Is history progressive and directional?

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Mon Apr 3 11:54:15 MDT 1995

On Sun, 2 Apr 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> Schwartz I find your "progressive" theory completely unconvincing.  I
> just wanted to suggest that it seems to me that a progressive theory
> of history requires also a progressive ethic.  Which in turn requires
> a progressive empathy and perhaps epistemology.  None of which I can
> see have any reason for being progressive.

I'm quite lost. My argument is that history has a certain direction,
roughly over the long tgerm towards less inequality in group power to
repress the interests of other groups. Whether we regard such a direction
as progressive (an improvement) will depend on where we stand. Dominant
groups will not regard such a tendency as being for the better, thus
progressive. There is a question about whether there is any reason to
prefer the perspective of subordinate to dominant groups, and indeed it
was precisely in the context of arguing taht there was that I developed
the argument we are discussing.

  However, it also seems
> that you said that human emancipation implies and requires a
> progressive history.  In this sense I agree, but like Chodos seem to
> think you are impling much more then this.

I am, because I am trying to deal with the relativistic worry that there
is no non-question-begging way of choosing sides. However I reject your
characterization of the position you attribute to me. Whether emancipation
is progressive depends on your point of view. You need an argument that it
does not beg the question to say that emancipation _is_ progressive in a
nonperspectival way.

> It is one thing to say that historical we can assert that
> consciousness and self-determination, i.e., human emancipation has
> been progressive, quite another that somehow this means that it is
> and will always be progressive in some telelogical (even pushed
> not pulled) way.

Well, I certainly don;t think history always tends towards emancipation.
That is clearly false. What I argue is that in the long run emancipation
is increased, despite reversions, regressions, and sidetracks,

 Progressively reproduced ethics along with
> epistemology are very difficult individual and institutional work and
> effort, why must they be progressive?  If it is so our effort for a
> more humanistic society will be achieved regardless of that effort,

Of course it won't! Nothing about my argument suggests that things get
better without struggle. On the contrary. It is resistance to dominantion
which drives the increase in emancipation.

> my LDS friends (Mormons) tell be the same thing (though even more
> optistically), I hope all of you to be right, but I fear your not.

So do I, but what's _your_ reason?

--Justin Schwartz

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