Egoism is a philosophy about people serving their own needs or wants. Some kinds of egoism say that everything people do is egoistic, meaning it is done to serve their own desires. Other kinds of egoism instead say that people should do whatever they want or whatever benefits themselves.
Egoism is often seen as the opposite of altruism, meaning the concern for others. "Altruism" is a word created by the French thinker Auguste Comte, who says that people must only serve each other and never be egoistic. The German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche instead says that altruism is not the opposite of egoism. He also says that even though people say altruism is good, they do not treat each other well very much at all. Other egoists also often criticise this kind of attitude against people who do what benefits themselves. But Nietzsche says that people should eventually leave both altruism and egoism behind.
The American researcher James Scanlan says that when people do whatever benefits themselves it is only a fake kind of egoism. And that real egoism is when people do whatever they want. Both are often seen as dangerous beliefs. Some egoists such as Max Stirner, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, and Dmitry Pisarev, are also thought of as nihilists. And the British egoist Aleister Crowley popularised the phrase "Do what thou will".
There are many different kinds of egoism:
- Ethical egoism is the belief that it is right for people to do whatever benefits themselves.
- Default egoism is the belief that people mostly try to benefit themselves.
- Psychological egoism is the belief that people always try to benefit themselves, even when they don't know it.
- Rational egoism is the belief that it makes the most sense for people to do whatever benefits themselves.
Some ideas of egoism can be studied in moral psychology. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche says that many people wrongly think that being "good" is related to being "unegoistic". Instead, this thought only happened since priestly values took over from noble values