Max Stirner, one of the most radical philosophers for the concept of individiualism, anarchism and of anarcho egoism, Stirner in his most important book called: the ego and his own, makes the strident case of the individual against authority, he challenges, religion philosophical and political constraints that hamper on the reality of personal freedom.
The first chapter to the second part of his book called: “owness” outlines with precision and quick succession what his view is in relation to egoism and selfishness.
He brings up the fundamental problem of freedom, that freedom in it’s most general conception is impossible, people vouch for freedom but don’t realise that freedom is ridding of oneself, everything that embrasses you, but, when it comes to self understanding there are parts of ourselves that don’t bring us inconvenience, due to this, he says: “you gladly let freedom go when unfreedom suits you; and you take up your freedom again on occasion when it begins to suit you better”
“Freedom you all want, you want freedom. Why then do you higgle over a more or less? Freedom can only be the whole of freedom; a piece of freedom is not freedom. You despair of the possibility of obtaining the whole of freedom, freedom from everything – yes, you consider it insanity even to wish this? Well, then leave off chasing after the phantom, and spend your pains on something better than the – unattainable”
With this being said, stirner vouches for what he calls ownness, to own oneself, to forward the personal “I” in everything we do, he says that religion is what has caused us to view ourselves as naturally wrong, that our fundamental essence needs mending, I quote:
“The habit of the religious way of thinking has biased our mind so grieveously that we are – terrified at ourselves in our nakedness and naturalness; it has degraded us so that we deem ourselves depraved by nature, born devils”
When Stirner brings up the question of “what am I” we can see how Nietzsche was heavily influenced by this work, as he writes:
“An abyss of lawless and unregulated impulses, desires, wishes, passions, a chaos without light or guiding star! How am I to obtain a correct answer, if, without regard to god commandments or the duties which morality prescribes, without regard to the voice of reason… I simply appeal to myself? My passion would advise me to do the most senseless thing possible – thus each deems himself the – devil”
When it comes to egoism, Stirner strongly vouches for psychological egoism, this is the strict notion that all human conducts are always done out of self interest, that althrusim is very much non existent or that which is not the primary matter of concern when it comes to action, the ways in which he supports this claim is by looking through history and most specifically religion, he asks the question: “for whose sake do you care about God’s and the other commandments? Do you follow these commandments out of compliance toward God? For Stirner this is not the case, he claims you only do so for your sake, for your self interest, obedience to God is not out of respect for God but respect and concern for yourself for your own self interest, not for the sake of altruism.
He see’s everything being based on these two concepts of ownness and psychological egoism, for example, he furthers his claim by saying that christians onced condemned apollo and minerva or heathen morality, they then replaced this with christ mary and christian morality, I quote:
“they did this for the sake of their souls’ welfare too, therefore out of egoism and ownness. And it was by this egoism, this onus, that they got ride of the old world of Gods and became free from it. Ownness created a new form of freedom; for ownness is the creator of everything, as genius (a definite onus), which is always originality, for has a long time already been looked upon as the creator of new productions that have a place in the history of the world”
For Stirner religion is founded on egoism so therefore religion in his view exploits it, how? This is done by what he calls “cheated egoism” whereby religion constructs moral principles that after commitment will not satisfy myself but one of my desires, for example: “the impulse towards blessedness”
Individual self-realization rests on each individual’s desire to fulfill their egoism. The difference between an unwilling and a willing egoist is that the former will be ‘possessed’ by an empty idea and believe that they are fulfilling a higher cause, but usually being unaware that they are only fulfilling their own desires to be happy or secure; and the latter, in contrast, will be a person that is able to freely choose its actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires:
“Religion promises me the – “supreme good”, to gain this I no longer regard any other of my desires, and do not slake them. All your doings are unconfessed, secret, covert and concealed egoism. But because you are egoism that you are unwilling to confess to yourselves, that you keep secret from yourselves, hence not manifest and public egoism, consequently unconscious egoism – therefore they are not egoism, but thraldom, service, self-renunciation; you are egoists, and you are not, since you renounce egoism. Where you seem most to be such, you have drawn upon the word “egoist – loathing and contempt”
So here he is saying that egoism is fundamental to everything, to a religious person he believes that bringing about the supreme moral good from within that religion is simply driven by desire or impulse which will be self gratifying, but, because he are told it to be a “supreme good” the reality of selfishness is pushed into the unconscious and makes it concealed, but at the same time, people will view egoism with loathing and contempt.
“Sacred things exist only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, the involuntary egoist… in short, for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist, and abases himself (combats his egoism), but at the same time abases himself only for the sake of “being exalted”, and therefore of gratifying his egoism. Because he would like to cease to be an egoist, he looks about in heaven and earth for higher beings to serve and sacrifice himself to; but, however much he shakes and disciplines himself, in the end he does all for his own sake…. On this account I call him the involuntary egoist. … As you are each instant, you are your own creature in this very ‘creature’ you do not wish to lose yourself, the creator. You are yourself a higher being than you are, and surpass yourself […] just this, as an involuntary egoist, you fail to recognize; and therefore the ‘higher essence’ is to you—an alien essence…. Alienness is a criterion of the “sacred”
Stirner see’s that “the sacred” is simply the desired impulses of self interested egoism hidden behind a sacred veil of holiness whereby they are only fulfilling their own interest in being regarded as safe in the eyes of the lord. Freedom for stirner is only conceivable though one’s capacity for ownness, only through might can we become free, I quote:
“why is the freedom of the peoples a “hollow word?” because the people have no might!”
“One goes further with a handful of might than with a bagful of right, you long for freedom? You fools! If you took might, freedom would come of itself.”
“All freedom is essentially – self liberation – that I can have only so much freedom as I procure for myself by my ownness”
Stirner has been broadly understood as a proponent of both psychological egoism and ethical egoism, although the latter position can be disputed as there is no claim in Stirner’s writing in which one ought to pursue one’s own interest and further claiming any “ought” could be seen as a new “fixed idea”. Therefore, he may be understood as a rational egoist in the sense that he considered it irrational not to act in one’s self-interest.
Stirner does also advocate for a form of utilitarian egoism, I quote:
“If I am not concerned about a thing in and for itself, and do not desire it for its own sake, then I desire it solely as a means to an end, for its usefulness”
Reification of the egoist —
The distinction between Stirner’s egoism and Rand’s is most clear in regards to morality. Stirner’s view on “The Sacred” or “Sacred Truth’s” such as: religion, morality, law and rights are nothing but artificial concepts and not to be obeyed can one then act freely, freedom is then only possible of being one’s own creature but also ones of creator which is the contrasting difference between the voluntary and involuntary egoist, Morality, in Stirner’s view is taking up obligations to behave in certain rigid, fixed ways. Because of this, he rejects morality due to its incompatibility with egoism. Rand on the other hand regards morality or objectivism as an essential guide to genuine self‐interest. Though a strict atheist, Ayn Rand’s thought develops an objective and binding moral system. Stirner, on the other hand, see’s all morality as a “spook” of the mind, this so-called: “spook” is an attempt to constrict the individual from the chance at defining self interest and individuality.
The author and philosopher Ayn Rand takes the position of rational and ethical egoism which largely differs from Stirner. She holds that it is both irrational and immoral to act against one’s self-interest. Thus, her view is a synthesis of both rational egoism and ethical egoism as, for ethical egoism, she uses her philosophy of objectivism to attempt justification that egoism cannot be properly justified without an epistemology based on reason and rationality.
Rand further’s this endorsement of self-interest by her rejection of the ethical doctrine of altruism, according to Rand, there is only one alternative to being rationally self-interested, this is: sacrificing one’s proper interests, either for the sake of other people by being altruistic or for the sake of the supernatural beliefs
She makes the claim that the fundamental premise of altruism is the following, I quote:
“that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value”
In further writings on the topic of Altruism from here book “Philosophy: who needs it” she writes the following:
“Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute is self-sacrifice – which means self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial self-destruction – which means the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. This is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: No. Altruism says: Yes.“
Within the ethics of objectivism Rand’s explanation of values presents the proposition that an individual’s primary moral obligation is to achieve his own well-being, for his life and self-interest that an individual ought to obey a moral code, thus, she uses Ethical egoism as setting for man’s moral standard of self interest and well being.
Something Stirner advocated for was Individualist Anarchism with his anti state conception of the union of egoists but early 19th century anarchism for individuality was something Rand and objectivism disliked, she specifically regarded anarchism as a “naïve floating abstraction,” and any of the sort that did not follow by the objectivist movement would be granted as something “without relation to the concrete.” She saw anarchism as something of “gang rule” and not something which would promote freedom.
So how does Nietzsche’s view on Egoism pair up to Rand, with this question in mind we have to ask crucial questions regarding: the self, free will, reason, rationality and universal values:
Egoism is a thesis that fundamentslly rests on the concept of morality. because existence of morality presupposes that moral agents make choices for which they can be held responsible for which presupposes the existence of free will when it comes making choices, hence: egoism. When it comes to free will Rand argues this to be true of humans in the case that man’s reason is of a volitional capacity but Nietzsche does nothing but reject volitional causation in regards to free will but relies on biological determinism, I quote:
“a brazen wall of fate; we are in prison, we can only dream ourselves free, not make ourselves free”
“the single human being is a piece of fatum from the front and from the rear, one law more, one necessity more for all that is yet to come and to be”
he ridicules the idea of self-causation, saying: “the concept of a causa sui is something fundamentally absurd”
With nietzsche’s disbelief in self causation and free will of being a volitional nature it would make little sense for Nietzsche to make moral judgments of “good” and “evil” about individuals, unlike ayn rand, this uproots the possibility of nietzsche ever following ethical egoism because he does place moral judgements when he doesn’t believe in self causation or free will.
For Nietzsche the value of an individual is measured in terms of that individual’s ability to advance the human species, so if egoism concludes that the individual is an ends in themselves then Nietzsche would not be regarded as an egoist… right?
In twilight of the idols he says the following:
“The value of egoism depends on the physiological value of him who possesses it: it can be very valuable, it can be worthless and contemptible. Every individual may be regarded as representing the ascending or descending line of life. When one has decided which, one has thereby established a canon for the value of his egoism. If he represents the ascending line his value is in fact extraordinary—and for the sake of the life-collective, which with him takes a step forward, the care expended on his preservation, on the creation of optimum conditions for him, may even be extreme.”
For the major population Nietzsche is anti egoistic, that egoism is only valuable if the individual represents the ascending line of life.
To give an example of Nietzsche’s strident anti egoistic temperament he says the following, i quote:
“mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man—that would be an advance”
“If one regards individuals as equal, one calls the species into question, one encourages a way of life that leads to the ruin of the species”
The value of egoism, then, is to Nietzsche measured by evaluating the individual’s capacity for advancing the species.
In regards to altruism he sees it as a fundamental disappointment, a sign of decadence and further decline, this is especially in relation to christianities altruism, I quote:
“Man is finished when he becomes altruistic. Instead of saying naively, ‘I am no longer worth anything’, the moral lie in the mouth of the decadent says, ‘nothing is worth anything, life is not worth anything”.
From what I know personally so far I don’t think nietzsche views individuals as being only altruistic or egoistic but being dependant on their will to power, he refers to egoism in a biologically deterministic fashion with reference to ascending and descending lines, he also uses figure heads such as napoleon and their will to power or egoism as that which predicates an affirmative life.
Stirner and rands conclusive differences mostly remain in disagreement surrounding objective morality, striner rejects it because it constricts individual egoism but Nietzsche rejects objective morality for radical subjectivity, again, this radical subjectivity is also influenced by his biological determinism, i quote:
“it is always necessary to draw forth . . . the physiological phenomenon behind the moral predispositions and prejudices. When we do so, we learn that our moral judgments and evaluations . . . are only images and fantasies based on a physiological process unknown to us”
So finally in relation to reason rand and nietzsche are again in complete opposition, rand see’s reason as a primary value in ethics which produces what she regards of the highest of all virtues: rationality.
Nietzsche on the other hand doesn’t see reason as being the highest of all values, he sees it more or less as an off shoot or bi product of the passions, similar to stirner he recognizes the foundation and a priori structure of the human condition being a collection of instinctual biological drives which manifest themselves psychologically in the forms of felt passions and desires; some of those passions and desires further manifest themselves as conscious, rational experiences. As such, rational judgements are not to be regarded as the descriptors of action because consciousness and rationality are the human capacities which come after our instinctful drives and capacities.
So we can see that nietzsche disagree’s with rand on: ethical egoism, the volition of reason, morality being objective, free will and the primacy of reason and rationality as being of highest virtue and value.
So I hope that ties up the different perspectives of three of the most influential philosophers in regards to egoism and individualism.
What I don’t get personally is why there is this recurring belief that if everyone is a psychological egoist to their core then altruism is out the window, from what I have thought and read I don’t believe this at all because who said out of self interest you cannot be compassionate? Yes of course by being compassionate you would gain the pleasure of feeling good about yourself for being altruistic and that might be the main influence in a singular egoistic sense but I also think that egoism can produce altruism in the sense that there maybe a desire to be selfless for the sake of the community, for security and comfort, because the individual knows the importance of a structured, functioning society, therefore fundamentally it’s maintenance is necessary, this is not only in interest for the community but also interest for the self because one knows that the egoist cannot be functionable in a fragmented, broken society and vice versa, relating egoism to the functioning of society is interesting because to a degree a level of altruism needs to be in place even if it is to be used as a veil to hide self interest. Not completely conclusive about my views on this but I would probably lean to the psychological egoist viewpoint.