Special note to my readers: This post is the result of discussions with various people about ego and the problems that arise from “having too much ego.” I have argued that the problems with “ego” is often the same as the problems of trying to be rational and egocentric at the same time. I wrote a post entitled “Should We Be Rational,” last November, where I stated that you can’t be rational and egocentric at the same time. I realize these posts on thinking can be a bit “heavy,” but hopefully, you will find them to be thoughtful. :-)
What is egocentricity? According to the Critical Thinking Community, egocentricity is “a tendency to view everything in relationship to oneself; to confuse immediate perception (how things seem) with reality. One’s desires, values, and beliefs (seeming to be self-evidently correct or superior to those of others) are often uncritically used as the norm of all judgment and experience. Egocentricity is one of the fundamental impediments to critical thinking. As one learns to think critically in a strong sense, one learns to become more rational, and less egocentric.”
Is egocentricity a tendency that all humans experience? I think the answer is yes! As little children, we all are naturally egocentric. Children will often use their desires and what they believe, as a basis for all judgement and experience. They often confuse “how things seem to them” with reality. Consider how children will readily believe in Santa Claus, monsters and ghosts. The point is that all of us, because we were once children, have been egocentric. I think it is a natural part of our maturation process.
Unfortunately, many humans don’t loose their tendency toward egocentricity as they grow older and “wiser.” Why is this? I think is has a lot to do with confusing beliefs with knowledge. Knowledge is based on understanding, which is based on thought and must be justified. Beliefs do not have such conditions.
Egocentricity has at least two other forms when the concept is extended to groups – ethnocentricity and sociocetricity.
Ethnocentricity is “a tendency to view one’s own race or culture as central, based on the deep-seated belief that one’s own group is superior to all others.” An example of ethnocentricity was how the whites have justified, in the past, their treatment of blacks in America and South Africa.
Sociocentricity is “the assumption that one’s own social group is inherently and self-evidently superior to all others. When a group or society sees itself as superior, and so considers its views as correct or as the only reasonable or justifiable views, and all its actions as justified, there is a tendency to presuppose this superiority in all of its thinking and thus, to think closedmindedly. All dissent and doubt are considered disloyal and rejected without consideration. Few people recognize the sociocentric nature of much of their thought.”
Examples of sociocentricity can often be found when observing interaction between different countries, city neighborhoods, political parties, religious groups, etc. Specifically, it’s not unusual for someone who is a Democrat to consider ideas from a Republican to be inferior and vice versa. It’s not unusual for a christian to proclaim that unless a person is baptized, s/he will not be saved and/or go to heaven. What does this last proclamation do for reasonableness when said to a jew or muslim? Doesn’t that christian consider her/his views as correct and therefore, superior to the beliefs of the jew or muslim? This also acts as an example of confusing what is believed with what is known.
Egocentricity, though a normal way of thinking, only serves us well when we are young. Like training wheels on a bicycle, it is something we should try to get rid of as soon as we consciously begin maturing.
You might ask, how does egocentricity serve us well when we are young? Consider a very young child who finds her/himself in a dangerous situation. That child will have a natural and egocentric tendency to save her/himself, often without any concern about others that may be in the same situation. Of course, that is appropriate since the child, most likely, wouldn’t have the strength, nor sense of self, to do otherwise. When we are young, we must “look out for ourselves” as much as possible. This is why the responsibility of raising children falls upon the adults and not the children.
Here is a metaphorical attempt to clarify what I mean. Think of a child as a growing chick inside of an egg. Think of the shell of the egg as the egocentric nature of a child. The shell of the egg protects the young bird until it is able to peck itself out of the egg. This is what should and must happen to all reasonable and rational humans. They should strive to “peck themselves out of the shell of egocentricity.” Only when they do, will they become rational.
Egocentricity mentally confines us like the shell physically confines the bird. It serves a good purpose while we are developing, but it must be “broken through” and discarded in order for each of us to become a rational and complete person.
We should and must mature to the point that we break the egg shell of egocentricity. Only then do we become mature rational humans. Therefore, our egocentricity will become a broken “eggocentricity!” :-)
I would appreciate a comment from you?