Kenneth J. Arrow

Ken Arrow embodied the best in humanity. His encouragement, engagement, and guidance were pivotal to the founding and flowering of the Society for Progress. His great soul and intellect will continue to inspire our work on enabling actors in the economic system to better integrate their performance with the progress of societies around the world.

New York Times Obituary

It is...particularly in periods of acknowledged crisis that scientists have turned to philosophical analysis as a device for unlocking the riddles of their field.

Thomas Kuhn

Thomas KuhnPrinceton University

Paradigm, People, Practice

We have all come to appreciate the creativity and efficiency of enterprise and the decentralized economic system.

At the same time, anomalies accumulate and it is no longer tenable to deny that the “paradigm” of capitalism while elegant and powerful seems, as it stands right now, profoundly incomplete. The modern variant posits enterprise as a central actor and focuses on its performance. Enterprise performance without or, worse, at the expense of societal progress is unsatisfactory and unsustainable. Still, enterprise performance has come to be regarded and taught as an obligation, while societal progress tends to be regarded as a by-product delivered by the magic of the “invisible hand.” To supplement, a convenient if costly division has also been adopted: performance has been placed in the realm of the private sector, while progress has been placed in the realm of the public sector. As the adoption of this set of beliefs has become widespread, so have growing vectors of concern—from the environment, to worrisome inequalities, immoderate consumerism, money politics, declining trust, to the validity of capitalism and the very relevance of intellectuals. Read More

The time is more than ripe to reflect explicitly on how enterprises might strive to better integrate performance and progress. While theories of performance are explored by business scholars with training in economics, psychology, sociology, and operations, ideas of progress tend to be explored in the realm of philosophy. If philosophers and business scholars could come together to discuss, debate, and grapple collaboratively, then we might start filling in some sorely missing moral and conceptual foundations. To be sure, philosophers have theorized about the limits of markets. Still, important philosophical work in this domain has not found a substantial audience among business scholars. Business scholars goading better practice must fear that bolt-on or ceremonial adoption can scarcely rescue a stressed paradigm. An explicit dialog and sharing between philosophers and business scholars will be usefully enlightening and help evolve the paradigm and practice of capitalism. This, in a nutshell, is the aspiration of the Society for Progress. Our approach is based on a belief that paradigms influence people, who, in turn, influence practice. If we thoughtfully explore the existing paradigm and its assumptions and limits, then we may be able to advance model, methods, and measures that can address some of the current shortcomings. In this endeavor, as justifiable reasons for action in the economic realm, we will probably need to supplement strictly mutuality based assumptions and ideas with those also based on morality and propriety. Admired societies are hardly just the products of optimal rules and regulations; they reflect too proper goals, roles, and education of people. Yet we are some distance from having a commensurate corpus of models, methods, and measures of progress (to complement the rigorous ones that exist for performance).

Eventually, if tomorrow’s economic actors are properly embedded in a more integrated paradigm of capitalism, then the economy and growth should be more inclusive and inspiring. Greater fairness and well-being seem the firm way to restore and sustain trust.

The Society

The Society for Progress is an academically diverse and independent group of scholars and leaders.

Its work is based on the belief that integrating perspectives from moral and social philosophy will help evolve the decentralized economic system (“capitalism”) in a manner that better integrates market and society, humans and nature, and the present and the future. Learn More

The Issues

For most people in the world the most frequent context in which they get to express and develop their capabilities and procure their livelihood (and to good extent their well-being) is the context of work and the economy.

As philosophers suggest, an economy that can be shaped and ushered to operate not solely on mutuality but also on morality would indeed be more satisfactory and sustainable.

What’s the problem with capitalism? To what extent is the problem not just with the practice but also with the paradigm? What is progress and who is responsible for it? What evolution is required at the individual, system, and paradigm level so that enterprises and the executives who lead them may better integrate performance and progress? What role in this evolution for consumers, employees, investors, and regulators?

These are some of the many issues we explore in an edited volume of essays entitled Performance & Progress: Essays on Capitalism, Business, and Society (Oxford University Press, 2015). To be sure, there are several more specific issues and questions that merit attention and research. Here you may read a cross-section articulated by the Fellows. Learn More

The Medals

The Society for Progress has awarded a set of medals for pioneering research and leadership in developing the economic system to achieve greater fairness and well-being.

The inaugural ‘Progress Medals’ honor four contributions to scholarship and one for leadership. Each contribution is honored with a formal certificate, a gold medal, and an award of one hundred thousand U.S. dollars. Learn More