The Philosophy of Individualism

It’s Your Life, Do What You Want

The most dangerous philosophy and advice to give to a young person. The malleable identity of a young person is constantly in a state of flux and evolution, extremely sensitive to outside influences.  The majority of them have no life experience or considerable education to critically think about what such a statement means, only that it details possibilities without necessary reflection on the consequences. As young people, we do have the energy and time to be “men of action” yet we lack the necessary judgment to see the full scope and significance of our actions in not only shaping ourselves, but impacting others to the same degree. Even in adults, the modular capacities (morality, reason) are often compromised, so how are young people even remotely equipped to deal with such a wide definition of freedom to shape themselves?  This statement can only mean Nietzschean despair in the shaping of one’s identity.

In the context of the awesome John Stuart Mill, the genius Immanuel Kant, and the less formidable John Locke, “do what you want” is a dangerous maxim. Locke and Mill both agree that people are free insofar as their liberties are negatively defined: that is, your rights end where mine begin. It’s the idea of Kant’s categorical imperative: if we allowed everyone to “do what they want”, would we be appreciative of that? A feminist critique of liberalism shoots down this notion of individualism, that we are “gods” to ourselves, as a fundamentally masculine idea of amoral power and dominance. It rejects reflective notions of responsibility, the ethics of care, even basic Rousseauian pity! It is our relationships with others that should define our identities and who we choose to surround ourselves with in our youth is telling of the influences that will shape us for the rest of our lives, in terms of self- and other-regarding mechanisms and the ability to contemplate the significance of (teleological, moral, political) agency.

The point is: You are a human being and with that observation comes the realization that you share this humanity; so that your life is not your own, your freedom can only be defined insofar as others have it, and your actions can only attain meaning in the context of (their impact on) human relationships.


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