Individualism: Ideals and Constraints

Individualism: Ideals and Constraints is a postdoctoral research project led by me, Jesper Ahlin Marceta, and hosted by the Faculty of Law, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi, Georgia.

This webpage describes the background, purposes, and methods of the project. Please feel free to contact me, should you have any questions: Contact details.

Individualism in moral and political philosophy

Individualism is the view that the single person should be the basic unit of moral and political analysis. This is opposed to, for instance, the view that collectives such as the family, class, or nation should be the basic analytical unit, or that religion, tradition, or social relationships should occupy that central role.

Topics in the philosophy of individualism include how human beings should be modelled in moral and political thinking, whether individualism can provide meaning to individuals’ lives, and why individualist values should be prioritized above competing values. Are human beings independent ”choosers”? Should politics provide meaning to people’s lives? Are families more important than their separate members? The different positions in such debates amount to different views about how society should be organized.

The purposes of this research project

Much of the contemporary philosophy of individualism is driven by its critics. Among other things, critics argue that individualism builds from a socially and metaphysically untenable model of human beings and that it leads to political instability, social alienation, and meaningless lives. This research project, to the contrary, explores individualism from a sympathetic point of view.

The project has two purposes. The first is to study the grounds for adopting individualism in moral and political thinking. Why are individualists individualists? One standard explanation is that their belief in liberal rights and liberties makes them individualist. However, this puts the cart before the horse. Individualists believe in those things because they are individualists—not the other way around. Therefore, ”why individualism?” is a warranted question.

The second purpose is to study how conservative norms affect individualist values, with particular focus on norms that constrain LGBT individuals (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). For instance, in some non-individualist cultures traditional norms make it difficult, or even impossible, for many LGBT individuals to be the persons they want to be and lead the lives they want to lead. The project aims to outline this influence in greater philosophical detail.

Methods

Analytic philosophy usually progresses through theoretical analyses of concepts and arguments. However, the purposes of this project involve practical considerations of real-world problems. Therefore, a qualitative interview study will be conducted with LGBT individuals in Georgia, aiming to learn about their experiences. How are they affected by traditional Georgian norms? How do they cope with such social constraints? What are their stories?

If you are a Georgian LGBT individual interested in participating in the study, or want to learn more about the research project, please visit this page (on this website) for more information.

Results

The results from the project will be presented in international peer-reviewed journals, but also through popular texts on this website and in editorially run media (mainly Swedish and English).

Funding

The project is funded by the Swedish Institute (09005/2020).