1. Argument of progress

By definition, “progress moves forward”; the argument of progress valorizes the most recent as the best. If F1 and F2 belong to the same category, if F2 comes after F1, then F2 is preferable to F1.

The argument from progress rejects the authority of elders and their practices, which are deemed outdated; the contemporary practices which follow their model are dismissed as regressive, indeed repulsive.

Cats are no longer burnt on cathedral forecourts, animal fights were banned in 1833, owls are no longer nailed on the doors of the barns, and rats are no longer crucified as targets for darting. Whatever may be said in bullfight circles, bullfighting with killing is doomed. (Le Monde, Sept. 21-22, 1986)

The argument is organized upon the following operations. Firstly, bullfighting is categorized as a case of animal abuse, whereby it is allocated to the same category as burning cats, organizing cockfights, nailing owls to doors and crucifying rats. In a second step, the practices belonging to this category are listed in the chronological order in which they disappeared. This factual line is then extrapolated to lead to the conclusion that bullfights should also be condemned in view of society’s progress — and the sooner the better.

2. Argument of novelty

Lat. ad novitatem; novitas, “novelty; condition of a man who, the first of his family, reaches an eminent position (senator)” (Gaffiot [1934], Novitas). Novitas is opposed to nobilitas. Its argumentative orientation can be positive (the dynamic of the novitas is opposed to the decadent nobilitas), or negative: the homo novus, the “New Man”, coming out of nowhere, is held in suspicion.

2.1 Traditional orientation 

The argument of progress reverses the traditional view of the higher appreciation granted to the old, particularly in the religious sphere, “the novitas is […] the index of heresy” (Le Brun 2011, §1). The argumentative orientation of the judgment “this is a novelty!” has been reversed.

The argument of progress is opposed to the argument of decay of civilization, which attributes all virtues to the ancients.

2.2 Contemporary orientation

The contemporary interpretation links the argument of novelty to the argument of progress: “what has just come out” is “super” exciting, and “déjà vu” is of little value. This argument values ​​innovation over routine, and the new over the old. It underlies the call:

Be the first to adopt it!

According to this rule, the recently published handbook would be necessarily better than its predecessors, and, in politics, the newest candidate is already seen as the much-needed savior.

The syzygy is a different vision of progress, as a passage from an imperfect world to a perfect and immobile world.

3. Ancients and moderns

The argument of progress structures the eternal quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns. In its radical form, the argument affirms the absolute superiority of the latter over the former, in the domains of arts and culture as well as the sciences. Ultimately, this superiority would be that of the modern individual over his or her ancestors. In a relativized form, the argument of progress is compatible with the individual superiority of the ancients, “we are dwarves on the shoulders of the giants”, although not taller, we can see further ahead. This is classically refuted by the objection that the lice on the head of the giant sees no further than the giant.