Chapter XXII: The Individual and the World - Summary

True individualism is a product of the relaxation of the grip of the authority of custom and traditions as standards of belief. Aside from sporadic instances, like the height of Greek thought, it is a comparatively modern manifestation. Not but that there have always been individual diversities, but that a society dominated by conservative custom represses them or at least does not utilize them and promote them. For various reasons, however, the new individualism was interpreted philosophically not as meaning development of agencies for revising and transforming previously accepted beliefs, but as an assertion that each individual's mind was complete in isolation from everything else. In the theoretical phase of philosophy, this produced the epistemological problem: the question as to the possibility of any cognitive relationship of the individual to the world. In its practical phase, it generated the problem of the possibility of a purely individual consciousness acting on behalf of general or social interests,—the problem of social direction. While the philosophies which have been elaborated to deal with these questions have not affected education directly, the assumptions underlying them have found expression in the separation frequently made between study and government and between freedom of individuality and control by others. Regarding freedom, the important thing to bear in mind is that it designates a mental attitude rather than external unconstraint of movements, but that this quality of mind cannot develop without a fair leeway of movements in exploration, experimentation, application, etc. A society based on custom will utilize individual variations only up to a limit of conformity with usage; uniformity is the chief ideal within each class. A progressive society counts individual variations as precious since it finds in them the means of its own growth. Hence a democratic society must, in consistency with its ideal, allow for intellectual freedom and the play of diverse gifts and interests in its educational measures.