Posted on 10 January 2023 in bulletin, psychoanalysis

Workshop Announcement: Richard Wollheim’s “The Good Self and the Bad Self”

On Saturday 21 Jan 2023, St John’s Interdisciplinary Psychoanalysis seminar (Oxford University) is hosting a workshop on Richard Wollheim’s “The Good Self and the Bad Self: the Moral Psychology of British Idealism and the English School of Psychoanalysis compared”


Original image by Alicia Christin Gerald via Unsplash.

This workshop is part of the ISRF-funded research network on Interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Thought and will not be hosted by the ISRF. The below announcement has been reproduced at the request of the organisers.

Workshop Announcement: Richard Wollheim’s “The Good Self and the Bad Self: the Moral Psychology of British Idealism and the English School of Psychoanalysis compared”

This workshop will be held in Oxford at St John’s College from 9.30 AM – 12.30 PM.

There will be short presentations on the theme of ‘Moral psychology or moralised psychology?’ by Elisa Galgut (University of Capetown), Tom Angier (University of Capetown), Craig Reeves (Birkbeck) and Louise Braddock (independent scholar); see below for the abstracts.

If you wish to attend please email [email protected]. There is no fee but advance notification is essential. 


Tom Angier: ‘Bradley’s wider purposes’

To begin with I shall outline how Wollheim’s account of Bradley mirrors debates in ancient, particularly Aristotelian, ethics. Then I shall ask whether Wollheim, by bringing Bradley into dialogue with Klein, has calibrated Bradley’s philosophical focus adequately. Wollheim holds that Bradley’s significance lies primarily in bringing (moral) psychology to bear on (moral) philosophy. But this seems at best a partial truth, at worst to get Bradley’s focus wrong. ForEthical Studies is an Hegelian text, the purchase of which is that moral philosophy needs to be placed, first and foremost, within an historical and sociological context. It is only a conception of the social whole, that is, which enables us to grasp what constitutes good or bad human ‘functioning’. The Kleinian framing obscures this, and radically truncates Bradley’s philosophical ambitions.

Louise Braddock: “Binary Selves: the moralised psychology of British idealism reveal’d.”

In his paper, given as the Dawes Hicks lecture in the history of philosophy in 1975, Wollheim is promoting what he sees as psychoanalysis’ title to be a psychology that should properly be incorporated as part into a philosophy of the self; in the case of this paper what is conceived as the moral self. Wollheim brings British Idealism in its particular Bradleyan version together with Freudian and Kleinian psychoanalysis, in what can be seen as a move towards naturalisation of the self of German Idealism. We can accept that such naturalism is worth defending, but still wonder if this is where moralisation creeps back in when he aligns Bradley’s telos of self-realisation as unity or integration, with Klein’s claim that achievement of the depressive position represents a sufficient integration of positive and negative forces in the mind, in the form of affective object relations, where those of love, reparation and gratitude prevail. 

Elisa Galgut:  ‘Wollheim’s use of Kleinian theory as a view of self-realisation’

I defend Wollheim’s appeal to Kleinian psychoanalysis as supplementing Bradley’s moral theory – and, more generally, a moral theory that takes the psychological nature of the self to be important. I argue that Kleinian theory has several key features that make it appealing for such a project. The concept of the depressive position is helpful as an account of self-actualisation, explaining the importance of integration and harmony, and how this is psychically achieved. Klein’s account of the depressive position also explains the importance of the good and loving parts of the self succeeding in ameliorating the bad or persecutory aspects. Klein’s theory of the mind is essentially relational – internal objects are constructed via phantasies of internalisation of and identification with the other. This provides a natural way of explaining that what is good for the self in terms of desire-satisfaction turns out to involve a harmonious integration of self with others. 

Although Klein’s account of the depressive position seems to involve normative elements (harmony, integration of the good and bad), I don’t think that this is question-begging. Klein’s account is minimally normative, especially since we can initially understand ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in terms of feelings and desires. In addition, Klein credits the depressive position as being necessary for the successful integration of the subject with external reality, and Wollheim notes that self-integration will express itself in ‘external creativity and achievement’. So the self-integration which is characteristic of a successful entering of the depressive position can be understood in ways that are minimally normative in the sense of describing the successful adaption of the subject to the challenges of ordinary experience. But this minimal normativity can also serve as a bridge to a more fully developed moral theory in a way that seems intuitive, while also keeping in view the foundations of such a bridge in empirical psychology.

Craig Reeves: ‘Klein’s Psychology – Moral, Not Moralizing’

I offer a tentative defence of Kleinian moral psychology as a paradigm of a moral – neither reductive nor moralizing – psychology. If Klein’s psychology is roughly correct as a psychology, it gives us a moral psychology; it generates ethical results, but not by presupposing or building in controversial ethical commitments. The standards of realisticness and truthfulness which may seem to inform the developmental privileging of the depressive position are not mere ‘values’ imported illicitly into a description of the psyche; they are, rather, internal to the very idea of experience, to a subject’s reflective relation to an object, for subjects who are necessarily sensuous, embodied subjects and social, relational subjects. The depressive position and its privileging are then a psychological elaboration of what, qua sensuous related subjects, experience involves. Persecutory phantasy is the dissimulation of experience as such, one important form of the privation of experience, and depressive experience is just the form of experience proper. The promotion of depressive experience doesn’t rely on any extraneously imported ‘values’ (such reparation, integration, etc.), but, rather, only demonstrates psychologically what we would predict to be the case were Marx’s thesis that subjectivity is ‘communal’ true. To be a subject is to be an I in relation to a Thou, and Klein’s insights into the formal possibilities of and propensities towards emotional forms of experience that distort and disavow such relatedness illuminate privations of experience as such.

Registration Info: This workshop will be delivered in-room participation only (no video link is envisaged, although a recording may be available afterwards). If you wish to attend please email  [email protected]. There is no fee but advance notification is essential.