What Is the OS of Progress?
I’m Jon Hersey. I co-host the podcasts “Philosophy for Flourishing” and “The Hero Show,” help teach courses for Objective Standard Institute, and write and edit for The Objective Standard. My work focuses on intellectual history, specifically, the ideas on which freedom and flourishing depend.
While learning about the heroes of history and the advances they made possible, I’ve come to think that each revolution in human flourishing has been based on what are essentially the same fundamental ideas—kind of like different applications running on a computer’s single operating system.
The operating system—whether of an individual or a culture—is decisive. When it’s vulnerable to viruses that shut down man’s mind or enslave it to malignant purposes, we get the Dark Ages, the Third Reich, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and today’s North Korea. When it’s healthy and robust, we get the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the American Revolution.
What I mean by operating system here is something like the characteristic ways in which men use their minds—and what they think about the efficacy of their minds. The human mind is the motor of progress, and its operating system determines how effectively it runs. The clearer we are about the nature of our own minds, the more we can optimize them for maximum progress and happiness.
Philosophers study how men use their minds and the efficacy of such use (topics that fall under what they call epistemology, the science of knowledge). But today, most people ignore most philosophers, and rightly so given that many have busied themselves with subjects irrelevant to human life or else argue that man’s mind is impotent—and continue to do so after such achievements as antibiotics, container ships, and the Declaration of Independence prove them unquestionably wrong.
Over the centuries, however, a few superior philosophers have made tremendous advances in developing the operating system of progress. These achievements have been rare and often flawed, but all human flourishing has been built on them. Each of these geniuses refined key insights of their predecessors, integrated them with new ideas and observations, and yielded a progressively clearer picture of man’s nature and of how he ought to use his mind to pursue his happiness. Each fought off new attacks against the operating system of progress, strengthening it with more comprehensive answers to all varieties of skepticism.
If we want forward momentum to continue, if we want to keep mankind from sliding back into the Dark Ages, we must understand this operating system of progress, the viruses that have been unleashed against it, and the fixes deployed to stop them. That’s what my work is about.
Join me by sharing your email address below, and we’ll examine the key contributions of history’s most important architects of progress. In time, we’ll uncover a map of mankind’s upward trajectory—and a guide for continuing it.