The philosophical tradition offers us numerous variations on the claim that for human agents, individuality is prior to sociality: what I will call the Priority of Individuality Thesis (POI). As an implicit presupposition, I argue that it vitiates attempts to account for sociality, but also undermines the category of the individual person itself. This paper problematizes POI. Though I ultimately want to show that sociality is prior to or at least co-constitutive of individuality, my primary objective here will be critical. I will challenge POI on two grounds. First, in most of its variants, POI turns on an equivocal notion of priority. There are at least three distinct kinds of priority at work in the philosophical literature: epistemic priority, ontological priority, and diachronic temporal priority. There are also numerous problematic equivocations among them. Second, I consider two examples from the philosophical canon in which POI can be seen to have pathological, even paradoxical consequences. By individuating moral agency by recourse to autonomous individual human subjects, both Kantian and Utilitarian accounts of morality erase the possibility of morally significant differences among such subjects. Furthermore, two classic solutions to the problem of other minds both presuppose that the problem of other minds is the epistemological problem of identifying individual subjects as such. And as Merleau-Ponty has suggested, both “solve” the problem of other minds by essentially erasing otherness; there may be multiple instances of mind, but qua instances of mind, there are no significant differences between them.
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