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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the unique particularity of each phenomenon, being, and person. In the most general terms, individuality as the special quality that characterizes a given entity in all its distinctive qualitative features is contrasted to the typical, that which is general to all the elements of a given class or a significant number of them.

The idea of individuality arose in classical Greek philosophy first of all with the development by the atomists Leucippus and Democritus of the concept of the atom, or individual (Greek atomos; Latin equivalent, individuum). In their theory, atoms were a plurality of qualitatively distinct elements of existence, each possessing a definite “form” and “position,” that is, manifesting themselves as individuals. After the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca, individuality was given the meaning of a distinct entity that could not be divided without losing its specific nature. In medieval Scholasticism, the concept of individuality was limited to the human personality. Beginning with the Renaissance, the accent on the individuality of the particular person as opposed to the traditional social bonds and institutions became the point of departure for the various modern European concepts of individualism. In 17th-century philosophy the concept of individualism was most fully developed by the German philosopher Leibniz, with his doctrine of the monads as a plurality of self-contained, specific substances of existence. The concept of the monad as an animated living individual was also used by Goethe. Concern for the individual, in particular the interpretation of historical epochs as irreversible individual formations, was characteristic of the world view of romanticism and, later, for the philosophy of life, whose intellectual roots may be traced back to romanticism.

At present the concept of individuality has acquired different meanings in various sciences and in philosophy, depending on the way it is applied concretely. In biology (physiology, zoology, ethology, and genetics) individuality is what characterizes the specific features of a given specimen or organism, features that constitute the particular combination of inherited and acquired characteristics that are the result of ontogeny and are expressed in the distinctive features of the genotype and phenotype.

In psychology the problem of individuality involves above all the total characterization of the particular individual in the unique multiplicity of his qualities of thought, feeling, will, aspirations, hopes, needs, motivations, interests, moods, experiences, state of health, actions, behavior, habits, dispositions, aptitudes, and other characteristics. The concrete combination of these constitutes the unique and complete structure of the acting and experiencing self. In this regard, the question of individuality first arises in psychology in relation to the analysis of a person’s temperament and character, in the search for grounds upon which to distinguish people into types (for example, such systems of classification as characterology, physiognomy, and graphology); the question is later formulated as the problem of the relation between typical features and individual differences within a single person. Here individuality is described as the collection of characteristics in the given person.

In social psychology the individual is usually contrasted to the collective (or the group). Individuality is regarded as the basic structure defining the wholeness and uniqueness of a particular person. The process of individualization, that is, the process by which a person becomes conscious of and cultivates his own individuality, is regarded as secondary to the process of socialization, by which the individual becomes accustomed to the world of culture. Individualization consists in the reflective separation by a person of his “self from the social roles that have been adopted by him and that have become part of his inner world through the process of internalization. Individuality is expressed in a person’s behavior in communicative situations as well as in his cultivation of various abilities for action.


Lazurskii, A. “Sovremennoe sostoianie individual’noi psikhologii.” In Obozrenie psikhiatrii. newologii i refleksologii. St. Petersburg, 1897.
Jung, C. G. Psikhologicheskie lipy. Moscow [1924].
Williams, R. Biokhimicheskaia individual’nost’. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from English.)
Teplov, B. M. Problemy individual’nykh razlichii. Moscow, 1961.
Dilthey, W. Beiträge zum Studium der Individualität. Berlin, 1896.
Volkelt, J. Das Problem der Individualität. Munich, 1928.
Allport, G. W. Personality. London, 1949.
Lersch, P., and H. Thomae. “Persönlichkeitsforschung und Persönlich-keitstheorie.” In Handbuch der Psychologie, vol. 4. Gottingen, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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