MAN IN THE MODERN WORLD
new world that must some time or other emerge. Some—and these
perhaps the majority—are consciously pessimistic. And many try to
escape from an unacknowledged pessimism by taking refuge in super-
stitions, like astrology, or in mere hedonism.
I expect this widespread pessimism strikes you as one of the chief
differences between our age and yours.
THOMAS HENRY : I always did my best to demonstrate the falsity of
unreasoning optimism, about the inevitability of progress and the
like. But it is true that the general background of our age was
optimistic; knowledge and invention and material wealth were all
increasing; and superstition and bigotry were being pushed on to
the defensive. Optimism, within limits, seemed justifiable.
JULIAN : Actually you were very lucky in your period. It seems to
us to-day that you had a double advantage. New discovery and new
techniques, in making expansion inevitable, had rendered hope
reasonable, while at the same time the stable framework provided by
traditional ways of thinking had not yet been lost.
THOMAS HENRY : I'm not sure that I understand you. I would say
that we had largely destroyed traditional ways of thinking—at any
rate, the claims of theological orthodoxy and of out-of-date authori-
tarian systems of political thought.
JULIAN : Yes. But you still lived in a tidy world of absolute Truth
and absolute Morality.
THOMAS HENRY: Can you really say that? We believed in the
scientific spirit and therefore in a steadily increasing harvest of truth
and a steady destruction of error. And we believed that the laws of
moral conduct resemble the laws of nature in being discoverable only
by observation and experiment. But we emphatically repudiated the
claims of the clerics and all others who set themselves up to be in
possession of a complete body of truth and a complete system of morals.
JULIAN: All the same, though you did attack and overthrow
authoritarian truth and authoritarian morals, the truth and the
morality which you were discovering and testing were still surely
regarded as absolutes. To-day the more philosophical among us
prefer to regard science and morality from a relative point of view, as
organs of society, varying according to the conditions of the time.
THOMAS HENRY : But surely you would not deny that morality has
an absolute quality—what Kant called the Categorical Imperative?
JULIAN : It has the quality of being felt as absolute. But that,
according to modern psychological discoveries, is the result of the
somewhat crude psychological process^ called repression, which we all
undergo in infancy.