The meaning of progress is to move forward towards some objectives. It is a change in a particular direction. Therefore, it is a movement in the direction of some desired goals.

As per Ogburn, the meaning of progress is a movement towards an objective, thought to be desirable by the general group and for the visible future.

According to Maciver, “by the word progress, we imply not merely direction but direction towards some final goals, some destination determined ideally and not simply by the objective consideration at work.”

The Nature of Progress

Its nature depends on two factors:

  1. The nature of the end and
  2. The distance at which we are from it.

Thus, when we say that we are progressing, we mean that society is growing both materially and morally.

The Characteristics of Progress

The following are the major characteristics:

  1. It is the change in some direction
  2. Change only takes place when it fulfills the desired aim.
  3. It is communal, i.e. it involves the entire group to change in some desired direction.
  4. There is more gain than loss.
  5. It is volitional, i.e. it does not come about through inactivity. Desire and volition are necessary for progress.
  6. The idea of progress is variable. Thus, today the symbol of progress may tomorrow be a sign of regress.
  7. There are no limits to human progress.

The Essential Elements of Progress

The idea of progress has six major components. They are:

  1. There is the idea of irreversible time. It means the reverse is impossible.
  2. There is the idea of directional movement. It means society moves into different stages that could not be repeat or escape.
  3. The stages can be easily spelled out or distinguished.
  4. There are the emphasis and stress on the factors which are responsible for progress. Therefore, the factors are seen inside society.
  5. The idea of progress includes the idea of improvement or betterment.
  6. There is the opinion that the idea of progress is necessary and visible in every society.

The Mechanism of Progress

There are two mechanisms of progress. They are- Agency and Form.


The sociologist has named three important stages to understand the agency of progress. They are:

  1. First Stage: Sociologists argued that in the first stage, progress is possible because of the supernatural powers of God.
  2. Second Stage: In the second stage the agency is located in the natural domain. Sociologist argues that the inherent abilities of every society were responsible for progress to take place.
  3. Third Stage: In the third stage the agency rests in the human will, through hard work and concrete will.


The sociologist talks about two forms that progress takes place.

  1. Incremental Progress: The progress is slow, peaceful and gradual.
  2. Revolutionary Progress: The progress is a little sudden and the changes would affect every part of society.

Influence of Social Values on Progress

In defining its meaning, Lumley has written, progress is the realization of our social ideas. In this way, social values define progress. It must move in one accord with the social values of the time and place to which it belongs. The general understanding is that value represents something desirable or worthwhile. Value cluster around activities and attitudes which serve the needs of the people, the ways of life or patterns of culture, which have become habitual or customary and therefore required little conscious adjustments to see that they are intertwined with other elements of culture because a disturbance in one part affects the whole.

The Demise of the Idea of Progress

There are two sets of reasons for this. They are intellectual reasons and socio-economic reasons.

Intellectual Reason:

It was the positivist perspective which states that social reality can be explained in terms of natural law and natural science formula. Therefore, positivism has itself that idea of value neutrality thought. However, in the social progress weight of good or bad movement is always judge.

Socio-economic reason:

The growth of Nazism and the occurrence of nuclear warfare hindered progress. As a result, inequality, exploitation, unemployment, diseases, famine, crime, drug addiction, etc., slow down the flow of progress.

The Difference Between Evolution and Progress

The differences between these two are as follows:

  1. Evolution is emotionally a neutral concept. Thus, it only refers to cumulative change and differentiation over a period of time. On the other hand, progress is conditioned by society’s desire, emotion, purposes, and dreams.
  2. Evolution takes place mainly as a result of the operation of internal forces hidden within the object itself. Whereas progress takes place as a result of both internal and external forces.
  3. Evolution demonstrates reality but progress cannot demonstrate certainty.
  4. Evolution is the change at its own pace but progress is change paced in an ideally determined direction.


To conclude, we can say that the meaning of progress is the movement of society towards the desired direction. Thus, the aims and values involved are never universal standards. However, to know progress in any given society, the timeline must be considered.

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