The Progress of Humanity and History

Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’:

113. There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere.

Here he denies that technological progress is the same as progress for humanity, and elsewhere he criticizes those “who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change.” This criticism seems to be related to the above statement. The Pope is not saying that progress does not exist; the “myth of progress” is not that progress exists, but that it is constituted by “the application of new technology.” In the same way, although he begins paragraph 113 by saying “people no longer seem to believe in a happy future,” he continues by saying that there is a “growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere.” In general, then, the myth may consist in saying that technological growth is sufficient for progress, and that progress is guaranteed without any special effort.

I stated in the previous post that a successful world will in fact tend to grow in goodness. This however does not guarantee that a world will always be successful in this way, and it is clear enough that improvement in one respect, such as technology, does not guarantee improvement overall. So it remains a question whether or not the world we live in is in fact successful, if it is in fact getting better, or not. It is certainly not staying the same, which means that it must be getting better or getting worse, but it could be that overall things are constantly getting worse, or that they go back and forth such that on average it is much the same as staying the same. The following posts will consider this issue.

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2 thoughts on “The Progress of Humanity and History

  1. […] Pope Francis is certainly right to say that “scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history.” Nonetheless, these are related. It is normal that a technological improvement will disrupt some aspect of human life, if only because it is different from what has so far been done, and in this way it is likely to have some bad consequences. But when people notice the bad consequences of the new technology, instead of rejecting the technology, they usually try to look for other adjustments which will remove or reduce the bad consequences. I maintain that over time this results in overall improvement of the world through technological change. It is clear enough that basically everyone recognizes this through their own choices. If someone really believes that a technology makes life worse, we would expect him to refrain from using that technology. Now it is certainly true that some people refrain from using some technologies for this reason, but most people it is not a general response to new technology. Rather, almost everyone is happy to adopt all sorts of new technologies, implying that they believe that their lives are improved by them. Even with particular groups such as the Amish, they reject only particular technologies, and usually the number of accepted technologies tends to grow over time even with such groups, but at a slower pace than in mainstream society. […]

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