Individuality? An Analysis of the Conception of the Individual in Science

  • Neil A. Thomson


The common sense notion in science and, indeed, everyday life, is that the "individual" is a concrete conception. We work constantly with such notions, and divide our world into parts such as individual objects, organisms, animals, and people. However, upon further philosophical consideration, these prima facie ideas become increasingly convoluted and we are led to wonder, what, if anything, constitutes an individual? This paper discusses some of the conceptual problems inherent in notions of individuality across time, and concludes that such subjective notions are too vague and uncertain for rigourous scientific purposes. Scientific investigation should, therefore, abandon such conceptions of individuality because they are not real features of the world about us; rather, they are pragmatic constructions of the mind that serve only to categorize our observations. If science, therefore, purports to objectively analyze the world as it is, then it should be free from subjective, mental constraints imposed upon it by our limited human perspective.