There is no word more generally misinterpreted than the word egoism, in its modern sense. In the first place, it is supposed to
mean devotion to self interest, without regard to the interest of others. It is thus opposed to altruism - devotion to others and
sacrifice of self. This interpretation is due to the use of the word thus antithetically by Herbert Spencer.
Again, it is identified with hedonism or eudaimonism, or epicureanism, philosophies that teach that the attainment of pleasure or
happiness or advantage, whichever you may choose to phrase it, is the rule of life.
Modern egoism, as propounded by Stirner and Nietzsche, and expounded by Ibsen, Shaw and others, is all these; but it is
more. It is the realization by the individual that he is an individual; that, as far as he is concerned, he is the only individual.
For each one of us stands alone in the midst of a universe. He is surrounded by sights and sounds which he interprets as
exterior to himself, although all he knows of them are the impressions on his retina and ear drums and other organs of sense.
The universe for him is measured by these sensations; they are, for him, the universe. Some of them he interprets as denoting
other individuals, whom he conceives as more or less like himself. But none of these is himself. He stands apart. His
consciousness, and the desires and gratifications that enter into it, is a thing unique; no other can enter into it.
However near and dear to you may be your wife, children, friends, they are not you; they are outside of you. You are forever
alone. Your thoughts and emotions are yours alone. There is no other who experiences your thoughts or your feelings.
No doubt it gives you pleasure when other...
... middle of paper ...
they are for the egoist as though they were not.
"Filial love and respect" he will give to his parents if they have earned it by deserving it. If they have beaten him in infancy, and
scorned him in childhood, and domineered over him in maturity, he may possibly love them in spite of maltreatment; but if they
have alienated his affection, they will not reawaken it by an appeal to "duty."
In brief, egoism in its modern interpretation, is the antithesis, not of altruism, but of idealism. The ordinary man - the idealist -
subordinates his interests to the interests of his ideals, and usually suffers for it. The egoist is fooled by no ideals: he discards
them or uses them, as may suit his own interest. If he likes to be altruistic, he will sacrifice himself for others; but only because
he likes to do so; he demands no gratitude nor glory in return.
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