Re: Individualism primers...


>A 22-year old student, about the brightest I have taught in 30 years,
>is now in China teaching English before heading off this fall to graduate
>school. He is reading Nietzsche for the first time. He has asked me to
>send him a book that treats individualism, there being little available in
>English in Qinhuangdao. I am sorry that he was no more specific than that!

> I am at a loss as what to come up with. My field is not philosophy. I
>am a Montaigne scholar, but I think he wants something more classically
>philosophical. What about the Spaniard from Salamanca?

My personal field of scholarship is psychology, but my emphasis is in
the theory and philosophy of psychology. In regard to your request for a title
which treats individualism, I guess I would need to know a little more about
what you mean by "treatment" and what you mean by "individualism". But since you
are headed off to Seattle in the morning, might I propose a starting point for
individualism which is grounded somewhat in the history of philosophy.
Some psychology scholars position the rise of individualism as a
socially accepted ontology with Descartes. It is from this point that we have
various embellishments upon Rene's theme by scholars such as Hobbes, Hume, Kant,
and others continuing to the present. The mainstream of modern psychology
maintains as its axiomatic ontology individualism. It is for this reason, that
your student could begin anywhere in the field of psychology as a body of mostly
narrow applications of this grounding ontology. However, this would be assuming
that individualism is the preferential ontology for psychological investigation.
Clearly, Nietzsche is one whom has resisted this wholesale subscription to
individualism. A useful book which investigates this to some extent is Fred
Evans' "Psychology & Nihilism"(State University of New York Press, 1993). Evans
subtitle for this book is "A Genealogical Critique of the Computational Model of
Mind). Insofar as the computational theory of mind is replete with
individualistic assumptions, this would be one starting point.
From another point, your student may wish to compare social scientific
critiques of individualistic ontologies with a more traditionally scientific (as
in the sence of the "hard" sciences" critique of the epistemology implicit in an
individualistic ontology. Michael Polanyi has written a well celebrated book in
this regard: "Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical philosopy" (University
of Chicago Press, 1962).
From a third perspective your student may wish to read a contemporary of
Nietzsche who also resisted not only the state church (Denmark), but also
resisted, in some ways not as explicit as Nietzsche, the individualism creeping,
ironically, through his eighteenth century society.
Finally, we cannot ignore those others who have most recently
contributed to a critique of individualism and its inherent ontological and
epistemological assumptions. Clearly, in deferrence to the subscribers on this
list the first name here should be Foucault. But with this name comes Foucaults
context in the French intellectual community. Included here (Especially with
the notion of Nihilism) are figures like Sartre and Derrida. Another
increasingly recognized member of this community is Emmanuel Levinas. Connected
with Levinas is Heidegger and Mearleau-Ponty. Many in this community might
tenuously be called phenomenological deconstructionists, deconstructing the
philosophical traditions upon which individualism is built. Simon Critchley
addresses some of the most pressing questions relative to this community in his
Book "The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas" (Blackwell Publishers,

I hope this little tour around my library on the subject of individualism will
be helpful.

Todd B. Davis.


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