Source: The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions (2017). p. 215 Middle. Note for Ch. 1, para. 1.

  1. Or when it [referent beneath] will occur. Stanislaw Lec famously said: “Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.” Stanislaw Lec, it should be noted, was remarkably successful in delaying his own demise. Sentenced to death for a second attempt to escape a German work camp during the Holocaust, he was taken to dig his own grave. He used the shovel to kill his guard and successfully escaped.

The 'it' refers to p. 4:

  To gain some clarity, one helpful distinction is between different domains within which optimists and pessimists might disagree. One such domain is the realm of the facts. An optimist might believe that some terrible fate will not befall him, whereas a pessimist might believe that he will fall victim to that fate. They both agree that the fate is terrible, but they have differing views about whether it will occur.1

Am I correct that the emboldened quote's an allegory? What's its hidden meaning?

The literal meaning is false, as optimists and pessimists can differ on love, justice, value of life.


Yes, it is an allegory - Stanislaw Lec was well known from them, often comparing two opposite concepts and pointing that there is not much difference between them, in example (my own translation):

List of things we've got from Heaven: 1. Satan.

Maybe Hell is at the bottom of the Paradise?

There is no Heaven or Hell - only a mote of dust. For some it is Paradise, for other it is Hell. For the poorest it is our world.

I am so full of optimism, that I can't take it anymore.

Maybe God wants me to be an atheist?

source (in original)

So now lets get to the meaning of the “Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.”: It means that both kinds of people are very similar in the end, having (deep down) similar thoughts; there are not so different people. They both believe in the same things, but with different perspectives - like the "end of the world": Optimist might believe that the end will never happen (or in distant future), pessimist that it will happen soon, but both believe in the concept of the end of the world.


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