Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/29

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25
OF PROGRESS

and liable to be turned to our own destruction, as new discoveries in chemistry may easily be.

But it is possible to approach the whole question of progress from another side, and from this side the results will not be quite the same, and may be more encouraging. We have said that there can be no progress in the macrocosm, and no single purpose in a universe which has neither beginning nor end in time. But there may be an infinite number of finite purposes, some much greater and others much smaller than the span of an individual life; and within each of these some Divine thought may be working itself out, bringing some life or series of lives, some nation or race or species, to that perfection which is natural to it—what the Greeks called its 'nature'. The Greeks saw no contradiction between this belief and the theory of cosmic cycles, and I do not think that there is any contradiction It may be that there is an immanent teleology which is shaping the life of the human race towards some completed development which has not yet been reached. To advocate such a theory seems like going back from Darwin to Lamarck, but 'vitalism', if it be a heresy, is a very vigorous and obstinate one; we can hardly dismiss it as unscientific. The possibility that such a development is going on is not disproved by the slowness of the change within the historical period. Progress in the recent millennia seems to us to have been external, precarious, and disappointing. But let this last adjective give us pause. By what standard do we pronounce it disappointing, and who gave us this standard? This disappointment has been a constant phenomenon, with a very few exceptions. What does it mean? Have those who reject the law of progress taken it into account? The philosophy of naturalism