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In common western philosophy, what does it mean when we say such and such things are individual things?

Also could someone give examples of individual things and non-individual things?

  • An individual results from a process of individuation -- I might suggest taking a quick glance at WP:Individuation. Maybe you could share a little bit more about the context and motivations of the question; what sort of explanation you might be looking for here, what hypotheses you may have already formed, etc. It might help to explain a bit further what you might mean by "common western philosophy" (what sorts of things you might be associating with this, anything you might have encountered already around the problem, etc.) – Joseph Weissman Dec 13 '13 at 22:54
  • @JosephWeissman ... Hi ! Thanks for reading my question and giving your valuable input. I myself am very new philosophy and understanding metaphysical concepts in a academic level. By common western philosophy, I meant the general opinion of people living in the west about thier idea of what it actually means to be an individual. I hear the word "Individual" being used very commonly in our day to day lives. But I would like to know, what does it actually mean? How can something be classified as an individual thing, according to western philosophers. – Jonathan Dec 13 '13 at 23:16
  • so you are talking about 'individual' only in the sense of people and not things, like atoms, trees, chairs etc? – Lukas Mar 9 '14 at 22:31
  • Do you mean, an apple is an individual and an orchard is a collection of apples? Or do you mean that even an apple isn't an individual thing, it's made up of zillions of atoms. So maybe there aren't any individual things. Can you explain what your question is about? – user4894 Mar 10 '14 at 6:43
  • There is no western philosophy there is west and philosophy. – Asphir Dom Mar 11 '14 at 14:45
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Theory of forms - Wikipedia

The theory of Forms or theory of Ideas is Plato's argument that non-physical (but substantial) forms (or ideas) represent the most accurate reality. When used in this sense, the word form or idea is often capitalized. Plato speaks of these entities only through the characters (primarily Socrates) of his dialogues who sometimes suggest that these Forms are the only objects of study that can provide knowledge; thus even apart from the very controversial status of the theory, Plato's own views are much in doubt. However, the theory is considered a classical solution to the problem of universals.

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Non-individuals are mental constructs, i.e. classes that are pooling individuals

Individual is a concept used to designate a thing, which − while it may be member of several hierarchies of classes above it − it is itself not a class, because it cannot be divided into elements without being destroyed.

Table with examples:

.......Individual.........................................Non-individual (i.e. class)

  • A folk (e.g. the Germans).................Humans

  • A man (e.g. Jonathan)......................Nationality

  • A flower (e.g. daisy)..........................Plant

  • A sample of sulfuric acid...................(The class) acid

  • A molecule, e.g. H-H ........................(The class of all) biatomic molecules

  • An atom, e.g. hydrogen atom............(The class of all) atoms with one outer electron


In the case of folk, it is difficult to decide. Of course a folk may not be divided as you like, since this could be its destruction. Classification is always somehow perverse in the case of animals or men.

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    I've downvoted this because it presupposes some sort of conceptualism about universals without either signaling that it's a highly contentious view or providing anything like an argument for it. In particular, I'm worried about the claim that "non-individuals are mental constructs". That needs argument, or at least some sort of reference to an argument, and I don't see one here. – possibleWorld Jun 10 '17 at 15:06
  • Agreed. It seems more accurate to say the individuals are mental constructs abstracted from the whole. – user20253 Sep 8 '17 at 17:00

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