- The view that the single person is the basic unit of political analysis, with social wholes being merely logical constructions, or ways of talking about numbers of such individuals and the relations among them. The consequence for the study of social facts is that they must be approached through the actions and intentions of individuals (methodological individualism). The approach has been a principal target of many sociologists, such as Durkheim . In liberal individualism the individual is the primary possessor of rights, with the activities of the state confined to the protection of those rights. Individualism is often charged with dissociating the ‘free’ individual from the matrix of social relations and norms that in fact make agency, freedom, and even self-consciousness possible. It is thus opposed by views holding that individual persons cannot be understood apart from linguistic, moral, legal, and social factors that shape their natures: such views are versions of holism, and the associated methodology that insists on the social whole as the basis of individual description is methodological holism. Marx expressed the position in the 6th thesis of the Theses on Feuerbach : ‘the essence of man is not an abstraction inherent in each particular individual. The real nature of man is the totality of social relations.’ Politically, individualism is associated with the right wing (the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that there is no such thing as society, only individuals), while holism at its extreme is apt to be expressed in such doctrines as collectivism and totalitarianism.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.