An abstract word, individuality is a philosophical term for what constitutes the individual. Individual itself is the translation of the Greek term ἄτομον and designates what is not divided. In the strictest sense of the word, an individual is a being distinct from every other being and undivided in itself. It is, then, an ontological unity that is not identical with anything else.
Individual and Individuation. An individual is a concrete and substantial being. One cannot speak of an accident, e.g., a color or a sound, as an individual. But man, this living man, is an individual, i.e., a being who subsists, who persists in existence by himself. An individual, then, is also a singular being, one among many, a being in a multitude or a species. It is not a species, not even the most determinate among all species; rather it is a being in which the species is fulfilled under a singular form by individuation.
This relation between the individual and the species gives rise to the logical intention associated with the term individual. Like the genus, the species is a being of reason, a being of second or logical intention. This logical intention presupposes a real intention that directly attains the thing formally called an individual, when focusing precisely on its inclusion in a species. (see intentionali ty; logic.)
The individual is therefore the singular, substantial, concrete being considered in its undivided unity and as separated from every other being. An angel is an individual, as also is a man, an animal, a particular plant, a concrete thing. The character of individual unity is easy to recognize in manifestly living things. On the borderline between the vegetal world and inorganic matter, individuality becomes more difficult to discern; yet molecules and atoms seem recognizable from their characteristics in some experimental situations as individual realities.
The notion of individuality transcends the world of matter. Within the material world, however, the individual comes to exist by a process known as individuation. Although there is much philosophical discussion about how individuation is accomplished, the most common answer proposes that, in material species, the specific form is individuated by reason of its relation to the matter that receives it. The latter, called primary matter, exists under conditions that imply an ordination to such or such a quantity, this quantity being what determines the individual material being when the substantial form is educed from the primary matter (see matter and form; sub stantial change). At least on the basis of a radical title, however, individuation does not result from quantity itself, even within material species. Corporeal substance is individuated and an individual by the mutual causality of the essential elements constituting a material being; the unity and individuality of this substance belong to the ontological order. Yet it is true that quantity, an accident, intervenes in individuation by an extrinsic title, and that the individuated substance is affected with a determinate quantity that makes it "one" in the order of number, i.e., in the world of numerical unities. In the human species, a man is one individual among many; but this man exists as an individual by reason of something other than mere quantitative unity.
The scholastic teaching on the human soul sheds light on this doctrine of the individuation of forms substantially united to this or that matter. Specifically identical, human souls exist only as this or that soul, i.e., as individuated in proportionate matter. Yet, when the human soul is separated from matter through death, it retains its character as a distinct soul, one in its essence and individualized by reason of the proportions that marked it. Obviously its individuality then does not essentially imply the presence of material quantity. (see soul, human.)
Meanings of Individuality. An ontological consideration of individuality is necessary to explain how individuality is common to both material and immaterial entities. One must first distinguish between individuality and individuation. Individuation is what results from the proportion between form and matter, and thus pertains to the physical order. Individuality, on the other hand, is what terminates an individual nature so that it receives existence for itself. Since this involves the consideration of the relation between an individual nature and its existence, abstracting from whether that nature is material or not, individuality pertains properly to the metaphysical or ontological order. (see individuation.)
In reference to man, the notion of individuality is closely related to that of personality. An individual endowed with a rational nature is a person. [see person (in philosophy).] The person is incommunicable, he is a whole within himself, by reason of his individuality. But the existing irrational individual is also incommunicable, with a similar type of individuality. To indicate the difference between the person and the irrational individual, the term personality is generally used to refer to the former, the term individuality to refer to the latter.
By reason of his rationality, however, the human person must be further considered under a moral aspect. Now this aspect is twofold, since the human person has one moral relation to his own perfection and another in his order to society. Some authors use the term person to indicate the former aspect, the term individual to indicate the latter; and, consequently, they make corresponding moral predications respectively of personality and individuality. In this context they say that society is at the service of the person, although, considered as an individual, this same person is at the service of temporal society. They further claim that the individual (according to his moral definition) has only human values of the same order as those that belong to society, and that these values of the individual should be ordered to society as parts to a whole, while the person (again according to this moral definition), by reason of his value, transcends all properly so-called sociological values.
This position is presented here only to clarify a common moral usage of the term individuality. If individuality, in its moral sense, means the order of the individual human nature to society, then it implies the order of the individual's conduct to the common good of society. It does not signify, then, uniqueness in the sense of conduct that is completely dissonant from the order to the true social good. Nor does it signify originality in the current meaning of this word. However, in other contexts, it is possible to make a moral use of the term individuality in the pejorative sense of that which makes a person antisocial.
Multitude and Number. In the realm of separated forms, such as angels, individuation is accomplished without any relation to matter. The angel is this angel precisely as individuated by his form, by his very essence. (see angels, 2.) Furthermore, as is commonly true in the realm of forms, even the least variation changes the species; thus the individual angel is a species to himself. The multitude of angels is composed of individuals who have nothing at all to do with matter or with number, in the quantitative sense of this term. By himself, by his being and definition, each angel is an individual or person. The term multitude designates the assembly, or, in a metaphorical sense, the great number of these angels.
If, however, one takes the word number in its proper meaning, it implies very many unities resulting from species and time. In this sense, number is a kind of quanti ty, namely, discrete quantity. Each of the individuals included in this number, then, is deemed to belong to the realm of enumerable beings by its own quantity, which makes it numerically one, by reason of a certain homogeneity made visible by quantity and the accidents related to it.
See Also: individuation; personality; unity.
Bibliography: j. maritain, "Personne et individu," Acta Pontificiae Academiae Romanae S. Thomae Aquinatis (1946); The Person and the Common Good, tr. j. j. fitzgerald (New York 1947). a. walters and k. o'hara, Persons and Personality (New York 1953). t. hÉbert, "Notre connaissance intellectuelle du singulier matériel," Laval Théologique et Philosophique 5 (1949) 33–65. l. de broglie, "Sur la complémentarité des idées d'individu et de système," Dialectica 2 (1948) 351–382. p. descoqs, "Individu et personne," Archivio di Filosofia 8 (1938) 235–292. g. morra, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice–Rome 1957) 2:1364–70. r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3 v. (4th ed. Berlin 1927–30) 1:732–741.
[l. m. corvez]