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.
stars and auricular instruments for hearing the harmony of the spheres.”  Campanella’s view of the present conditions and prospects of knowledge is hardly less sanguine than that of Bacon, and characteristically he confirms his optimism by astrological data.  “If you only knew what their astrologers say about the coming age.  Our times, they assert, have more history in a hundred years than the whole world in four thousand.  More books have been published in this century than in five thousand years before.  They dwell on the wonderful inventions of printing, of artillery, and of the use of the magnet,—­clear signs of the times—­and also instruments for the assembling of the inhabitants of the world into one fold,” and show that these discoveries were conditioned by stellar influences.

But Campanella is not very sure or clear about the future.  Astrology and theology cause him to hesitate.  Like Bacon, he dreams of a great Renovation and sees that the conditions are propitious, but his faith is not secure.  The astronomers of his imaginary state scrutinise the stars to discover whether the world will perish or not, and they believe in the oracular saying of Jesus that the end will come like a thief in the night.  Therefore they expect a new age, and perhaps also the end of the world.

The new age of knowledge was about to begin.  Campanella, Bruno, and Bacon stand, as it were, on the brink of the dividing stream, tenduntque manus ripae ulterioris amore.



If we are to draw any useful lines of demarcation in the continuous flux of history we must neglect anticipations and announcements, and we need not scruple to say that, in the realm of knowledge and thought, modern history begins in the seventeenth century.  Ubiquitous rebellion against tradition, a new standard of clear and precise thought which affects even literary expression, a flow of mathematical and physical discoveries so rapid that ten years added more to the sum of knowledge than all that had been added since the days of Archimedes, the introduction of organised co-operation to increase knowledge by the institution of the Royal Society at London, the Academy of Sciences at Paris, Observatories—­realising Bacon’s Atlantic dream—­characterise the opening of a new era.

For the ideas with which we are concerned, the seventeenth century centres round Descartes, whom an English admirer described as “the grand secretary of Nature.” [Footnote:  Joseph Glanvill, Vanity of Dogmatising, p. 211, 64] Though his brilliant mathematical discoveries were the sole permanent contribution he made to knowledge, though his metaphysical and physical systems are only of historical interest, his genius exercised a more extensive and transforming influence on the future development of thought than any other man of his century.

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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