The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth

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Author: John Bagnell Bury

1.

The civilised countries of Europe spent about three hundred years in passing from the mental atmosphere of the Middle Ages into the mental atmosphere of the modern world. These centuries were one of the conspicuously progressive periods in history, but the conditions were not favourable to the appearance of an idea of Progress, though the intellectual milieu was being prepared in which that idea could be born. This progressive period, which is conveniently called the Renaissance, lasted from the fourteenth into the seventeenth century. The great results, significant for our present purpose, which the human mind achieved at this stage of its development were two. Self-confidence was restored to human reason, and life on this planet was recognised as possessing a value independent of any hopes or fears connected with a life beyond the grave.

But in discarding medieval naivete and superstition, in assuming a freer attitude towards theological authority, and in developing a new conception of the value of individual personality, men looked to the guidance of Greek and Roman thinkers, and called up the spirit of the ancient world to exorcise the ghosts of the dark ages. Their minds were thus directed backwards to a past civilisation which, in the ardour of new discovery, and in the reaction against medievalism, they enthroned as ideal; and a new authority was set up, the authority of ancient writers. In general speculation the men of the Renaissance followed the tendencies and adopted many of the prejudices of Greek philosophy. Although some great discoveries, with far-reaching, revolutionary consequences, were made in this period, most active minds were engaged in rediscovering, elaborating, criticising, and imitating what was old. It was not till the closing years of the Renaissance that speculation began to seek and feel its way towards new points of departure. It was not till then that a serious reaction set in against the deeper influences of medieval thought.

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Chicago: John Bagnell Bury, "1.," The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932), Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ3I7PR3PL1HR61.

MLA: Bury, John Bagnell. "1." The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1932, Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ3I7PR3PL1HR61.

Harvard: Bury, JB, '1.' in The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth. cited in 1932, The Idea of Progress: An Inguiry Into Its Origin and Growth, The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LJ3I7PR3PL1HR61.