The Enemy of the Good. Towards a Theory of Moral Progress




This is the website of the ERC-funded project “The Enemy of the Good. Towards a Theory of Moral Progress” (PROGRESS).

Societies change. But do they progress? Two hundred years ago, almost everyone in the world was poor; millions of Chinese girls’ feet were bound; the US economy thrived on slavery; women were not allowed to vote; homosexuality was considered a crime; and the idea that animals should be treated humanely was met with ridicule. Nowadays, universal suffrage is without alternative, at least in most developed nations; in some countries, gay rights are firmly established; foot binding has been unheard of for decades; chattel slavery has long been abolished; and the animal rights movement continues to gain momentum.

Clearly, such developments have profoundly impacted (and continue to impact) the lives of many millions of people in every part of the world. Many would consider them to be examples of moral progress. However, our understanding of what precisely moral progress is, under what conditions it can happen, and how it can be sustained and promoted, remains poor.

PROGRESS seeks develop a theory of moral progress that can help to adjudicate these questions. In particular, PROGRESS will tackle four key questions:


  • What is moral progress?
  • How much moral progress is psychologically feasible?
  • What drives moral progress?
  • Which institutions support moral progress?


The aim of PROGRESS is to develop a theory of moral progress that is both empirically sound and philosophically rigorous. This theory will have four key components:


  • It grapples with the most pressing psychological challenges to the possibility of moral progress.
  • It identifies the mechanisms driving society-wide moral improvements.
  • It gives an account of the institutional scaffolding required to sustain moral progress.
  • It spells out the meta-ethical implications of moral progress.


PROGRESS encompasses four subprojects; each subproject will focus on one of these themes. Together, we hope to make some significant headway in answering some of the most important questions surrounding moral progress.