Progress and modernity: the problem with autonomy

Peter Wagner


The idea of modernity is inextricably tied up with the one of progress. One main
reason for this connection is that the late eighteenth century, often considered
to be the onset of modernity, was in Europe also seen as the dawn of a new
society evolving according to a different logic than any preceding one, namely
with an open horizon of future possibilities. This article explores the meaning of
this opening by first looking at the elaboration of what is called here a “strong
concept of progress”, based on the connection between autonomy and reason,
and by subsequently confronting this concept with the historical experiences
with progress. This confrontation helps to understand the transformations in the
expectations of progress from the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the
twentieth century. As a result a more nuanced view of the relation between
progress and modernity will be proposed that can be fruitful for assessing our
current expectations of progress in the context of contemporary modernity.

Palabras clave

autonomy, democracy, domination, modernity, progres

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