Individualism and studying – Thot Cursus

“The positive side of modern individualism is giving everyone more responsibility and autonomy, its negative side is degrading solidarity and increasing loneliness”

Edgar Morin

The following text is inspired by the thinking of Pierre Le Coz, philosopher, specialist in ethics

The issue that runs through Pierre Le Coz is that of the contradictions between “being together” and “working together”, which I will extend to “learning together”. How to learn together if individualism is the only horizon? Throughout our education, versed from an early age in a school system of ranking the best that seeks to extract the brightest individuals, the collective dimension is underestimated, learning together is suspected.

The whole issue that pervades the philosopher’s thought is the intersection between individual interest and collective interest. At work, we see the emergence of different forms of collectives, start-ups, cooperative societies that seek alternatives for the exclusive satisfaction of the individual interest of the company owner. The collective sounds like a resource or an asset. But for this to happen, the question of follow-up methods arises. What practices should be valued for collective time to happen?

back to ethics

According to Aristotle, “Man is by nature a social animal”. But to get rid of this decree, each one takes time to choose their collective. This choice affects all spheres of life. Self-love advances to the point where the individual seeks emancipation from the personal past, does not hesitate to get divorced, is also able to break free from the social routine and seek novelties, sensations, and when the economy no longer suits them, they change companies.

If man is a social animal, he is not a sheep. A part of individualism is noticeable. But individualism is not necessarily narcissism, selfishness, or even withdrawal. Individualism is a mode of social organization opposed to the holistic model. The notion of individualism takes on a political meaning that was disseminated by Tocqueville and is based on the right to individual independence not to submit to the precepts of religion and to choose one’s preferences and destiny.

This anchoring of individualism goes back to the Enlightenment and to Rousseau’s social contract. The collective no longer owes its legitimacy to history, the past or religion, but to individual choices. The expression of Article 6 of the Declaration of Human Rights further stipulates that “The law is the expression of the general will and results from the calculation of particular wills”.

Individualism is still the right to lose interest in public space. It is a right of individual independence; a right to participate or not to participate, particularly used in western democracies.

trajectory of individualism

Individualistic culture is a civilizational process. Louis Dumont (2015), an anthropologist, put Christian and Eastern cultures into perspective. For example, the Indian caste is a collective that cannot be contested by the individual because religion does not allow it. The individual has no substance in Indian religion. The individual has no absolute value, while the Christian Bible proclaims unconditional love for every being, the kingdom of heaven belongs to everyone. Christianity prepares contemporary individualism.

Marcel Gauchet goes so far as to say that Christianity is “the religion of leaving religion”. The last avatar of the Christian religion would be “Human Rights” and the “Social Contract” as the conclusion of a doctrine centered on the individual. The declaration of human rights makes individual freedom the very nature of man. She declared in 1789 “All men are born free and equal in rights”. Note in passing that liberty comes before equality.

What does individualism open up to us?

Individualism favors new values ​​of creativity and tolerance, as singular paths claim legitimacy beyond traditional collectives. This individualism opposes the holistic society, the “community” (Tönnies, 2015) for which sacrifice, devotion to the group cemented by religion is an end. The purpose of the lives of individuals is to perpetuate and transmit the knowledge of the ancients, of the prophets. In the community system, the individual sacrifices himself for the collective. Your place is defined from birth. It is determined by the social trajectory of the parents. Individualism turns against holism. Now it is the collective that is at the service of the individual.

With modernity, the past is over. There is a flavor of adventure with individualism, progress as continuous and collective improvement takes on a whole new meaning. What begins to emerge with individualism is happiness, which Saint Just will say is a new idea in Europe. While the Christian’s life is, in theory, a life of suffering and abnegation to better access paradise, individualism promises to be happy here and now. The culture of entertainment, of the emancipation of minds and bodies, is very recent.

Gilles Lipovetsky (1989) in his work “The era of emptiness” evokes for the period from the 18th century to 1960 a normative individualism with moral values ​​and duties towards the collective. Working for a collective, the pursuit of collective ideals with socialist or communist movements (25% of post-war voters in France), is a pursuit of political utopia and progress. It should be noted that the entire period consecrated the emergence of permanent education that would become professional training with a predominance of group learning.

Individualism and Collective Failure

Regulatory ideals collapsed in the 1980s, work, family, country, political party would give way to emptiness. There is no more past, there is no more future. Just sex, entertainment, the pursuit of self-fulfillment. Does individualism consecrate the failure of the collective?

Despite the atomization of the social, individuals form groups, clans, networks, tribes (Maffesoli, 2019). They remain attached to the family; There are associative commitments 70,000 associations are created each year in a country like France. The places where we continue to live together persist. Miniaturized sites about local interests. A society of individuals is constituted (Elias 1997).

A search for regulation of the individualist is established. For example, to be truly free is not to destroy yourself, it is to respect your own body. The legislator even sets limits, for example prostitution is not an expression of freedom, it is prohibited. Abortion is limited to three months. Blood donation cannot be discounted. The state does not allow free use of your body. Philosophers assert the notion of dignity to limit the excesses of individualism. It is also in the name of dignity that employees leave their jobs when they don’t feel respected.

From the morality of duty to the ethics of good feelings

More than ever, it becomes difficult to impose a duty on an individual. For example, a postwar message read “Give your blood, do your duty”, but with the collapse of the morality of duty, it is the individual who judges for himself what is acceptable. Incentive campaigns then propose to dispense narcissistic gratifications from the donor, a current slogan would be “Give your blood, share your power”.

Individuals refuse to receive lectures. The individual must be touched. Nothing must be imposed from outside, everything must come from within. The individual moves from a morality of duty to a morality of crushing. But this morality of passion has uncertain results.

Going in the direction of individuals, we are witnessing another trend that could be designated as “paternalistic liberalism”, which is about bringing the individual closer by seducing him to the collective. This is the nudge theory that seeks to manipulate behavior by distributing rewards. This is how, during the Covid epidemic, the freedom to get vaccinated will be encouraged by granting freedoms, that of going to the cinema or a restaurant. It is also through nudges that it will be possible to develop public health policies aimed at carrying out more physical activity. So, to go up the stairs, we noticed philosophical quotes on the steps, to encourage people to choose exertion (good for health) over the escalator. The nudge seduces training by its way of seducing learners and leading them where the creator of a program wants to take them.

Consequences of this individualization in ways of learning together

It is possible to understand from this individualism that the strategy of the new collectives is based on seduction, on free adherence to the effects of fashion through a menu of choices that everyone is free to make. Training and education then run to the trends, proclaim the benefits of innovation (often technological) in an attempt to capture the energy of joint learning that sometimes seems to escape.

The individualist parenthesis has existed since the 18th century, the climate crisis, the public debt and the great social issues will calm down because the solutions are collective and will not be based only on goodwill. India, China, Brazil and many countries that have entered the consumer era will accentuate ecological problems.

The link between the individual and the collective can pass through a third party who will reflect on what a group is. Voluntary submission and shared interests will require moving from debate to dialogue. The arguments that collide and confront each other seem to be from another era, as the individual is often content with being right for himself.

The “sociocognitive conflict” will probably have to leave more room for a search for mutual complements and a search for alliances for learning that takes us away from individual success alone and a little more from success in collective challenges.


Wikipedia Pierre Le Coz

Elias, N. (1997). The society of individuals. Fayard.

Lipovetsky, G. (1989). The Age of Emptiness (p. 59). Gallimard.

Tonnies, F. (2015). Community and society: fundamental categories of pure sociology. French University Publisher.

Dumont, L. (2015). Essays on individualism. An anthropological perspective on modern ideology. Media streaming.

Abensour, M. (1966, January). Saint-Just’s political philosophy: Social issues and frameworks. In Historical Annals of the French Revolution (pp. 1-32). Society for Robespierrist Studies.

Maffesoli, M. (2019). The time of the tribes. The decline of individualism in postmodern societies. Round Table Editions.

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