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HAT Forum - "What is Progress?"

  • The 519, Rm 303 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” said to be spoken by Martin Luther King. Is progress the “long arc of justice”?

We talk about being progressive, as if we have a common understanding of progress, yet progress is rarely discussed or defined. At best, we share the idea that progress is the idea of moving forward to an ideal, or a set of ideals. But what are these ideals? In fact, can they ever be pinned down, or should they? How can we be progressive without a concept of progress? 

There is an excellent parsing of this idea by John McCarthy (who invented the term ‘artificial intelligence’, called the father of artificial intelligence) of Stanford University at    

Wikipedia explains Progressivism as a time-honoured European movement stemming from The Enlightenment:

“Progressivism is the support for or advocacy of improvement of society by reform. As a philosophy… Progressivism became highly significant during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, out of the belief that Europe was demonstrating that societies could progress in civility from uncivilized conditions to civilization through strengthening the basis of empirical knowledge as the foundation of society. “

“The meanings of progressivism have varied over time and from different perspectives. The contemporary common political conception of progressivism in the culture of the Western world emerged from the vast social changes brought about by industrialization in the Western world in the late 19th century, particularly out of the view that progress was being stifled by vast economic inequality between the rich and the poor… Early progressivism was also tied to eugenics and the temperance movement.”


1.          On the cusp of 2018, what does progress mean to you, now?

2.         Do you have a personal hierarchy of progressive goals?

3.         Progressives in the past have made mistakes, and progress was twisted with traditional beliefs: Tommy Douglas  supported eugenics, the Canadian government ripped Indigenous people from their families, married women were forbidden to work, unmarried women were criminalised if they had children, gays and lesbians were persecuted, racism reigned in various forms, etc. How do we know when we are in the middle of a mistake that needs to be reformed?

4.         How can a modern, better-informed progressive movement go forward?