Is There Moral Progress?


Post- and decolonial theory have contested the idea of historical progress as a Eurocentric, hegemonic, or neocolonialist misconception. Does this imply that we should give up any idea of moral progress? This paper critically examines Allen Buchanan’s and Russell Powell’s book The Evolution of Moral Progress and their claim that there is still a need for a theory of moral progress. For Buchanan and Powell, such theory should allow and guide a better understanding of what moral progress consists of. Even though they do not claim to already provide us with such a comprehensive theory of moral progress they aim to work out whether and how certain types of moral progress are possible and assess their limits. In doing so they mainly focus on improvements in terms of social participation as an uncontroversial type of moral progress. In the following, I will first discuss the characteristics of the authors’ notion of progress and then raise some critical concerns about the example they have chosen of the history of human rights as a history of progress and, particularly, about the history of the rights of people with disabilities.

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The Journal is devoted to the fundamental issues of empirical and normative social theory, and is directed at social scientists and social philosophers who combine commitment to political and moral enlightenment with argumentative rigour and conceptual clarity. Published articles develop social theorizing in connection with analytical philosophy and philosophy of science.