Many philosophers have touched the topic of "Ego". For instance, Freud, Buddha, Iqbal and many others. We all have fragile ego. In simple terms, how ego can be defined? What is the most suitable explanation of it in modern era? I see many people get hurt, when we don't agree to their perspective. How can we handle this?

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    Ego=self?...... Jan 29 at 8:57
  • The concept of ego by Iqbal suggests it as self. I might be wrong but that was what I studied. Jan 29 at 9:27
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    @Nihilist Unfortunatley I do not know whether Iqbal gave a definition of his understanding of ego. I assume that as a poet and mystic Iqbal made again a different use of the term. I assume the work of the orientalist Annemarie Schimmel builds a bridge between Iqbal and European, in particular German conceptions, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annemarie_Schimmel
    – Jo Wehler
    Jan 29 at 9:39
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    @Nihilist I vote for reopen. Possibly the title could be changed into: Which different definitions gave philosophers and psychologists for the terms “ego” and “self”?
    – Jo Wehler
    Jan 30 at 10:58

2 Answers 2

  1. First of all: EGO as a technical term has been defined in different ways by different philosophers and psychologists. There does not exist a common definition, accepted by all psychologists and philosophers.

    Definitions are not right or wrong, because everyone has the free choice how to name the concept he/she uses. Hence it is best to prefix each discussion about concepts like EGO, the self, atman etc. by a definition what is meant - so far concerning “handling the problem”.

  2. Ad Sigmund Freud: He distinguishes three different parts of the psyche: id, ego, superego. The set of unconscious processes, e.g., the bodily drives, are called id. The ego as a set of essentially conscious processes, and the unconscious processes of the superego. The superego processes mostly form the conscience of a person.

    Freud also describes the function of these three components, for an introduction see id, ego, superego. But note that Freud partly revised his structural model during the long development of his theory.

    Note: Freud uses the term ego without any connotation of egoism.

  3. Ad Hinduism: Nearly all Hindu schools subscribe to the technical term Atman (The Self), considered as the core part of the person.

    Unfortunately the term Atman is ill-defined. Several passages from the Upanishads try to describe the term by certain metaphors. They often agree, what the core of the human psyche is not, but they never give a clear positive definition what it is. The problem becomes even worse when the term is related to the other key term of the Upanishads, the term Brahman. Several Upanishads subscribe to the equality

    Atman = Brahman

    Then Atman means the core of the person and Brahman the core of the universe. But that’s no more than an equation with two indeterminates and does not clarify the concepts at all.

  4. Ad Buddhism: All Buddhist schools subscribe to the doctrine of no-Self or an-atta (= no Atman) or śūnyatā. Here it is claimed that the human person does not have a fixed core. Instead the psyche is formed by temporary, short living perceptions.

    There are many discussions between Indian schools, e.g. between the Hindu school of nyāya and Buddhist philosophers about the existence or non-existence of Atman.

  5. Ad neuroscience: Besides psychology also neuroscience has developed models of the ego, also without connotation with egoism. The value of a technical term is its usability in developing theoretical models which explain certain aspects from the domain of investigation.

    Neuroscience explicates the term "self" in form of a self-model. Concerning the self-model and its link to the world-model of a person see Thomas Metzinger in his book "Being No One. The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity". Metzinger proposes these two linked models as an interface between the philosophy of mind and neuroscience.


Merriam-Webster lists the three basic meanings of the word.

At the most basic level, ego denotes that part of the perceiving and thinking entity which is not anything else. Little children as well as many animals seem not to be entirely aware of that distinction; it is at least in part a learnt thing.1

You touch the second meaning, self-esteem, in your own question ("a fragile ego").

Freud, who I would not directly count as a philosopher, used the word as the "conscious" part of our psycho-physical being.

1 And if we think about it, in the beginning of a child's existence its limits are not well defined at all; even birth and cord-cutting, fundamental as they are, do not sever the connection to the mother completely. There is an ongoing bodily, emotional and, if you want, spiritual connection.

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