1. a social theory advocating the liberty, rights, or independent action of the individual.
  2. the principle or habit of or belief in independent thought or action.
  3. the pursuit of individual rather than common or collective interests; egoism.
  4. individual character; individuality.
  5. an individual peculiarity.
  6. Philosophy.
    1. the doctrine that only individual things are real.
    2. the doctrine or belief that all actions are determined by, or at least take place for, the benefit of the individual, not of society as a whole.


  1. the action or principle of asserting one’s independence and individuality; egoism
  2. an individual quirk or peculiarity
  3. another word for laissez faire (def. 1)
  4. philosophy the doctrine that only individual things exist and that therefore classes or properties have no realityCompare Platonism, realism (def. 5)

“self-centered feeling,” 1827, from individual + -ism. As a social philosophy (opposed to communism and socialism) first attested 1851 in writings of J.S. Mill.

A majority can never replace the individual. … Just as a hundred fools do not make one wise man, a heroic decision is not likely to come from a hundred cowards. [Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf,” 1933]

A view that stresses the importance and worth of each person. In economics, it is the doctrine that individuals best serve the public interest by pursuing their own self-interest. For example, the businessman who expands his company to increase his profits also creates jobs for many people and thereby serves the public interest. (See laissez-faire.)

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