The Ego and Its Own  

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"Now, let one imagine a French revolutionist in the year 1788, who among friends let fall the now well-known phrase, "the world will have no rest till the last king is hanged with the guts of the last priest."" --tr. Steven T. Byington

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Ego and Its Own (German: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum; also translated as The Individual and His Property; a literal translation would read The Sole One and His Property) is a philosophical work by German philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856), first published in 1844.



According to Lawrence Stepelewich the book is largely modelled on the work Phenomenology of Spirit by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who was a great source of inspiration and dispute among the Young Hegelians, a group of 19th-century Berlin intellectuals with whom Stirner associated.

The book portrays the life of a human individual as dominated by authoritarian concepts ('fixed ideas' or 'spooks'), which must be shaken and undermined by each individual in order for that person to act freely. These concepts include primarily religion and ideology, and the institutions claiming authority over the individual. The primary implication of undermining these concepts and institutions is, for Stirner, an ethical egoism, which can be said toTemplate:Or transcend language. According to him, not only is God an alienating ideal, as Feuerbach had argued in The Essence of Christianity (1841), but so too are Humanity itself, nationalism and all such ideologies. According to Stirner, individuals should only entertain temporary associations between themselves, agreeing in mutual aid and cooperation for a period of time, but only when in each individual's interest (perhaps anticipating cooperative games):

"In the time of spirits thoughts grew till they overtopped my head, whose offspring they yet were; they hovered about me and convulsed me like fever-phantasies -- an awful power. The thoughts had become corporeal on their own account, were ghosts, e. g. God, Emperor, Pope, Fatherland, etc. If I destroy their corporeity, then I take them back into mine, and say: "I alone am corporeal." And now I take the world as what it is to me, as mine, as my property; I refer all to myself." p.15


Stirner asserted his own "doctrine" of self-interest to be a universal truth or established viewpoint, and likens his book to a ladder you throw away after climbing, a sort of self-therapy.

The same mental image of a ladder to be thrown away after climbing is used by Ludwig Wittgenstein in section 6.54 of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, it has been claimedTemplate:Who? that this phrase was originally coined by Arthur Schopenhauer in 1844:

However, for the man who studies to gain insight, books and studies are merely rungs of the ladder on which he climbs to the summit of knowledge. As soon as a rung has raised him up one step, he leaves it behind. On the other hand, the many who study in order to fill their memory do not use the rungs of the ladder for climbing, but take them off and load themselves with them to take away, rejoicing at the increasing weight of the burden. They remain below forever, because they bear what should have bourne them.|Arthur Schopenhauer| The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Chapter VII
Do I write out of love to men? No, I write because I want to procure for my thoughts an existence in the world; and, even if I foresaw that these thoughts would deprive you of your rest and your peace, even if I saw the bloodiest wars and the fall of many generations springing up from this seed of thought — I would nevertheless scatter it. Do with it what you will and can, that is your affair and does not trouble me. You will perhaps have only trouble, combat, and death from it, very few will draw joy from it.

If your weal lay at my heart, I should act as the church did in withholding the Bible from the laity, or Christian governments, which make it a sacred duty for themselves to 'protect the common people from bad books'. But not only not for your sake, not even for truth's sake either do I speak out what I think. No — <p> I sing as the bird sings
That on the bough alights;
The song that from me springs
Is pay that well requites <p> I sing because — I am a singer. But I use you for it because I — need ears|Max Stirner|The Ego and his Own, p.394}}


Stirner repeatedly quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Bruno Bauer assuming that readers will be familiar with their works. He also paraphrases and makes word-plays and in-jokes on formulations found in Hegel's works as well as in the works of his contemporaries such as Ludwig Feuerbach. This can make the book more demanding for contemporary readers.

See also

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