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As a philosophical idea "progress" is the belief that things can be incrementally improved. This is not necessarily via what we would call incrementalism, which is a strategy to achieve progress via compromise in a political system, because the "increments" in general could be quite large or even sudden.

Some philosophers have held that progress is natural, that as time passes, it naturally comes to human systems or other natural systems, e.g. Hegel's idea of progress as driven by the dialectic. It might be a political imperative not to assume this for Progressives and other progress minded political activists, because at that level there is of course a struggle, and most observers say ground is lost and gained along the way, regardless of an optimistic faith that on the longer time-scale progress is ensured.

Some believe that progress is inevitable and good. This belief system is called progressivism and is often associated with industrialism, consumerism, and human rights theory.

Some economists advocate a Genuine Progress Indicator to define progress more exactly as an ecological and social matter, not just one of exchange value.

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