Given what you have experienced and what history has taught you, are things getting better? At the heart of this question seems to be the standard by which you measure progress or regress. What things are you judging to be better or worse? What ideal are you juxtaposing against the present in order to judge movement in one direction or another? Can some things be getting better while other things oscillate in an eternal ebb and flow, or even regress? This question has exercised free-thinking people for millennia.
For Aristotle, he compared the current state of things against his summum bonum, or highest good, which he defined as follows:
“Happiness is the highest good, being a realization and perfect practice of virtue, which some can attain, while others have little or none of it.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
What do you believe is the summum bonum which most addresses human progress? This is key. Let’s say it is about human flourishing, for instance. We may make progress in terms of more lives lived, or longer lives. But if that life does not reflect human flourishing, then one might conclude that we are living longer, but less fulfilling lives than some have in the past. Therefore we might not be making progress toward the summum bonum after all.
Ironically, this means that sometimes “progressivism” is not merely the pursuit of whatever is new. Sometimes progressivism is a reversal of course in order to better pursue the summum bonum. As mentioned previously, C. S. Lewis observed, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
At the heart of this study is our need to properly define both for ourselves and for our greater culture what is upheld and pursued as “the good.” A constant conversation among people about this “good” is a necessary step to promoting what is better rather than worse.
This discussion should not merely be an experience but it should also a call to call us to action. So, what are you doing to make progress toward the summum bonum?