chapter  8
16 Pages

Gray’s Elegy for Progress

WithGlyn Morgan

One of the great merits of John Gray’s work is that it locates the concept of ‘progress’ at the very centre of the western intellectual tradition. Gray is sometimes criticized for his ‘intellectual gyrations’ (Skidelsky 1998: 11-12), but he has never shifted his focus away from the concept of ‘progress’. Thus in his early writings, Gray (1983) emphasized the role that ‘progress’ played in John Stuart Mill’s moral and political thought. Gray rightly argued that key features of Mill’s defense of the ‘Doctrine of Liberty’ turned on the plausibility of an account of progress. In later writings, Gray (1989: esp. chs 1 and 12; 1993 esp. ch. 20; 1995; 1996a; 1996b) has grown increasingly skeptical of Mill’s theory of progress and liberal theories of progress in general. In his most recent writings (2002, 2003, 2004), Gray has taken these doubts a stage further to question the very effort of subjugating nature for human purposes. This promethean project ends, so Gray now fears, in a traduced

and uninhabitable planet. His proposed solution involves a thorough rethinking of the anthropocentric framework that has dominated the western intellectual tradition.