An individual is that which exists as a distinct
entity An entity is something that exists as itself, as a subject or as an object, actually or potentially, concretely or abstractly, physically or not. It need not be of material existence. In particular, abstractions and legal fictions are usually r ...
. Individuality (or self-hood) is the state or quality of being an individual; particularly (in the case of humans) of being a person unique from other people and possessing one's own needs or goals, rights and responsibilities. The concept of an individual features in diverse fields, including
biology Biology is the scientific study of life. It is a natural science with a broad scope but has several unifying themes that tie it together as a single, coherent field. For instance, all organisms are made up of Cell (biology), cells that proce ...
, law, and
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. Some ...


From the 15th century and earlier (and also today within the fields of
statistics Statistics (from German language, German: ''wikt:Statistik#German, Statistik'', "description of a State (polity), state, a country") is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of ...
metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of conscio ...
) ''individual'' meant " indivisible", typically describing any numerically singular thing, but sometimes meaning "a person". From the 17th century on, ''individual'' has indicated separateness, as in individualism.


Although individuality and individualism are commonly considered to mature with age/time and experience/wealth, a sane adult human being is usually considered by the state as an "individual person" in law, even if the person denies individual culpability ("I followed instructions"). An individual person is accountable for their actions/decisions/instructions, subject to prosecution in both national and international law, from the time that they have reached age of majority, often though not always more or less coinciding with the granting of voting rights, responsibility for paying tax, military duties, and the individual right to bear arms (protected only under certain constitutions).



Buddhism Buddhism ( , ), also known as Buddha Dharma and Dharmavinaya (), is an Indian religions, Indian religion or Indian philosophy#Buddhist philosophy, philosophical tradition based on Pre-sectarian Buddhism, teachings attributed to the Buddha. ...
, 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, the individual in Buddhism is understood as an interrelated part of an ever-changing, impermanent universe (see Interdependence, Nondualism, Reciprocity).


Early empiricists such as Ibn TufailG. A. Russell (1994), ''The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England'', pp. 224–62, Brill Publishers, . in early 12th century Islamic Spain, and John Locke in late 17th century England, 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 In moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that originated during the Age of Enlightenment and usually, although not always, concerns the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual. Soci ...
between rational individuals, and the beginnings of individualism as a doctrine.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel regarded history as the gradual evolution of Mind 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 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 their own particular viewpoint, and grasps that they are a part of a greater whole insofar as they are bound to family, a social context, and/or a political order.


With the rise of existentialism, Søren 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 their own fate. Later Existentialists built upon this notion.
Friedrich Nietzsche Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (; or ; 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, Prose poetry, prose poet, cultural critic, Philology, philologist, and composer whose work has exerted a profound influence on contemporary philo ...
, 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 Free will is the capacity of agents to choice, choose between different possible courses of Action (philosophy), action unimpeded. Free will is closely linked to the concepts of moral responsibility, praise, culpability, sin, and other judgemen ...
. In both Sartre and Nietzsche (and in Nikolai Berdyaev), the individual is called upon to create their own values, rather than rely on external, socially imposed codes of morality.


Ayn Rand's Objectivism regards every human as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to their own life, a right derived from their 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 man or woman 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 A majority, also called a simple majority or absolute majority to distinguish it from #Related terms, related terms, is more than half of the total.Dictionary definitions of ''majority'' aMerriam-Websterminority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).Ayn Rand (1961)
''"Individual Rights"''
Ayn Rand Lexicon.


biology Biology is the scientific study of life. It is a natural science with a broad scope but has several unifying themes that tie it together as a single, coherent field. For instance, all organisms are made up of Cell (biology), cells that proce ...
, the question of the individual is related to the definition of an organism, which is an important question in biology and philosophy of biology, despite there having been little work devoted explicitly to this question. An individual organism is not the only kind of individual that is considered as a "unit of selection".
Gene In biology, the word gene (from , ; "...Wilhelm Johannsen coined the word gene to describe the Mendelian inheritance#History, Mendelian units of heredity..." meaning ''generation'' or ''birth'' or ''gender'') can have several different meanin ...
genome In the fields of molecular biology and genetics, a genome is all the genetic information of an organism. It consists of nucleotide sequences of DNA (or RNA in RNA viruses). The nuclear genome includes protein-coding genes and non-coding gene ...
s, or groups may function as individual units.
Asexual reproduction Asexual reproduction is a type of reproduction that does not involve the fusion of gametes or change in the number of chromosomes. The offspring that arise by asexual reproduction from either unicellular or multicellular organisms inherit the ...
occurs in some colonial organisms so that the individuals are genetically identical. Such a colony is called a genet, and an individual in such a population is referred to as a ramet. The colony, rather than the individual, functions as a unit of selection. In other colonial organisms the individuals may be closely related to one another but differ as a result of
sexual reproduction Sexual reproduction is a type of reproduction that involves a complex Biological life cycle, life cycle in which a gamete (haploid reproductive cells, such as a sperm or egg cell) with a single set of chromosomes combines with another gamete to p ...

See also


Further reading

* Gracie, 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''. . {{Authority control Self Individualism Personhood