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The idea of progress is the revolutionary new idea that came to Europe in the mid 18th century. It was the concept of using knowledge to improve the conditions in the world for people. Frances Bacon used the idea of utilitarianism, that all actions should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This goes along with the idea of progress, and always working to make things better for everyone. At first, this concept was seen as blasphemous. The people of the time thought, “God created the world, who are we to change it?”
Another element that went along with the idea of progress was that of Descartes’, the supremacy of reason. This idea used the scientific method to discover the third element of the idea of progress, the unchanging laws of nature. A radical idea for the time, this threatened the belief of God’s role in our world. Until then, everything had been based on religion. In 1687, Isaac Newton provided the piece of the puzzle that would put everything into place. He proved for the first time an unchanging law of nature, gravity. Then he discovered another unchanging law, the Theory of Relativity (E=mc2), proving again to the world that science was the wave of the future. The laws of nature were then to be used to improve the world for the people, a basis of utilitarianism thought out by Bacon. Descartes did believe, however, that science was for reason, and not for government.
By 1750, the idea of progress was going strong and captivating the minds of many Europeans and people all over the world. DeFontelle introduced the element of perpetual progress, the idea that things will continue to improve over time. The notion that the world will never be stable, and will be forever changing and progressing opened up the philosophy that God is powerless in our world, and plays no role in the physical universe.
However, the idea of progress also had many flaws. Religion, for instance, was being threatened. If there was no God to play a role in our lives, what then happens to us after death? Is there a heaven? These are ideas that Jean-Jacques Rousseau gets into in his philosophy denouncing the idea of progress. Another imperfection in the idea of progress is: perpetual progress towards what? What is the future? What is the final destination or goal of all of this progression? Reasonable steps cannot be taken towards something if no one knows what that something is.
But these questions have not gone without answering and explanation. One potential answer is this: that when man discovers all of the laws of nature created by God for us to figure out, they will all come together for us to live how we are supposed to, how God created it for us.
The idea of progress forced the people of Europe to think. Countries on the verge of revolution now had a headstart. The idea of progress created an intellectual atmosphere for people to start thinking in new ways, and gave them the ambition to want to work towards progression for a better world and future.
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