Progress is both a necessary and a dangerous idea. It is necessary if one is striving to improve the way things are, and it is dangerous because the pursuit of progress has often given rise to episodes of paternalism, colonial domination and narratives of civilisational superiority.
My talk aims to defend a more critical account of progress. It starts by distinguishing between moral and political progress, then it explores the relation between political progress and justice. It suggests that we make political progress not when we approximate an ideal of justice that is always known to us, but when the political institutions we construct reflect what we learn from the trials and failures of the past. To outline how such learning processes might take place, I defend the idea that the basic function of justice is to regulate the coercive use of power. I further explain how we should understand progress in the norms of justice as the result of cumulative processes of evolution of different views of how power ought to be exercised.
Lea Ypi is Professor in Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the Australian National University. A native of Albania, she has degrees in Philosophy and in Literature from the University of Rome La Sapienza, a PhD from the European University Institute and was a Post-Doctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University. She is the author of Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political Agency, The Meaning of Partisanship (with Jonathan White), and The Architectonic of Reason, all published by Oxford University Press. Her latest book, a philosophical memoir entitled Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, published by Penguin Press in the UK and W.W. Norton & Company in North America, won the 2022 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the Slightly Foxed First Biography Prize and is being translated into more than twenty languages. Her academic work has been recognised with the British Academy Prize for Excellence in Political Science and the Leverhulme Prize for Outstanding Research Achievement. She coedits The Journal of Political Philosophy and occasionally writes for The Guardian.