An individual is a person or a specific object. Individuality (or selfhood) is the state or quality of being an individual; particularly of being a person separate from additional persons and possessing their own needs or goals. The exact definition of an individual is important in the fields of biology, law, and philosophy.
From the fifteenth century and earlier (and additionally today within the fields of statistics and metaphysics) individual meant "indivisible", typically describing any numerically singular thing, but at times meaning "a person". From the seventeenth century on, individual indicates separateness, as in individualism.
An individual de facto lawfully defined usually refers to a natural person, as opposed to a legal person (which can be a corporation). It can additionally possibly be a person or a specific object if otherwise defined.
Early empiricists such as Ibn Tufail in early twelfth century Islamic Spain, and John Locke in late seventeenth century England, introduced the idea of the individual as a tabula rasa ("blank slate"), shaped from birth by experience and education. This ties into the idea of the liberty and rights of the individual, society as a social contract between rational individuals, and the beginnings of individualism as a doctrine.
Hegel regarded history as the gradual evolution of Mind as it tests its own concepts against the external world. Each time the mind applies its concepts to the world, the concept is revealed to be only partly true, within a certain context; thus the mind continually revises these incomplete concepts so as to reflect a fuller reality (commonly known as the process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis). The individual comes to rise above their own particular viewpoint, and grasps that he or she's a part of a greater whole insofar as he or she's bound to family, a social context, and/or a political order.
With the rise of existentialism, Kierkegaard rejected Hegel's notion of the individual as subordinated to the forces of history. Instead, he elevated the individual's subjectivity and capacity to choose their own fate. Later Existentialists built upon this notion. Nietzsche, for example, examines the individual's need to define their own self and circumstances in his concept of the will to power and the heroic ideal of the Übermensch. The individual is additionally central to Sartre's philosophy, which emphasises individual authenticity, responsibility, and free will. In both Sartre and Nietzsche (and in Nikolai Berdyaev), the individual is called upon to create their own values, rather than rely on external, socially imposed codes of morality.
In Buddhism, the concept of the individual lies in anatman, or "no-self." According to anatman, the individual is really a series of interconnected processes that, working together, give the appearance of being a single, separated whole. In this way, anatman, together with anicca, resembles a kind of bundle theory. Instead of an atomic, indivisible self distinct from reality, the individual in Buddhism is understood as an interrelated part of an ever-changing, impermanent universe (see Interdependence, Nondualism, Reciprocity).
Ayn Rand's Objectivism regards every human as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to their own life, a right derived from their nature as a rational being. Individualism and Objectivism hold that a civilised society, or any form of association, cooperation or peaceful coexistence among humans, can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual rights — and that a group, as such, has no rights additional than the individual rights of its members. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. Since only an individual man or woman can possess rights, the expression "individual rights" is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos), but the expression "collective rights" is a contradiction in terms. Individual rights aren't subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).
In biology, the question of what's an individual is related to the question of what's an organism, which is an important question in biology and philosophy of biology, but there has been little explicit work devoted to the biological notion of an individual. An individual organism isn't the only kind of individual that's considered as a "unit of selection". Genes, genomes, or groups might function as individual units.
Asexual reproduction occurs in a few colonial organisms, so that the individuals are genetically identical. Such a colony is called a genet, and an individual in such a population is referred to as a ramet. The colony, rather than the individual functions as a unit of selection. In additional colonial organisms, the individuals might be closely related to one another, but differ as a result of sexual reproduction.