What does the term "ego" really mean?


According to different sources and authors, ego is referred to as one's self-perception by one's self concept. It is sometimes considered as selfishism. But what can a person do that will not refer to self-X?

I don't know if I am clear enough, but I don't understand why helping other people with the aim of making others happy should be considered as self-satisfaction and thought to the ego.

Gratien Asimbahwe

Posted 2018-10-07T06:50:41.960

Reputation: 133

1Yes, different sources and authors is correct. It can be very confusing. I have always associated it with Sigmund Freud. The adult ego is the "place for reason". It had the difficult task of balancing the contending "forces" coming from the Super Ego and the I'd. – Gordon – 2018-10-07T07:20:23.220

Here is Lacan.http://www.lacanonline.com/index/tag/ego/ Lacan is really confusing. I don't think even Lacan understood Lacan. These are just two examples from psychology, but since Freud and Lacan were both influential, they have also had an impact on philosophy. I prefer Freud. I've never really understood Lacan.

– Gordon – 2018-10-07T07:37:44.400

As you point out, there is also this idea of "selfishness". I suppose we could look at Nietzsche here. Maybe he would say it is healthy to be selfish, but I don't know enough about him to give an opinion. – Gordon – 2018-10-07T07:56:10.157

A famous scene, Lacan and student: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6aqGYYBwKbQ :)

– Gordon – 2018-10-07T08:05:13.790

I made some initial edits. You may roll these back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. I think this still needs further editing. What source uses the term "selfishism"? You do mention "different sources". What are they? This would help someone provide a relevant answer. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny – 2018-10-07T09:17:51.930

Sir @Gordon I have read the references you linked above. Some of sources are originally in french:

  • S.Freud, Essais de psychanalyse appliquée, 1917, pp.144-146
  • Vauvenargues, Réflexions et Maximes

and guess what says E.Labiche <<An egotist is unable to love a friend. But he can not do without friends: he would never love himself enough.>> – Gratien Asimbahwe – 2018-10-07T10:13:42.627

I feel like there is a certain relationship between loving himself and loving others and they seems to be two inseparable concepts. There could not be a subject where there is no object and each object is a related to a subject that may [may not] recognize itself. "ego cogito". – Gratien Asimbahwe – 2018-10-07T10:29:37.910

One can possess either a healthy or unhealthy ego. And people with dissociative personality disorders may have split, alter-egos, or fractured (fragile) ones. The ego is not to be confused with either the persona (mask) or anima/animus (shadow), which are subaspects of the personality structure. An egotist is someone with an unhealthy, weak, 'hungry' ego, which needs constant 'feeding'. Such a person lacks self-esteem / authenticity, so is compelled to 'manufacture' qualities they believe will support a perfect image of themselves, most importantly for the purpose of gaining societal approval. – Bread – 2018-10-07T12:35:40.780

1Yes, Lacan was French, Freud was Austrian. Some people consider Lacan to be a genius, so I could be very wrong about him. Thanks for the quote from Labiche. – Gordon – 2018-10-07T13:25:32.177



Welcome, gartien asimbahwe.

'Ego' is the Latin word for 'I' but its sense in modern philosophy depends very much on its context. In Descartes' 'cogito, ergo sum' (not his own phrase but a Latin translation of his French phrase, 'je pense, donc je suis', 'I think therefore I am/ exist'), the ego is merely the thinking self independent of the body. There is no association with selfishness nor in the sequel to his being a sole self, no hint of solipsism - that hus self is the only thing that exists.

The American philosopher, R.B. Perry, referred to the 'egoistic predicament' which merely signified that one has no access to the world, to external reality, independently of our mental representations of it. I leave aside problems here, the point is simply that a purely epistemological claim is being made, a claim about what we can know. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egocentric_predicament.)

In Freud the ego's meaning takes a different turn. The way in is through the 'id':

The id is conceived by Freud as the source of instinctive impulses; and the impression con- veyed by his description is that it consists, not of organised instinctive tendencies, but of inchoate impulses seeking discharge. It is the human psyche, of course, that Freud is considering. But it is difficult to believe that man differs fundamentally from the animal world where the more primitive aspects of his mentality are concerned; and Freud's description of the id as the source of instinctive impulses seems singularly out of keeping with the instinctive endowment of animals, which, as we have seen, is highly specific and highly orientated towards outer reality. According to Freud, the id is indifferent to outer reality, and the adaptation of impulses to outer reality only becomes possible through the differentiation of the ego from the surface of the id. The ego is, of course, conceived by Freud as a structure ; but the id is described in a manner which implies that it is essentially structureless and is merely a reservoir of instinctive energy. The function ascribed to the ego is that of selecting and regulating id-impulses in such a manner as to render behaviour adapted to our outer conditions. (W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, 'A Critical Evaluation of Certain Basic Psycho-Analytical Conceptions', The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 7, No. 25, Sigmund Freud Centenary (May, 1956), pp. 49-60 : 52.)

When we turn to ethics that 'ego' gains yet other associations.

'Egoism' in ethics is widely taken to be a view of life on which human conduct either necessarily is or (if not that, then) should be based exclusively on self-interest.

'Egotism' is more of a personal attitude than a philosophical position. An egoistic person is conceited, selfish, continually concerned with her own business and just not interested in what happens to or interests others.

This is not a complete overview but I hope it helps provide a perspective on the 'ego'.

Geoffrey Thomas

Posted 2018-10-07T06:50:41.960

Reputation: 34 276

Of course, there also is anarcho-egoism, which has nothing to do with disrespect of others. – rus9384 – 2018-10-07T13:02:51.163

1Accepted but I could only put a certain amount into a short answer. Your comment adds to the information, thanks. Best - Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas – 2018-10-07T13:35:51.637