Egotism is the drive to maintain and enhance favorable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated opinion of one's personal features and importance. It often includes intellectual, physical, social and other overestimations.
The egotist has an overwhelming sense of the centrality of the 'Me', that is to say of their personal qualities. Egotism means placing oneself at the core of one's world with no concern for others, including those loved or considered as "close," in any other terms except those set by the egotist.
Egotism is closely related to "loving one's self" or narcissism - indeed some would say “by egotism we may envisage a kind of socialized narcissism”. Egotists have a strong tendency to talk about themselves in a self-promoting fashion, and they may well be arrogant and boastful with a grandiose sense of their own importance. Their inability to recognise the accomplishments of others leaves them profoundly self-promoting; while sensitivity to criticism may lead on the egotist's part to narcissistic rage at a sense of insult.
Egotism differs from both altruism - or acting to gain fewer values than are being given– and from egoism, the unremitting pursuit of one's own self-interest. Various forms of "empirical egoism" can be consistent with egotism, but do not necessitate having an inflated sense of self.
In developmental terms, two rather different trajectories can be distinguished with respect to egotism – the one individual, the other cultural.
With respect to the developing individual, a movement takes place from egocentricity to sociality during the process of growing up. It is normal for an infant to have an inflated – almost a majestic - sense of egotism. The over-evaluation of one's own ego regularly appears in childish forms of love - in large part because the baby is to himself everything, omnipotent to the best of their own knowledge.
Optimal development allows a gradual reconciliation to a more realistic view of one's own place in the world – a lessening of the egotistical swollen head. Less adequate adjustment may later lead to what has been called defensive egotism, serving to overcompensate for the fragility of the underlying concept of self.Robin Skynner however considered that in the main growing up leads to a state where “your ego is still there, but it's taking its proper limited place among all the other egos".
However, alongside such a positive trajectory of diminishing individual egotism, a rather different arc of development can be noted in cultural terms, linked to what has been seen as the increasing infantilism of (post)modern society. Whereas in the nineteenth century egotism was still widely regarded as a traditional vice - for Nathaniel Hawthorne egotism was a sort of diseased self-contemplation - Romanticism had already set in motion a countervailing current, what described as a kind of “cultural egotism, substituting the individual imagination for vanishing social tradition”. The romantic idea of the self-creating individual - of a self-authorizing, artistic egotism - then took on broader social dimensions in the following century. Keats might still attack Wordsworth for the regressive nature of his retreat into the egotistical sublime; but by the close of the twentieth century egotism had been naturalized much more widely by the Me generation into the Culture of Narcissism.
In the 21st century, romantic egotism has been seen as feeding into techno-capitalism in two complementary ways: on the one hand, through the self-centred consumer, focused on their own self-fashioning through brand 'identity'; on the other through the equally egotistical voices of 'authentic' protest, as they rage against the machine, only to produce new commodity forms that serve to fuel the system for further consumption.
There is a question mark over the relationship between sex and egotism. The claim has been made that love can transform the egotist, giving him or her a new sense of humility in relation to others.
But at the same time, it is very apparent that egotism can readily show itself in sexual ways, and indeed arguably one's whole sexuality may function in the service of egotistical needs.
The term egotism is derived from the Greek ("εγώ") and subsequently its Latinised ego (ego), meaning "self" or "I," and -ism, used to denote a system of belief. As such, the term is etymologically similar to egoism.
- A. A. Milne has been praised for his clear-eyed vision of the ruthless, open, unashamed egotism of the young child.