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An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires.
From the 15th century and earlier, and also today within the fields of statistics and metaphysics, individual meant "indivisible", typically describing any numerically singular thing, but sometimes meaning "a person." (q.v. "The problem of proper names"). From the seventeenth century on, individual indicates separateness, as in individualism.
Early empiricists such as Ibn Tufail and John Locke introduced the idea of the individual as a tabula rasa ("blank slate"), shaped from birth by experience and education. This ties into the idea of the liberty and rights of the individual, society as a social contract between rational individuals, and the beginnings of individualism as a doctrine.
Hegel regarded history as the gradual evolution of Mind (reason) as it tests its own concepts against the external world. Each time the mind applies its concepts to the world, the concept is revealed to be only partly true, within a certain context; thus the mind continually revises these inadequate or incomplete concepts so as to reflect a fuller reality (commonly known as the process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis). The individual comes to rise above his or her own particular and limited viewpoint, and to grasp that he or she is a part of a greater whole insofar as he or she is bound to family, a social context, and/or a political order.
With the rise of existentialism, Kierkegaard rejected Hegel's notion of the individual as subordinated to the forces of history. Instead, he elevated the individual's subjectivity and capacity to choose his or her own fate. Later Existentialists built upon this notion. Nietzsche, for example, examines the individual's need to define his/her own self and circumstances in his concept of the will to power and the heroic ideal of the Übermensch. The individual is also central to Sartre's philosophy, which emphasizes individual authenticity, responsibility, and free will. In both Sartre and Nietzsche (and in Nikolai Berdyaev), the individual is called upon to create his or her own values, rather than rely on external, socially imposed codes of morality.
Martin Buber's I and Thou
In I and Thou, Martin Buber presents the individual as something that changes depending on how he or she is relating to the outside world, which can be in one of two ways. In the I-it relation, the individual relates to the external world in terms of objects that are separate from him or herself (an "I" looking at an "it"). In the I-thou relation, the individual has a personal connection to the external, and feels almost a part of whatever he or she is relating to; the subject-object dichotomy disappears (see Nondualism).
In Buddhism, the concept of the individual lies in anatman, or "no-self." According to anatman, the individual is really a series of interconnected processes that, working together, give the appearance of being a single, separated whole. In this way, anatman, together with anicca, resembles a kind of bundle theory. Instead of an atomic, indivisible self distinct from reality (see Subject-object problem), the individual in Buddhism is understood as an interrelated part of an ever-changing, impermanent universe (see interdependence, Nondualism, reciprocity).
Ayn Rand's Objectivism regards every human as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his or her own life, a right derived from his or her nature as a rational being. Individualism and Objectivism hold that a civilized society, or any form of association, cooperation or peaceful coexistence among humans, can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual rights — and that a group, as such, has no rights other than the individual rights of its members. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. Since only an individual woman or man can possess rights, the expression "individual rights" is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos), but the expression "collective rights" is a contradiction in terms. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).
- Abbs 1986, cited in Klein 2005, pp.26-27
- G. A. Russell (1994), The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 224-262, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004094598.
- Ayn Rand, "Individualism" Ayn Rand Lexicon.
- Ayn Rand (1961), "Collectivized 'Rights,'" The Virtue of Selfishness.
- Gracia, Jorge J. E. (1988) Individuality: An Essay on the Foundations of Metaphysics. State University of New York Press.
- Klein, Anne Carolyn (1995) Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. ISBN 0-8070-7306-7.
- Action theory
- Atom (disambiguation)
- Cultural identity
- Self (philosophy)
- Self (psychology)
- Self (sociology)
- Self (spirituality)
- Structure and agency
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