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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

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It may be possible for a few special souls, or by means of a special
psychological technique, to abolish this primitive structural pattern of
the psyche and to unite super-ego, ego, and id in a single and inte-
grated entity; but, for the time being at any rate, this is impossible
for the majority of human beings. What is possible, however, is to
modify this primitive psychical morphology into something less waste-
ful for the purposes of adult human existence. This can be accom-
plished by minimizing the intensity and reducing the number of
repressions in early life, and by substituting so far as possible con-
scious and rational suppression for unconscious and irrational re-
pression as a means for the resolution of conflicts,, old and new alike.
There is a general as well as a special approach to this question.
The general attack will consist in relating the whole subject of ethics
to scientific fact and method, as has recently been attempted by Dr.
Waddington in Nature (1941? vol. 148, p. 270). Any system of ethics
is the consciously formulated rationalization of a much larger system
of compulsions and compulsive prohibitions, to which we may give
the Freudian label of super-ego. This super-ego system, though
essentially irrational and formed by the action of unconscious mental
forces, is not arbitrary, but is related to the facts of the external world
through individual experience, largely at a very early age.
We must also take into account the extraordinary differences
between the ethical systems of different human societies. The fact
that actions that are regarded with the utmost horror in one place or
time are in another community or another century accepted as moral
duties—this apparent interchangeability of ethical black and white
Has often given rise to a resigned acceptance of complete relativism
and subjectivism in ethics and a denial of the possibility of general
ethical standards. But the scientific approach enables us to discern
that these differences in ethical systems can be partly related to the
social and material environment of the society in question, partly
explained as "accidental" divergences of the sort which we find also
in biological evolution among small and isolated groups. Further^
the adoption of the evolutionary point of view at once makes it clear
that we cannot expect to set up ethical standards which are either
universal or complete. Ethics are part of the adjustment between
man and his environment (of which the social environment comes to
constitute an increasingly important fraction); thus ethical standards
not only inevitably change with changing conditions, but the idea of
change, or rather of certain directions of change, must itself become
part of our ethical system.
Perhaps the most important contribution of natural science to