Wittgenstein and the Illusion of ‘Progress’: On Real Politics and Real Philosophy in a World of Technocracy

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‘You can’t stop progress’, we are endlessly told. But what is meant by “progress”? What is “progress” toward? We are rarely told. Human flourishing? And a culture? That would be a good start – but rarely seems a criterion for ‘progress’. (In fact, survival would be a good start…)

Rather, ‘progress’ is simply a process, that we are not allowed, apparently, to stop. Or rather: it would be futile to seek to stop it. So that we are seemingly-deliberately demoralised into giving up even trying.

Questioning the myth of ‘progress’, and seeking to substitute for it the idea of real progress – progress which is actually assessed according to some independent not-purely-procedural criteria – is a vital thing to do, at this point in history. Literally: life, or at least civilisation, and thus culture, may depend on it.

Once we overcome the myth of ‘progress’, we can clear the ground for a real politics that would jettison the absurd hubris of liberalism and of most ‘Leftism’. And would jettison the extreme Prometheanism and lack of precaution endemic to our current pseudo-democratic technocracy. The challenge is to do so in a way that does not fall into complete pessimism or into an endorsement of the untenable and unsavoury features of conservatism. The challenge, in other words, is to generate an ideology or philosophy for our time, that might yet save us, and ensure that we are worth saving.

This paper is then a kind of reading of Wittgenstein’s crucial aphorism on this topic: ‘Our civilization is characterized by the word progress. Progress is its form rather than making progress being one of its features.’
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-284
Number of pages20
JournalRoyal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
Early online date19 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016

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