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Imagining the End: Mourning and Ethical Life
Jonathan Lear, PhD
Belknap Press / Softcover / Nov 2022
9780674272590 (ISBN-10: 0674272595)
price: $45.95 (may be subject to change)
176 pages
Out of stock - more on the way...

A leading philosopher explores the ethics and psychology of flourishing during times of personal and collective crisis.

Imagine the end of the world. Now think about the end—the purpose—of life. They’re different exercises, but in Jonathan Lear’s profound reflection on mourning and meaning, these two kinds of thinking are also connected: related ways of exploring some of our deepest questions about individual and collective values and the enigmatic nature of the good.

Lear is one of the most distinctive intellectual voices in America, a philosopher and psychoanalyst who draws from ancient and modern thought, personal history, and everyday experience to help us think about how we can flourish, or fail to, in a world of flux and finitude that we only weakly control. His range is on full display in Imagining the End as he explores seemingly disparate concerns to challenge how we respond to loss, crisis, and hope.

He considers our bewilderment in the face of planetary catastrophe. He examines the role of the humanities in expanding our imaginative and emotional repertoire. He asks how we might live with the realization that cultures, to which we traditionally turn for solace, are themselves vulnerable. He explores how mourning can help us thrive, the role of moral exemplars in shaping our sense of the good, and the place of gratitude in human life. Along the way, he touches on figures as diverse as Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, and the British royals Harry and Meghan.

Written with Lear’s characteristic elegance, philosophical depth, and psychological perceptiveness, Imagining the End is a powerful meditation on persistence in an age of turbulence and anxiety.


Imagining the End suggests, in a sober yet hopeful spirit, how mourning, rightly understood, can give meaning to our lives in the disenchanted times in which we find ourselves. In exploring the hopes that have failed us, the projects that have run into the sand, the loves we have lost, the attachments that have come to an end—a work of what amounts to creative mourning—we can develop a stance in the here and how from which the psyche can look outward and flourish. As he did earlier in his explorations of what it can mean to hope, Jonathan Lear here expands and deepens our understanding of what it can mean to mourn.”—J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Laureate

“A deeply insightful and thought-enriching work by one of the most original philosophers writing today. Imagining the End is acutely aware of the danger we stand in of finding ourselves on an uninhabitable planet. But Lear is also aware of how the consciousness of impending loss can bring out the illumination inherent in meaningful life, often occluded in day-to-day living.”—Charles Taylor, author of The Secular Age

“A greatly original treatment of central issues of human life—issues which have taken on new importance as we have become sharply aware of the vulnerability of life on this planet. Lear’s writing reshapes our understanding of where philosophy can take us.”—Cora Diamond, author of Reading Wittgenstein with Anscombe, Going On to Ethics

“Mourning, as Jonathan Lear shows, has always been a way of remembering that can add something new to the world. Imagining the End takes a hard look at the contemporary grounds of despair—for a person, a group, or a species—but it conveys hope by the accuracy of its imaginings. Lear’s treatment here of a great subject of moral psychology is characteristically subtle and inventive.”—David Bromwich, author of American Breakdown

“Offers provocative reflections on flourishing in the face of existential and civilizational challenges.”—Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents:

1. We Will Not Be Missed!
2. Transience and Hope: A Return to Freud in a Time of Pandemic
3. Exemplars and the End of the World
4. When Meghan Married Harry: A Comment on the Humanities
5. Good Mourning in Gettysburg and Hollywood
6. The Difficulty of Reality and a Revolt against Mourning
7. Gratitude and Meaning

About the Author:

Jonathan Lear is John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor on the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. His works include Wisdom Won from Illness, Radical Hope, A Case for Irony, and Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life.

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