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Über dieses Buch

This book explores the steady decline in the status of the individual in recent years and addresses common misunderstandings about the concept of individuality. Drawing from psychology, neuroscience, technology, economics, philosophy, politics, and law, White explains how and why the individual has been devalued in the eyes of scholars, government leaders, and the public. He notes that developments in science have led to doubts about our cognitive competence, while assumptions made in the humanities have led to questions about our moral competence. In this book, White goes on to argue that both of these views are mistaken and that they stem from overly simplistic ideas about how individuals make choices, however imperfectly, in their interests, which are multifaceted and complex. In response, he proposes a new way to look at individuals that preserves their essential autonomy while emphasizing their responsibility to others, inspired by the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the legal and political philosophy reflected in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. This book explains how individuality combines both rights and responsibilities, reconciles the popular yet false dichotomy between individual and society, and provides the basis for a humane and respectful civil society and government.

This book is part of White's trilogy on the individual and society, which includes The Manipulation of Choice and The Illusion of Well-Being.



Chapter 1. Introduction

This introduction motivates the argument of this book, which is that respect for the individual has declined in modern society. Developments in various fields in science, humanities, politics, and law simply that the individual is both cognitively and morally incompetent, unable to make sound decisions in his or her own interests or those of society in general. In its place, I propose a more nuanced and elaborate conception of a person as individual in essence, social in orientation and spell out the implications of this for government, business, and ourselves.
Mark D. White

Chapter 2. The Individual in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Economics

This chapter looks at how psychologists, neuroscientists, and economists think about choice, why their conceptions of it are so narrow, and how this implies an unreasonable degree of cognitive incompetence on the part of individuals. This is important not just for the erosion of the status of the individual it implies, but also for justification for paternalistic government policies it leads to. In contrast, this chapter presents a more elaborate picture of choice based on interests, which are complex, multifaceted, and subjective, and puts the various decision-making flaws identified by the aforementioned scientists and the policies devised to correct them into perspective, restoring some status to the individual as a sound decision-maker in his or her own interests.
Mark D. White

Chapter 3. Big Data, Algorithms, and Quantification

This chapter examines the dangers of quantification, Big Data, and algorithms to the status of the individual as unique and valuable. It makes the argument that quantification reduces the richness of human lives to numbers, filtering out the qualitative nuance which is then ignored in favor of easily observable and manipulable numbers. In terms of our personal use of tracking data, this can lead us to ignore other aspects of our lives when mesmerized by numbers, as well as sacrificing our autonomous choices to algorithmic recommendations from businesses. Finally, Big Data and algorithms pose the greatest danger in terms of governance, where citizens are reduced to their most quantifiable aspects in policymaking and law, leading to utilitarian decision-making that ignores the individual.
Mark D. White

Chapter 4. Individual in Essence, Social in Orientation

This chapter addresses the popular false dichotomy that casts the individual in opposition to society, painting the individual as a narrowly self-interested, isolated, and antisocial individual who rejects any cooperation or social interactions. Instead, this chapter presents a more nuanced and elaborate picture of the person as “individual in essence, social in orientation.” Drawing from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, as well as John Stuart Mill and the existentialists, we see how individuals are properly understood to interact with the world around them, in terms of determining who they are as autonomous and authentic individuals; how they incorporate social influences, roles, and group affiliations; and how they should realize their ethical obligations toward others.
Mark D. White

Chapter 5. Balancing the Individual and Society in Law and Politics

This chapter examines the decline in respect for the individual in society in politics and law. Starting with an overview of the treatment of the individual in the moral philosophies of utilitarianism and deontology, this chapter surveys recent Supreme Court decisions that deny the importance of the individual in the face of collective goals. The legal philosophy of Ronald Dworkin helps to discuss the importance of affirming individual rights while pursuing these goals and the difficulty in finding the right balance between them. This chapter concludes with some recommendations regarding the treatment of business and government in a framework that values the individual alongside society as a whole.
Mark D. White

Chapter 6. Conclusion

This chapter summarizes the main points in this book, including evidence for the decline in respect for the individual, the proposal for a more nuanced and elaborate conception of the individual, and the importance of acknowledging and embracing individuality—but not individualism—going forward.
Mark D. White


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