Egoism Defined

Posted by rbroberg 5 years ago to Philosophy
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Ego is defined as the ā€œIā€ or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. The second definition issues from a Freudian framework: the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment.

The popular usage of the word has a negative connotation. Perhaps this is due to the second definition, which identifies the ego as the bridge between irrational whim and reality. This view is mistaken. It posits that irrational or animalistic desire is mediated through some compromise with existence as such. It therefore defines the "I" as a dual entity which, on the one hand, consists of the "id", and, on the other, consists of some conscious process consisting of satisfaction of the "id". In this dual definition, the "I" is not an integrated unit, but a process with inputs and outputs. Consciousness is a process, but the "I" to which one refers is not a consciousness to be distinguished from the organism possessing it. Binswanger points out that conscious experience of pleasure or pain is correlated to survival needs. There is a biological reason pleasure is associated with a good meal and pain is associated with a broken limb.

A human being does not respond to pain as an external event to compete with his "id". If I touch a hot stove, the reaction is to withdraw the hand touching it. The response is automatic. The failure to meet the requirements of reality is not in some irrational or animalistic desire to touch a stove. The person had a reason to touch the stove, but was mistaken about the costs or benefits of doing so. This is a failure of the rational mind, not the "id". The "id" is nothing more than an animalistic instinct modified for human beings.

This ugly view of men does nothing but bring the best among men down to the level of savage or even animal. It does not even attempt to determine an ethical basis for man's behaviors, which is inexcusable. The theoretical framework is false. Therefore, so must the definition be false.

Thus egoism properly defined is per the first definition: Self-ism or, properly, selfishness.


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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 5 years ago
    I am interested in this. I think of humans as having evolved behaviors due to selective pressures that don't apply to a rational person. An example is a trait that makes us want revenge, even if it's against someone we'll never see again and if the revenge is costly to us and doesn't recover whatever the other person took from us. This acted as a crude form of criminal justice, a deterrent to would-be criminals who know revenge would motivate a person or his family to come after a criminal even if it's against their interests. Once we developed laws, even a somewhat-corrupt criminal justice system was better than this revenge-based system.

    So in my view, the id-like system was replaced by humankind using reason to develop something better.

    I have a similar view to about religious feelings, sexual assault, and altruistic tendencies. Selective pressures promoted these irrational behaviors, and then by some accident humankind acquired rational thought and started to overcome our ancient foibles. We still have religious feelings, but we don't mistake that for reality. We still have relationships like Dominique's and Roark's, but we don't really hurt one another. We still choose to do things for others, but we know it's not right unless in the end we're doing it for ourselves and not out obligation.

    I'd love to hear other views. Your post makes me wonder if my view is colored by a simplistic Freudian or Protestant notion of a little devil and angel arguing over our shoulders.
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    • Posted by 5 years ago
      Interesting comment, thanks. The question underpinning this line of thought is: What is the causal relationship between brain states/processes and consciousness?

      Another question is: What is the biological function of the various stages of religion (i.e. animal worship, ancestor worship, polytheism, monotheism, atheism, etc.)?
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