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Morally we Roll Along: (Optimistic Reflections) on Moral Progress

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Changes over time in many large scale human practices such as science and technology seem best understood in terms of progress. Further, regarding such practices as slavery, we seem to have moved on and for the better, that is, to have progressed morally. But moral progress seems something different from other forms of progress. If possible at all, in what can it consist? Progress is understood as falling into three distinguishable categories; namely, progress as mere change, as change culminating in some end-state, and as change involving improvement or betterment. While scientific or economic progress seem of the last sort, moral progress is best understood as a hybrid of culminative change and improvement, a variety of progress labelled millenarian. Though there is an end towards which moral progress must tend, we do not know what it is. Further, moral progress must occupy a special superordinate and regulatory role regarding other progressive practices; that is, for moral progress to be possible, other progressive practices must come under the aegis of increasingly stringent moral regulation. This paper elaborates a model of moral progress, speculates upon signs of its presence, considers various relativist objections, and makes an exhortative plea for the need to have such a notion as a condition of the very possibility of moral progress.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand

Publication date: 1998-01-01

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