomy or progress towards autonomous ends.  World progress, on the other hand, obviously does not have the ends of an individual.  You can ask of an individual how satisfied they are with the world, but that is quite a different question.  I am aiming here at something more like ‘can the world objectively be improved?’ though I hesitate strongly at the word objective.

I see two options for defining world progress.  The first option is to define it democratically.  By this definition, the more that people (autonomous or not) are content/satisfied with their world the more it has progressed.  The second option is to define progress by the amount of autonomy in the world.  As I said before though, each must have the additional qualifier that it must also have been brought about by autonomous action.  This makes me inclined to prefer the second definition over the first because I’m inclined to think that the spreading of autonomy is a value in common to the autonomous, while other particular states may be under much disagreement.

So, is intentional progress possible?  Based on this exploration here, I’m inclined to say it is possible, and indeed possibly inevitable.  If autonomy truly breeds itself, then autonomy creates positive feedback for itself.  That being said, the world strongly resists autonomy, so progress would be quite slow.

Let me know what you think.  Do you agree with my definition?

Thank you,


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