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Are Things Really
Getting Any Better?


Much of life is “doing,” and most people do what they do for some purpose.  In many cases, people work to improve something through their efforts.  Therefore, the question is often asked, “Are things getting better?”  The subject and the predicate in this question are both important, but they are too general.  The goal of the following course experience is to discuss the predicate in particular.

In general, are most things in this world becoming better?

better or worse signs

Like most such questions, there are more than just two simple answers.  When someone replies only “yes” or “no,” we immediately desire some qualification of the answer. It is in this task of qualification and detailed response that we get to the true power of our answer.  In detailing why we think things are getting better or worse, we reveal our own worldviews, and subsequently our criteria for judging events.

What is the standard or starting point from which to measure whether things are better or worse?  There has to be a benchmark or a measurement of some sort.  Often this discussion uses the Latin term summum bonum, or greatest good, to refer to this standard.  Historically, the constant pursuit in a culture of that which is true, good, and beautiful leads to this greatest good.  Only when we have stated what the best possible “thing” might be can we place the present and past up against that greatest good and make our judgment.  If we are closer today to that ideal good than we were yesterday, we can say things are getting better.  However, if we are further from the ideal than we were previously, things are getting worse.

The following chart will help map out the remainder of this course’s content:

View Answer Description
Utopianism Yes The summum bonum can be reached perfectly in the right conditions.
Optimism Yes We are getting closer to the summum bonum throughout history.
Realism Yes We should seek the greatest good even in the midst of the really bad.
Progressivism Yes We constantly evolving into a new and ever changing summum bonum.
Pessimism No We are moving away from the summum bonum throughout history.

The rest of this experience will look at each of these views in more depth.

Version 1.3