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Guilt and Its Vicissitudes : Psychoanalytic Reflections on Morality
Judith M. Hughes
Routledge / Softcover / Jan 2008
9780415435987 (ISBN-10: 0415435986)
reg price: $70.50 our price: $ 66.98 (may be subject to change)
160 pages
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How do psychoanalysts explain human morality?

Guilt and Its Vicissitudes: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Morality focuses on the way Melanie Klein and successive generations of her followers pursued and deepened Freud's project of explaining man's moral sense as a wholly natural phenomenon.

With the introduction of the superego, Freud laid claim to the study of moral development as part of the psychoanalytic enterprise. At the same time he reconceptualized guilt: he thought of it not only as conscious, but as unconscious as well, and it was the unconscious sense of guilt that became a particular concern of the discipline he was founding. As Klein saw it, his work merely pointed the way. Judith M. Hughes argues that Klein and contemporary Kleinians went on to provide a more consistent and comprehensive psychological account of moral development. Hughes shows how Klein and her followers came to appreciate that moral and cognitive questions are complexly interwoven and makes clear how this complexity prompted them to extend the range of their theory.

Hughes demonstrates both a detailed knowledge of the major figures in post-war British psychoanalysis, and a keen sensitivity to the way clinical experience informed theory-building. She writes with vigor and grace, not only about Freud and Klein, but also about such key thinkers as Riviere, Isaacs, Heimann, Segal, Bion and Joseph. Guilt and Its Vicissitudes speaks to those concerned with the clinical application of psychoanalytic theory and to those interested in the contribution psychoanalysis makes to understanding questions of human morality.


‘At one level, Hughes offers a historical account of guilt from Freud through its development and elaboration in the unique perspective of Klein and the British School. It is a work of meticulous scholarship that underscores the originality of Klein’s thought. At another level, Hughes book speaks to the importance of agency that is increasingly under attack within postmodern thought (…) Read in this way, her survey is a cogent and timely response to those who regard the agency of conscience as superannuated.’ – Ronald C. Naso, Psychologist – Psychoanalyst, Winter 2008

"It is refreshing to read a slim, 150-page book. Just this concrete fact in itself attests to the superb scholarly caliber of Hughes, but the content and style of this book also prove that Hughes is well informed, concise and clear. Her arguments are explicit and well articulated; she summarizes her theses elegantly. Hughes is no doubt a clear thinker/writer and a superb educator… a stimulating, well-researched and well-written book." - M. Sagman Kayatekin, American Journal of Psychoanalysis


An Unconscious Sense of Guilt. Reparation Gone Awry. Omnipotence Holding Sway. The Ego Gaining Ground. Conclusion.

About the Author:

Judith M. Hughes is a professor of history and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. She has written several books including From Obstacle to Ally: The evolution of psychoanalytic practice (Routledge, 2004)

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