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Methodological individualism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Methodological individualism (MI) is the thesis that certain psychological properties are intrinsic properties, such as ‘being made out of iron’, rather than externally relational properties, such as ‘being an aunt’. It has been challenged by influential ‘anti-individualist’ claims of, for example, Putnam and Burge, according to which the content of an individual’s words or thoughts (beliefs, desires) is determined in part by facts about their social or physical environment. Putnam, for example, imagines a planet, ‘twin earth’, which is identical to the earth in 1750 (prior to modern chemistry) in all respects except that wherever earth had H2O, twin earth had a different but superficially similar chemical, XYZ. Putnam argues that the English word ‘water’ in 1750 referred only to H2O, while the twin word ‘water’ refers only to XYZ.

Historically, the term ‘methodological individualism’ has referred to the thesis that all social explanation must be ultimately expressible in terms of facts about individual human beings; not about economic classes, nations and so on. For a treatment of this subject, see Explanation in history and social science §1.

Citing this article:
Segal, Gabriel. Methodological individualism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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