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Ancient Sources, Revealed Religion, The Reformation And The Aftermath, Liberalism And Individualism, Individualism And Modern Society

Individualism endorses the principle that the ends or purposes of the human individual possess dignity and worth that take precedence over communal, metaphysical, cosmological, or religious priorities. While individualism may appeal to certain metaphysical or epistemological schools of thought such as nominalism or empiricism, it will be treated here as primarily a moral and/or political doctrine. Individualism is commonly seen by both its proponents and opponents to be the creation of the modern Western world, a development of Enlightenment liberal values.

The term individualism was first coined in the nineteenth century, initially around 1820 in French, and then quickly spread to the other European languages. In its origins, the term's connotations were pejorative: Joseph de Maistre (1753–1821) equated "individualism" with the "infinite fragmentation of all doctrines," and Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782–1854) treated it as indistinguishable from anarchy. The language of individualism was picked up and widely spread by the followers of Claude-Henri Saint-Simon (1760–1825). In Germany, England, and the United States, however, the negative overtones were soon stripped away. In Germany individualism became closely associated with the aspirations of Romanticism, in England, with utilitarianism and laissez-faire economics, and in America with the core political and social values of democracy and capitalism.

Concentration on the linguistic diffusion of individualism overlooks the fact that many cultures outside the Atlantic world at many times before the nineteenth century have promulgated doctrines that were individualistic in inclination. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that many who champion individualism count tendencies inherent in modernity itself among the chief threats to the individual. Thus, a full study of the history of individualism requires a survey of a broad range of thinkers and writings.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to Intuitionism