LIFE: Inherently Egocentric

by James Craig Green

Egocentrism is the simple recognition that every living thing views the world from a unique, self-oriented perspective. A woman, for example, sees other people around her, but not herself. She notices that others see her, but does not see herself unless facing a mirror (an indirect reflection). At its core, the word "egocentric" means nothing more than this self-evident observation and perspective.

The word, "egocentrism" is often criticized as a belief system, primarily due to misapplication. The word has come to mean a view by which someone places oneself above others, or treats others as if they should subordinate their interests to a particular individual. Egomaniacs (obsessed with themselves) and egotists (with excessive or boastful self images) are easy targets for critics of the egocentric viewpoint, but critics fail to realize that these are special, extreme and often unrepresentative cases. Egomaniacs and egotists tend to offend people, and often become demagogues, cult leaders or dictators. Because their egocentric viewpoints are so obvious, extreme and unrepentant, it is easy to generalize their attitudes to all people who consider themselves to be egoists, or accept an egocentric viewpoint.

Getting back to basic egocentrism as applied to humans, the most important point is that this is nothing more than a reference point. Each of us cannot help being egocentric, because that is the way we see the world. If you and I are sitting at a table at a restaurant, we share the egocentric view of being inside of that building, in a particular city and country. Someone in another restaurant, city or country at that moment will have a completely different reference point, based on their unique, egocentric viewpoint.

As we face each other in conversation over lunch, you can see me, but not yourself. Likewise, I can see you, but not myself. So, as far as communicating with each other, our egocentric viewpoints are different, though we share a wider viewpoint.

This whole egocentric perspective also applies to other senses. The two of us in a restaurant will smell the same bread on the table, but perhaps smell our individual dishes differently due to proximity. Also, we have different sensitivities in our various senses. A dish that one person describes as sweet might be bitter to another. These individual differences are profound, important and ingrained; although sensing ability can be developed or retarded through stimulation or repetition. My tracking dog training has demonstrated this time and time again.

This is egocentrism. I hope all of this so far is fairly obvious and uncontroversial.


I doubt that critics of egocentrism quarrel with the fundamental egocentric viewpoint differences I described, but they do seem to paint with a broad brush when attacking egomaniacs. I suggest words like "egomaniac" or "egotist" be used rather than egocentric, as they are more likely to convey the appropriately negative connotation that critics seem to cherish. Of course, critics of the "egoist" point of view, defined as the view that everyone always acts selfishly, are still free to emphasize collective, rather than individual perspectives. But I prefer not to use the word "egocentrism" and its derivatives to mean something other than an inherent perspective of individual life forms.

If the point is that someone is excessively selfish, or selfish in a way that is destructive to others, then I suggest critics make that point. But to criticize egocentrism is to criticize their own window to the world.

I'm not suggesting my definition of the word, "egocentrism" be set in stone, for all non-believers to adopt. I present this in the hope of fostering better communication between those who have differing opinions of the relationship between individuals and the groups with which they are associated.

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