Egotism is the drive to maintain and enhance favorable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated opinion of one's personal features and importance. It often includes intellectual, physical, social and other overestimations.
The egotist has an overwhelming sense of the centrality of the 'Me', that is to say of their personal qualities. Egotism means placing oneself at the core of one's world with no concern for others, including those loved or considered as "close," in any other terms except those set by the egotist.
Egotism is closely related to "loving one's self" or narcissism - indeed some would say “by egotism we may envisage a kind of socialized narcissism”. Egotists have a strong tendency to talk about themselves in a self-promoting fashion, and they may well be arrogant and boastful with a grandiose sense of their own importance. Their inability to recognise the accomplishments of others leaves them profoundly self-promoting; while sensitivity to criticism may lead on the egotist's part to narcissistic rage at a sense of insult.
Looked at differently, the conceit of egotism describes a person who acts to gain values in an amount excessively greater than that which he or she gives to others. Egotism may be fulfilled by exploiting the sympathy, irrationality or ignorance of others, as well as utilizing coercive force and/or fraud.
Egotism differs from both altruism - or acting to gain fewer values than are being given– and from egoism, the unremitting pursuit of one's own self-interest. Various forms of "empirical egoism" can be consistent with egotism, but do not necessitate having an inflated sense of self.
In developmental terms, two rather different trajectories can be distinguished with respect to egotism – the one individual, the other cultural.
With respect to the developing individual, a movement takes place from egocentricity to sociality during the process of growing up. It is normal for an infant to have an inflated – almost a majestic - sense of egotism. The over-evaluation of one's own ego regularly appears in childish forms of love - in large part because the baby is to himself everything, omnipotent to the best of their own knowledge.
Optimal development allows a gradual reconciliation to a more realistic view of one's own place in the world – a lessening of the egotistical swollen head. Less adequate adjustment may later lead to what has been called defensive egotism, serving to overcompensate for the fragility of the underlying concept of self. Robin Skynner however considered that in the main growing up leads to a state where “your ego is still there, but it's taking its proper limited place among all the other egos".
However, alongside such a positive trajectory of diminishing individual egotism, a rather different arc of development can be noted in cultural terms, linked to what has been seen as the increasing infantilism of (post)modern society. Whereas in the nineteenth century egotism was still widely regarded as a traditional vice - for Nathaniel Hawthorne egotism was a sort of diseased self-contemplation - Romanticism had already set in motion a countervailing current, what Richard Eldridge described as a kind of “cultural egotism, substituting the individual imagination for vanishing social tradition”. The romantic idea of the self-creating individual - of a self-authorizing, artistic egotism - then took on broader social dimensions in the following century. Keats might still attack Wordsworth for the regressive nature of his retreat into the egotistical sublime; but by the close of the twentieth century egotism had been naturalized much more widely by the Me generation into the Culture of Narcissism.
In the 21st century, romantic egotism has been seen as feeding into techno-capitalism in two complementary ways: on the one hand, through the self-centred consumer, focused on their own self-fashioning through brand 'identity'; on the other through the equally egotistical voices of 'authentic' protest, as they rage against the machine, only to produce new commodity forms that serve to fuel the system for further consumption.
There is a question mark over the relationship between sex and egotism. The claim has been made that love can transform the egotist, giving him or her a new sense of humility in relation to others.
The term "egotism" is derived from the Latin and Greek ego, meaning "self" or "I," and -ism, used to denote a system of belief. As such, the term is etymologically related very closely with philosophical egoism.
- Robin M. Kowalski ed., Aversive Interpersonal Behaviors (1997) p. 112
- William Walker Atkinson, The New Psychology (2010 ) p. 30
- Samuel D. Schmalhausen, Why We Misbehave (2004 ) p. 55
- Kowalski ed., p. 111-4
- Mark R. Leary, The Curse of the Self (OUP 2007) p. 91
- Kowalski ed., p. 121-2
- Kowalski ed., p. 113
- J. C. Flügel, Man, Morals and Society (1973) p. 242-3
- Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (PFL 11) p. 85
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 38 and p. 57
- Robin Skynner and John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 91
- Skynner & Cleese, Families p. 63
- Kowalski ed., p. 224
- Robin Skynner and John Cleese, Life and how to survive it (London 1994) p. 241
- R. Bly and M. Woodman, The Maiden King (1999) p. 85-8
- Malcolm Cowley, ed., The Portable Hawthorne (Penguin 1977) p. 177
- Richard Eldridge, The Persistence of Romanticism (2001) p. 118
- Scott Wilson, in Patricia Waugh, ed., Literary Theory and Criticism (2006) p. 563-4
- Henry Hart, Robert Lowell and the Sublime (1995) p. 30
- Wilson, p. 565-6
- Schmalhausen, p. 153
- Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (PFL 11) p. 93
- Schmalhausen, p. 34
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 516-7
- Ann Thwaite, A. A. Milne: His Life (2006) p. 123 and p. 194
- Grayling, Anthony Clifford (2009). Ideas that Matter. London: Orion. ISBN 978-0297856764.
- Stendhal (1983). Souvenirs d'égotisme (in French). Gallimard. ISBN 978-2070374304.
- Egotism in German Philosophy (1916) by George Santayana
- B. J. Bushman/R. F. Baumeister, 'Threatened Egotism...'
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