AskDefine | Define individual

Dictionary Definition

individual adj
1 being or characteristic of a single thing or person; "individual drops of rain"; "please mark the individual pages"; "they went their individual ways" [ant: common]
2 separate and distinct from others of the same kind; "mark the individual pages"; "on a case-by-case basis" [syn: case-by-case, item-by-item]
3 characteristic of or meant for a single person or thing; "an individual serving"; "separate rooms"; "single occupancy"; "a single bed" [syn: separate, single(a)]
4 concerning one person exclusively; "we all have individual cars"; "each room has a private bath" [syn: individual(a), private]


1 a human being; "there was too much for one person to do" [syn: person, someone, somebody, mortal, human, soul]
2 a single organism

User Contributed Dictionary



From individualis.


  • /ˌɪndɪˈvɪʤuəl/


  1. A person considered alone, rather than as belonging to a group of people.
    He is an unusual individual.


a person considered alone


  1. Relating to a single person or thing as opposed to more than one.
    As we can't print them all together, the individual pages will have to be printed one by one.
  2. Intended for a single person as opposed to more than one person.
    individual personal pension; individual cream cakes




Extensive Definition

As commonly used, individual refers 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. 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.


In his statement Cogito ergo sum ("I think therefore I am"), Rene Descartes posits the notion the individual subject, distinct from the world around him or her. This is the most famous articulation of subject-object dualism (see subject-object problem) in the Western philosophical tradition.


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 unfolding of God's plan through a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The role of the individual in this view was as an agent of this unfolding--a part of a greater whole.


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 him/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, 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 Nondualism).


  • Gracia, Jorge J. E. (1988) Individuality: An Essay on the Foundations of Metaphysics. State Univ. 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.
individual in Danish: Individ
individual in German: Individuum
individual in Estonian: Indiviid
individual in Spanish: Individuo
individual in Esperanto: Individuo
individual in French: Individu
individual in Galician: Individuo
individual in Korean: 개인
individual in Ido: Individuo
individual in Lithuanian: Individas
individual in Hungarian: Individuum
individual in Dutch: Individu
individual in Japanese: 個人
individual in Norwegian: Individ
individual in Norwegian Nynorsk: Individ
individual in Polish: Indywiduum
individual in Portuguese: Indivíduo
individual in Romanian: Individ
individual in Russian: Индивид
individual in Simple English: Individual
individual in Slovak: Individuálnosť (psychológia)
individual in Serbian: Индивидуа
individual in Finnish: Yksilö
individual in Swedish: Individ
individual in Turkish: Birey
individual in Chinese: 个体

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Adamite, a certain, absolute, aerobic organism, an, an existence, anaerobic organism, any, any one, article, atomic, autotrophic organism, being, body, cat, certain, chap, character, characteristic, concrete, connotative, creature, critter, customer, defined, definite, demonstrative, denominative, denotative, designative, detailed, determinate, diagnostic, different, discrete, distinct, distinctive, distinguished, duck, earthling, either, emblematic, entelechy, entity, esoteric, especial, evidential, exceptional, exclusive, exhibitive, existence, existent, express, expressive, extraordinary, fellow, figural, figurative, fixed, genetic individual, groundling, guy, hand, head, heterotrophic organism, homo, human, human being, identifying, ideographic, idiosyncratic, implicative, indicating, indicative, indicatory, individualistic, indivisible, inner, integer, integral, intimate, irreducible, item, joker, life, living being, living soul, living thing, lone, man, material, matter, meaningful, metaphorical, microbe, microorganism, minute, module, monad, monadic, monistic, morphological individual, mortal, naming, nose, noteworthy, object, one, ont, organic being, organism, organization, own, particular, party, pathognomonic, peculiar, person, persona, personage, personal, personality, physiological individual, point, precise, private, proper, representative, respective, semantic, semiotic, separate, several, signalizing, significant, significative, signifying, simple, single, singleton, singular, sole, solid, solipsistic, solitary, somebody, someone, something, soul, special, specific, stuff, substance, suggestive, symbolic, symbolistic, symbological, symptomatic, symptomatologic, tellurian, terran, thing, typical, unanalyzable, undivided, uniform, unique, unit, unitary, virus, whole, worldling, zooid, zoon
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