Knowledge, progress and the knowledge of progress

Seth, Sanjay. 2022. Knowledge, progress and the knowledge of progress. The Sociological Review, 70(2), pp. 232-247. ISSN 0038-0261 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Modern societies, and the modern knowledge that was seen to be both an emblem and a precipitating cause of their modernity, have long been seen as marking a great historical advance. Modernity, we have been assured, by the social sciences in general and sociology in particular, is not only different from premodernity and contemporary nonmodern societies, these differences are also signs of intellectual, moral and material progress. In recent times, however, there have been a chorus of criticisms of the core presumptions that undergird modern knowledge. Such criticisms are sufficiently widespread and intellectually serious that the superiority and universality of modern western Reason, which could previously be taken for granted, now have to be argued for. Such defences of the universality of modern knowledge invariably draw on Kant and/or Hegel, as in the case of the two contemporary defenders of modern western knowledge, Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas, whose arguments this article will outline and evaluate. It argues that neither convincingly shows that there are transhistorical and transcultural standards by which we can uphold the superiority and universality of modern knowledge, and concludes that there are no grounds to cleave to the idea of ‘progress’.

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Identification Number (DOI):


Apel, critical theory, Habermas, Kant, modernity, postcolonialism, progress

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Politics > Centre for Postcolonial Studies


27 March 2022Published Online
March 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

28 Mar 2022 15:44

Last Modified:

29 Jul 2022 08:51

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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