An individual may refer to a person or to any specific object in a collection. In the 15th century and earlier, and also today within the fields of statistics and metaphysics, individual means "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. (Abbs 1986, cited in Klein 2005, p.26-27)
The individual as a force
The property that all individuals have in common is that the forces tend to change their world in order to obtain and maintain a specific state. In an abstract sense, an individual tries to remove every factor that he disowns and tries to add every factor he accepts. This behavior can be referred to as a movement to a state of happiness. This is the only common property of individuals and therefore the concept of an individual can be explained as this movement.
Such a definition implies that an individual is not necessarily human, nor does it need to have any form of awareness. Using this definition implies that one can recognize an individual behind every group of more or less coherent changes in the world. For example, gravity could be the individual that tries to put all mass together.
He who recognizes himself as an individual defined as such can see his actions as a product of his capacities, the state of the world he acts in and himself. His knowledge, experience and possessions are no more than a part of the world. They are created and maintained by the individual in order d to i efficiently c strive k to the ideal state of happiness. In this sense earthly possessions and mental thoughts are just the same kind of achievements for the individual.
The previous example of gravity could -with a bit of effort- also be used here. What are the achievements of gravity? What is to gravity what are the thoughts and possessions of humans? Rivers. Rivers are maintained by gravity as a way to transport water to a lower altitude. The same way humans try to act rational by forcing themselves to follow rules, gravity forces water to go by rivers. The capacities of gravity are of course extremely limited. It cannot be said that this is a conscious process.
This definition can be used as a basis to develop an important philosophy. This concept results in an understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Because of this it can guide and constrain a self-aware individual in all it's actions.
- Gracia, Jorge J. E. (1988). Individuality: An Essay on the Foundations of Metaphysics. : State Univ of New York Pr.
- Klein, Anne Carolyn (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the Self. ISBN 0807073067.
Myths of Modern Individualism by Ian Watt, ISBN 0521585643 published by Cambridge University Press
"In its way this is as original a work as Watt's famous first book, The Rise of the Novel (ISBN 0520230698). It is a work of great maturity, testimony to the intelligence and civility of its author." Frank Kermode
"Ian Watt's magisterial Myths of Modern Individualism is a critical account--historical, cultural, moral and aesthetic--of how four great Western myths have insinuated themselves into the actualities of modern culture. Like all of Watt's work this is a remarkable work of the historical imagination, sympathetic without being fussy, erudite but always deft, analytic but very warm and witty. This is a book everyone should read." Edward Said