On individuality and partiality
There is no standalone presence in which a human being experiences itself as such. The person is immersed in a supersystem of systems of relations between multitudes of other forms of being, including humans: a joint presence, an interdependent existence. To experience the self, to assert one’s individuality, is to be part of such cosmic oneness, the totality of joint presences, in which there develops a feedback loop of impressions that consists of internal and external actions and reactions.
The ego, one’s sense of self as the mental construct that is associated with any given person, is iterated through such a feedback loop as a collection of experiences that are selectively memorised and rendered lucid in the form of a narrative. It tells a story of who one is in juxtaposition to who they are not. In the ego lies subjectivity; subjectivity that is contextualised in the oneness of being and is, therefore, a type of partiality rather than individuality in the literal sense of a non-divisible entity.
To ascribe individuality to personhood is to identify a pattern in the cosmos that captures a system of systems and conceptualise it as such: the human presence is itself divisible into systems of systems, with the peculiar supersystem of human qua human functioning as the emergent form of being conceived as a person in its own right.
Each ego is unique because each form of being, humans included, partakes of the mode of phenomenal differentiation that runs through everything there is, while each configuration of factors, in their given interplay, that contributes to events peculiar to any one of those feedback loops is unique as well.
Differentiation pertains to phenomena that are otherwise couched in terms of constants. Similarity does not become dissimilarity: the two categories remain distinct. While differentiation does not alter the formal qualities of each presence, such as the seed of an apple tree randomly engendering an elephant. The mode of phenomenal differentiation contributes to otherwise marginal or incremental adjustments to any given presence, without forcing it to deviate from its type and without interfering with categories of the cosmic abstract structure.
The ego is an abstraction from such incessant differentiation. It does not describe a person’s reality, rather it encapsulates one’s simplified version of some events. To conflate the ego with individuality per se is to misunderstand the inescapable totality one is immersed in.
Individuality, strictly so-called, is an illusion made possible by the mode of phenomenal differentiation in conjunction with how the human mind abstracts patterns into discrete mental constructs. Individuality is the in vitro representation of in vivo partiality.
Discreteness of mental or noetic presences is not arbitrary, in that it does derive through the process of tracing patterns and identifying in them that which is common in the multitude of phenomena. Furthermore, the mode of phenomenal differentiation does not disturb archetypes, meaning that it does not undo the ontic distinction between forms of being, or between strata of emergence understood as systems of systems each giving rise to a particular kind of a case-dependent emergent presence.
Distinctiveness does not entail individuality, for each form of being is rendered possible in its particular milieu: it does not have a standalone presence. Differentiation does not annul the underlying interconnectedness that all forms of being partake of and the interdependence, else joint existence, they are bound to.
Individuality describes the noetic representation of a state of emergence, not a form of being. It presents a given stratum in a system of systems as irreducible, as an entity in its own right that is not contextualised by totality. To speak of one’s ego as being is to posit the illusion of individuality as the actuality of things under the scope of cosmic oneness.
To recognise the impression of individuality as actual partiality is to refrain from dogmatic reasoning. It is to suspend judgement about what one thinks one knows and to admit that, in light of totality, one is but a fraction.
There is, nonetheless, practical reasonableness that applies to interpersonal affairs, as well as in relations between humans and the non-human aspects of their ecosystem, i.e. the system of systems that renders possible life as we know it. In practical terms, human conduct rests on simplifications, working hypotheses, and abstractions. Each partiality can only be expressed as such.
In the stratum of emergence that involves human affairs, individuality does make sense as an expedient mental shortcut: it is intimately linked to the unfolding—the making and remaking—of one’s ego. Still, the human world can only enable individuality as an approximation and individualism as nothing but a simplistic ideology in justification of states of affairs in the domain of politics.
Cosmic oneness aside, there is no standalone presence even within the narrow confines of the human world, for there always exists a precondition of sustainability. A single human cannot survive without either the direct cooperation or support of other humans, or the reliance on artefacts that have been perfected through aeons of experimentation among generations of humans as compounds of accumulated knowledge: tools, weapons, inherited automations internalised as instincts as well as experience passed down through tradition and education, language with which to reason about the world in more precise terms…
Tales of individuals that decisively operate outside the human world are myths that inform a given ideology, or exaggerations that seek to bestow a layer of plausibility upon a certain dogma. A romanticised figure living for a while in a hut amid the woods, or a hermit in some cave, does not count as proof of a standalone presence even in the narrow sense of the human world, for such a persona is already endowed with the gifts of civilisation and remains dependent on them.
Similarly, a single human stripped of all goods of civilisation cannot exist without an environment that is conducive to living: how will a baby survive in the wilderness or how will a grown up with no tools and weapons or prior knowledge succeed in a forest with competing predators or hazards of any sort?
Individualism removed from its ontological pretences can be employed as an instrument for research, as a specialised methodology that is part of a wider programme that seeks to tie together findings of subjectivities as ultimately framed by—and contributing to—their milieu. Here too, methodology must not become a tacit ontology in that it must not lose sight of its intended function as a set of heuristics, a collection of working hypotheses, in pursuit of general findings.
Methodological individualism that insists on there being no strata of emergence, even of the human sort as intersubjectivity, mistakes partiality for individuality, the in vivo with the in vitro. In so doing it stands as an obstacle to a genuine inquiry into personhood, for it strips it of its contextuality, in that it downplays the feedback loop between internal and external actions and reactions.
To make sense of the human world without committing to dogmatism of such a kind, one needs to balance out conceptions of personal and collective subjectivity in an open-ended, dubitative and inquisitive fashion (see The Dialectician’s Ethos). Recognise the so-called individual in their lifeworld as a partial presence. More so when embedding one’s understanding of the human world in discourses of ecology, i.e. under the scope of the system of systems within which humanity operates.
To deny the contextuality of presence within the human world is to disregard structural magnitudes that are discerned in the constitution of each case. Individualism qua method can only be implemented as a microscopic view of ego-involving, ego-forming phenomena. An altogether different approach, one calibrated for intersubjectivity in present time and for intergenerational dynamics on a historical scale, must be established as its macroscopic complement to study the structure that frames agency and is informed by it.
Against such a backdrop, it is fecund to reason about individual and collective experiences, for the indivisible unit is thus understood as an analytical construct within explicitly defined strata of emergence. The person, here representing the atom of the case, is contextualised in their cultural and historical milieu and is framed in relation to the structural magnitudes that are peculiar to each state of affairs under consideration.
There is, nonetheless, a particular sense in which individuality as non-divisibility is an appropriate characterisation: in the very functioning of the ego as an introspective view of personhood removed from its wider context. What the ego thinks of itself is what the ego ultimately is. We must consider it a constant with itself. It is an identity. That does not make it immutable: it just means that at any moment it resolves to what it is.
The ego as individuality is yet another instrument for pursuing an inquiry into the specifics of that aspect of human kind. It is a heuristic with which to test certain hypotheses and, potentially, arrive at more refined theories. Still, the ego does not maintain a standalone presence, even within the simplified constraints of a singular human organism, as the ego is not its own cause. The ‘individuality’ discussed here applies to a very specific stratum of emergence and remains limited to it.
Treating the singular human organism as a form of being that partakes of partiality equips us with the means to examine the world with humility, without fear and prejudice. We may no longer conceptualise it as the mere environment of any given centre, as in the case of anthropocentrism and its individualist or egoist flip-side. The same goes for human affairs, where a broadened conception of the human experience as both a function of structural magnitudes and contributor to macro phenomena which themselves iterate on the structure (a circular process), helps us avoid pitfalls of simplistic or pernicious ideologies that are casually articulated as authoritative wisdom.