Climbing the Stairs. On the Progress of Society and Science in Norbert Elias’s Theory

JVF Conference Papers

The metaphor of a population climbing the stairs of a tower was used by Norbert Elias to depict the development of human knowledge.

I propose to interpret it as an image of progress, both of humanity as a whole and of science as a specialized, detached type of social knowledge. After commencing with a discussion of the roles played by metaphors in social sciences in general, I go on to decode the heuristic potential of the climbing picture, presenting certain aspects of Elias’s philosophy of human relations and ethics of social sciences.

I argue that Elias’s approach may serve as a new picture of scientific and social progress, distinctly different from and independent of its Enlightenment and evolutionary predecessors, although resembling them in their optimism and belief in the controlling function of rationality.

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