Imagination and Ethical Ideals

Prospects for a Unified Philosophical and Psychological Understanding

By Nathan L. Tierney

Subjects: Psychiatry
Series: SUNY series in Ethical Theory
Paperback : 9780791420485, 184 pages, August 1994
Hardcover : 9780791420478, 184 pages, August 1994

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Table of contents


Part 1. Imagination in Ethics: Philosophical Aspects

1. Contemporary Dilemmas in the Project of Ethical Understanding


The Failure of the Ethics of Principle
The Mark of the Ethical
Imagination's Fate


2. Hume and Smith: Imagination in the Extension of Sympathy

3. Kant


Kant's General Theory of Imagination
Imagination in Moral Judgement and Feeling


4. The Seeing-As Concept of Imagination


Wittgenstein's Concept of Seeing-as
Schematisms of Interpretation


5. Ethical Ideas


The Nature of Ideals
Kierkegaard's Approach to Ethical Idealization
Ideals in Moral Reflection


6. The Moral Philosophy of the Self


The Self in Moral Life


Part 2: Psychological Aspects

7. The Self in Classical Psychoanalysis

8. Ethical Idealization in Classical Psychoanalysis


Later Developments in Classical Psychoanalysis
Hartmann's Ego Psychology


9. Heinz Kohut's Psychoanalytic Self Psychology


The Bipolar Self


10. Narcissism and Ethical Idealization in Self Psychology

Part 3. Conclusions and Implications

11. Moral Authority for a Free People


Autonomy and Authority
Virtue Ethics Reconsidered
Theory and Practice: Relativism and the Theoretician's Dilemma Reconsidered
Democracy and Moral Authority




Name Index

Subject Index


Imagination and Ethical Ideals is an interdisciplinary work which investigates some of the links between moral philosophy and moral psychology, with implications for both personal ethics and social philosophy. Tierney begins with the argument that the widespread fascination with moral principles has led moral philosophers into a dead end, which is revealed both by their inability to deal with the problem of relativism, and by the felt irrelevancy of moral philosophy to the lives that people are actually striving to lead. He then offers an alternative account of the nature of ethical thought, grounded in a theory of imaginative ethical ideals. A psychological framework for ideals is then developed using the results of contemporary psychoanalysis and psychology, particularly the self psychology of Heinz Kohut.

Nathan Tierney is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at California Lutheran University.


"Tierney gives us an account of moral ideals that is philosophically sophisticated, psychologically realistic, and sensitive to our nature as imaginative moral creatures. Moral philosophy is desperately in need of such an account, if it is going to address the needs and motivations of actual human beings. With brevity, subtlety, and deep insight, Tierney shows us what is unsatisfactory about a morality grounded on universal rules and based on a notion of moral motivation as compulsion. He then offers his alternative account, which focuses, not on rules, but rather on imaginative, ethical ideals. Nobody, to my knowledge, has explored these dimensions of our moral experience, and nobody has addressed the issues of imaginative ethical ideals with this kind of sophistication and clinical adequacy. " — Mark L. Johnson, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale