NO words are more common in the mouths of orators than the phrases: The march of Progress—the growth of Civilization. When we say that the twentieth century is in advance of the sixteenth, do we mean that it is so in each and every respect? Do we mean that men in general have now a keener feeling for art than in the age of Michel Angelo; a finer knowledge of justice than in the century of Socrates; deeper religious feelings than in the days of Wesley, or of St. Thomas Aquinas?
It is not easy to answer such questions offhand in any large way. The modern feeling for art is perhaps more wide-spread, but certainly far less keen, than in the Italy of the sixteenth century. If we say that our sense of justice is finer than that of the Greeks who condemned Socrates to death, and of all the centuries before our own, how is it that successive generations of men have preserved the narrative of his last day with sacred care? What are we to say of the religious feelings of the day of Wesley compared with the ethical efforts of the day of Felix Adler? It is clearly not easy to give answers of real import to questions of the sort. We need a better insight into the meaning to be attached to words like progress, civilization and the like. Definitions taken out of dictionaries will not answer.
It has been my fortune, lately, to make a fairly thorough study of that wonderful renaissance of science which began in the days of Roger Bacon, in the thirteenth century, and to endeavor to connect it with its origins in Alexandria, its precursor in Mohammedan Spain and its successor in the century of Galileo. There is no space here to present even a summary of such a study, but it may not be out of place to give a few paragraphs which bear on the general and important question: how are we to measure progress?
In comparing the view-points of different ages with our own we continually meet with surprises. The uncritical attitude of the men of the thirteenth century towards miracles and wonders is little less than astounding to us. Our thought seems to be ages in advance of theirs. On the other hand, we often meet with an insight that has what we call the distinctly modern note. An instance from literature will illustrate:
- See Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXIV., pp. 316-342, and elsewhere.