The Idea of Progress in Eighteenth-century Britain
The idea of progress stood at the very center of the intellectual world of eighteenth-century Britain, closely linked to every major facet of the British Enlightenment as well as to the economic revolutions of the period. David Spadafora here provides the most extensive discussion ever written of this prevailing sense of historical optimism, challenging long-held views on the extent of its popularity and its supposed importation from France. Spadafora demonstrates persuasively that British contributions to the idea of progress were wide-ranging and fully elaborated while owing little to the French.
Drawing on hundreds of eighteenth-century books and pamphlets, Spadafora traces the development of historical progress across the century. In the process, he distinguishes among the intellectual and social sources of the idea's growth and argues that its popularity soared after mid-century. He identifies and examines in depth each of the most widespread varieties of the concept of progress, including those found in thinking about the arts and sciences, religion and the millennium, the human mind and education, and languages. Spadafora cites and evaluates men of letters, theologians and historians, and scientists and politicians. In his discussion of the belief in general progress, he explores the differences between English writers such as Priestley, Price, and Edmund Law and the somewhat less optimistic Scottish thinkers such as Hume, Smith, and Robertson. He concludes by tracing the profound impact of the eighteenth-century idea of progress on the first half of the nineteenth century in Britain and its implications for modernity.
"A solid and sophisticated contribution to intellectual history written in a clear, authoritative, and attractive style. This is an important book." -Bernard Semmel, author of John Stuart Mill and the Pursuit of Virtue
What people are saying - Write a review
We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.
advance ancients appeared argued arts arts and sciences association become believed better Britain British called Cambridge cause century Christian Civil claimed concept Concerning Considerations considered contemporary continued course Critical David discussed doctrines early Edinburgh effect eighteenth eighteenth-century England English Enlightenment eschatology especially Essays evidence example fact Ferguson French future Gordon gradually happiness Hartley History human Hume idea of progress idem important improvement increase Industrial influence intellectual James John Kames kind knowledge language later learning least Lectures less London mankind manners means ment Millar mind moral nature Observations opinion Origin Oxford past perfection period philosophy political present Price Priestley Principles reason referred refinement religion religious respect Robertson Scots Scottish seemed sense Smith social Society theory things Thomas thought tion traditional true universal vols whole writing wrote York