The Idea of Progress eBook

J.B. Bury
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 354 pages of information about The Idea of Progress.

This is the practical moral that Le Roy enforces in the last book of his dissertation.  We must not allow ourselves to be paralysed or dismayed by the destinies of past civilisations, but must work hard to transmit to posterity all that has been achieved, and augment the discoveries of the past by new researches.  For knowledge is inexhaustible.  “Let us not be so simple as to believe that the ancients have known and said everything and left nothing to their successors.  Or that nature gave them all her favours in order to remain sterile ever after.”  Here Le Roy lays down Bodin’s principle which was to be asserted more urgently in the following century—­the permanence of natural forces.  Nature is the same now as always, and can produce as great intellects as ever.  The elements have the same power, the constellations keep their old order, men are made of the same material.  There is nothing to hinder the birth in this age of men equal in brains to Plato, Aristotle, or Hippocrates.

Philosophically, Le Roy’s conclusion is lame enough.  We are asked to set aside the data of experience and act on an off-chance.  But the determination of the optimist to escape from the logic of his own argument is significant.  He has no conception of an increasing purpose or underlying unity in the history of man, but he thinks that Providence—­the old Providence of St. Augustine, who arranged the events of Roman history with a view to the coming of Christ—­ may, for some unknown reason, prolong indefinitely the modern age.  He is obeying the instinct of optimism and confidence which was already beginning to create the appropriate atmosphere for the intellectual revolution of the coming century.

His book was translated into English, but neither in France nor in England had it the same influence as the speculations of Bodin.  But it insinuated, as the reader will have observed, the same three views which Bodin taught, and must have helped to propagate them:  that the world has not degenerated; that the modern age is not inferior to classical antiquity; and that the races of the earth form now a sort of “mundane republic.”




Among the great precursors of a new order of thought Francis Bacon occupies a unique position.  He drew up a definite programme for a “great Renovation " of knowledge; he is more clearly conscious than his contemporaries of the necessity of breaking with the past and making a completely new start; and his whole method of thought seems intellectually nearer to us than the speculations of a Bruno or a Campanella.  Hence it is easy to understand that he is often regarded, especially in his own country, as more than a precursor, as the first philosopher, of the modern age, definitely within its precincts. [Footnote:  German critics have been generally severe on Bacon as deficient in the scientific spirit.  Kuno Fischer, Baco van Verulam (1856).  Liebig, Ueber Francis Bacon van Verulam und die Methode der Naturforschung (1863).  Lange (Geschichte des Materialismus, i. 195) speaks of “die aberglaubische und eitle Unwissenschaftlichkeit Bacos.”]

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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