Editor's comment

This scholarly survey first appeared in 1932. But the development of this idea is so well portrayed that it deserves to be preserved.

It has become so much a part of the general mental outlook of educated people that it appears to have been always with us. Bury's analysis enriches our understanding of this relatively new idea.


Bury, J. B., The Idea of Progress Dover Publications, New York 1955 [abstract -140 words] — belief in progress is an act of faith

Progress for Bury means that civilization has moved, is moving, and will move in a desirable direction. But “desirable” is a questionable term and there may there be impassable barriers ahead. Perhaps there are limits to human understanding or ability to investigate.

Progress is a hypothesis which may or may not be true and cannot be proved either true or false. Belief in it is an act of faith. It is based on an inter-pretation of history that regards human beings as slowly advancing in a definite and desirable direction, and infers that this progress will continue indefinitely. It is of comparatively recent origin. The intellectual climates of classical antiquity and the ages after did support such a belief until the idea began to be expressed by some thinkers in the sixteenth century.