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Milton, J. (2000). Psychoanalysis and the Moral High Ground. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(6):1101-1115.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(6):1101-1115

Psychoanalysis and the Moral High Ground

Jane Milton

The author reflects on the power and ubiquity of moral issues in the human psyche and thus inevitably in psychoanalysis, and suggests that our moral sense may be an adaptive biological strategy. Goodness is sought in others and aspired to in the self, as part of an innate need to build the ego upon experiences of good objects. Kleinian theory suggests a ‘natural morality’ that can be discerned in the move towards the ‘depressive position’, involving increasing care and concern for others. The hunger for goodness within is experienced as a moral quest, with strivings both to approve of, and to be approved of by, one's objects. Goodness, felt as moral rightness, is highly prized, and may be claimed falsely for the self or for objects in the form of the ‘moral high ground’. Derailments of the analytic standpoint easily occur, away from the search for objective truth towards assumption of the moral high ground, on the part of the patient, the analyst or both. The author shows this occurring clinically and reflects also on how psychoanalytic theory can be misused in the pursuit of moral superiority.

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