In one of the most inexplicably muddled and complicated articles ever written for an academic journal, Ralph Barton Perry coined the phrase “ego-centric predicament” in an effort at understanding the role human ego plays in how we perceive our surroundings and interact with others. [See Ralph Barton Perry, “The Ego-Centric Predicament,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 7 (1910)] While Perry’s article is more than a little difficult to get through, his basic point remains valid: people perceive the world through the prism of their own unique temperament and personality and through their own histories and cultures. We view the world through our own eyes and not through those of others. That’s about as basic and logical as one can be. As one who was trained and paid to view international and national security affairs through the prism of a foreign official, specifically, a Russian, this educator can attest to the importance of viewing another’s actions or thoughts through that individual’s perspective rather than one’s own.
All people are products of their genetic make-up and of their environment. Anyone who has traveled in foreign countries, however, has witnessed the differences that arise from different histories, cultures, languages, and political systems. How an American views a development in the Middle East, for example, is very different than how somebody who has lived his or her life in that region and inherently understands the cultures involved views it, or how a citizen of a former colonial power that once controlled that region views it. Some people understand that important distinction, but many do not. A failure or inability to “walk in someone else’s shoes” before rendering judgment is at the core of the concept of “egocentric predicament.” All people view events through their own unique lives; that is only natural, and that is what Perry meant in labeling the phenomenon the “ego-centric predicament.” It is only such a predicament, however, to the extent one is unwilling to make the effort necessary to understand a development from the perspective of the other parties involved. One of the few intelligible statements in Perry’s article does help illuminate his intent: “I have not undertaken to do more than to isolate a species of dangerous reasoning that infests a certain region of philosophical inquiry.” In writing that, he is noting the perils of academic inquiry when sensitivity to other perspectives is absent. In that, he is certainly correct.