Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 141, Issue 4, pp 745–761 | Cite as

Nobody is as Blind as Those Who Cannot Bear to See: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Management of Emotions and Moral Blindness

  • J. J. de Klerk


Although apparently irrational, people with seemingly high moral standards routinely make immoral decisions or engage in morally questionable behavior. It appears as if under certain circumstances, people become in some enigmatic way blind to the immoral aspects of what they are doing or consequences of their immoral actions. This article focuses and reports on a psychoanalytic inquiry into the role of emotions and the unconscious management of unwanted emotions in promoting moral blindness. Emotions are essential to the conscience, self-sanctioning, and advancement of moral behavior. Notwithstanding moral ideations, a sufficiently strong counterwill may create incongruence between moral intentions and actual desires or behavior. The unwelcome experience of acute moral emotions such as guilt and anxiety is likely to activate a range of psychological defense mechanisms and unconscious processes to manage these emotions. It is argued that the management of these emotions through undue avoidance, inappropriate regulation, or lack of regulation, can bypass self-sanctioning. As result, the condition of moral blindness can develop or be sustained. The psychoanalytic explanations offered contribute to the understanding as to how emotions in combination with the unconscious mind can cause moral blindness in any person, notwithstanding high moral standards and good intentions. Improved understanding of moral blindness represents an important scientific step in improved understanding of our moral and immoral selves, with all its complexities, conflicts, and contradictions.


Emotions Emotion regulation Moral blindness Unconscious Psychoanalytic Moral behavior 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Stellenbosch Business SchoolStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschRepublic of South Africa

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