We are often confronted with the notion that in today’s world, things are much better than they have been in the past, and thus that humankind is progressing. It is this notion of progress that I have focused upon with keen interest. In this paper, I address several questions: (1) what does it mean for humans to make progress? (2) Is the idea of progress delusional? (3) What reasons do we have to believe in progress? And (4) are these reasons justified?

Though progress can be defined within various contexts and circumstances, I define human progress as a phenomenon in which humans become better off through time. In this paper, I consider various positions on human progress: progress from the point of view of moral skepticism, progress as imbedded within a universal history, and progress as a contingent and independent part of history. These views I have summed up as (a) yes, the idea of progress is delusional (because morality is), (b) it’s not delusional, but rather a necessary feature of human history, and (c) it’s not delusional, but not necessary either. I criticize the first two views—the first for offering too narrow a conception of human flourishing and thus progress itself, and the second for lacking adequate support in painting progress as a necessary feature of history. I approach the third position on progress cautiously but optimistically as one that allows for a robust conception of human flourishing yet leaves out the notion of progress as historically necessary.


Riley, Evan




Progress, Delusion, Morality, Human Progress, Epistemology, Philosophy of History, Pragmatism, Hegel, Rousseau, Mackie

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2015 James M. Thomas