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I would appreciate if you can clarify this for me, since I am confused about the thought that gave birth to this word.

Individual (noun) = entity, being, creature, person.

But, if we inquire into its origin, etymonline says to us that it comes from in- "not" + dividuus "divisible" from dividere "divide."

Why did the people who formed the word think about the impossibility of 'dividing' a creature, an entity, a person, which already looked like ONE?
Does the term imply that humans "contain" two principles through the prefix di- = two/different (ying and yang; masculine and feminine principles; whatever we call them) and the makers of the word were aware of that duality, therefore---> individual = indivisible duality?

The other option would be that the term simply means non-divisible, but this seems too elemental = sure a human can't be divided.

Which explanation do you think is correct?
Regular Member827
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Hello Elena

I think the word was originally used to mean 'that which is indivisible' in philosophical and religious contexts. The emphasis was on 'indivisibility', not 'singleness'.

Later, by extension, it began to be used for 'that which is single', 'that which is an entity'.

In the C19, it became a favourite with writers such as Dickens, Thackeray, Jerome K. Jerome, etc as a 'whimsical' synonym for 'person'.

('At that precise moment, a highly unusual individual with an eyeglass leaned into the conveyance in question and surveyed the occupants with a most disconcertingly judicious air...'

You know the kind of thing.)

MrP
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Thanks MrPedantic,
I think the word was originally used to mean 'that which is indivisible' in philosophical and religious contexts. The emphasis was on 'indivisibility', not 'singleness'.

Exactly, that is the gist of it: the original use and the concept of indivisibility:

for something to be referred to in that manner, it must APPEAR to be divisible, therefore is described NOT divisible.

My query, is the word 'individual' subsuming our duality?, can it be taken as a proof of it?
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Hello Elena

I think the parallel is with 'atom'. This means 'that which can't be further divided'. Democritus used it to define his 'basic unit' in the universe: everything consisted of 'atoms' of one kind or another. There was nothing 'smaller'.

Later, in Cicero, we find 'atomos...id est, corpora individua': 'atoms...i.e. indivisible bodies'.

Similarly, Boethius defined 'persona' (person) as 'individualis substantia rationalis naturae': 'an indivisible substance of a rational nature'. 'Mind' was not divisible (and so, by extension, neither was 'God': hence the paradox of the Trinity).

My knowledge of medieval philosophy is shaky in the extreme. But it seems to me that the sense of 'individualis' in Boethius' phrase is the same as the sense that was carried through medieval Latin and eventually imported into English.

So I would say that the original use reflected a process of looking at the whole – the universe – and gradually dividing it (zooming in) until you reached 'the thing that can be divided/reduced no further'. You looked at the 'thing' in question and asked: is this divisible? If the answer was No, it was necessarily 'individualis'.

In practice, of course, that didn't stop medieval philosophers and theologians from going on to define many 'parts' of the 'individual': in Aquinas, for instance, the vegetative soul, the rational soul, and the sensitive soul.

Does that help? Or have I made things worse?

MrP
PS: Looking again at your original post, I realize I've missed your point about 'di-'. 'Di-' (or 'dis-') as a prefix in Latin has a sense of 'separation into two/into pieces', rather than 'connection of two'; so 'dividuus' (divisible) has a sense of 'separable into two', rather than 'two things joined that can be separated'.
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Does that help? Or have I made things worse?

It helps a lot, and very well organised and directed, from Democritus to end looking at the WHOLE, hey don't forget Egyptians, from whom Democritus learnt.
the vegetative soul, the rational soul, and the sensitive soul (Aquinas)

yes, inferior man, superior man and the sage (Taoism) the human, man proper, God-man/woman (Egypt), Tamasic, Rajasic, Satvic (Hindus) I have recently learnt a bit about this.
'di-'. 'Di-' (or 'dis-') as a prefix in Latin has a sense of 'separation into two'rather than 'two things joined that can be separated'

yes, I was stating the same and not, they can't be separated ('in-' --not)

'di-' from Latin 'dis' -- opposition or contrary -- different principles
'di-' from Greek 'dis' -- twice -- two

I think the core of all of this lies in your words
many 'parts' of the 'individual'
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inferior man, superior man and the sage (Taoism) the human, man proper, God-man/woman (Egypt), Tamasic, Rajasic, Satvic (Hindus)

Triads are intriguing. Hades, Gaia, Olympus. Hecate, Diana, Luna. Id, ego, superego. Etc., etc., etc.

Triads seem vertical to me; dualities, horizontal. (In other words, 'levels' vs 'sides'.)

How do they seem to you, Elena?

MrP
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I don't know what to answer, MrP.

Every time I think of it, levels and sides mix up in my head and I end not being able to differenciate them. Really they are quite the same for me, they are interconnected, they derive from the others, they continue forming the person whatever side or level is on peak.

Yes, we have symbols and geometry helps. We have many available, like the circle (ying and yang) or the iceberg (consciousness and subconscious) and you are right, vertical images fit well with levels; horizontal fit not so well with sides in my brain-images bank. Still we have oblique lines and triangles, even spheres.
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Sorry to be obscure, Elena! It was only a small thought, and one I hadn't properly considered: but at bottom, I was thinking that where we meet with a 'triad', in schemes of thought, the suggestion is often of 'levels', e.g. inferior man, superior man, sage; whereas with 'dualities', the suggestion is often of 'necessary balance', e.g. yin/yang, right brain/left brain, etc.

'Progression' vs 'balance' struck me as interesting.

I suppose a combination of 'levels' and 'sides' might be your 'spheres'.

MrP
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I would appreciate if you can clarify this for me, since I am confused about the thought that gave birth to this word.

Individual (noun) = entity, being, creature, person.


Well, I could be wrong, but here goes: In North America, or the New World, being an individual is pretty much what's expected, whereas in the past, the Old Word, being a part of a group was the norm. To be divisible, doesn't refer to a person's physical or emotional being; it refers to the person's group. To be "without a group" is to be "an individual".
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