QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual

There are some people who say that ideas are products of a culture as a whole–that no one stands apart from the collective.

But where do ideas come from originally? Before an idea could be in many minds, it had to be in one mind. Thus, ideas come from individual thought. People can and do learn a great deal from others through their experience, but the process of thinking is a fundamentally, inescapably individual process. Learning from others does not mean parroting word sounds, but thinking about the material you are given. Before an idea can be taught, it must be thought of by an individual. Innovative individuals are those who use their own minds to think of new ideas, and thus move the “knowledge of the culture” (i.e. the sum of the knowledge of the network of communicating individuals) forward.

When people work to solve problems as a team, any individual who isn’t thinking on his own, with his physically separate brain, will not contribute to the discussion and will not make any breakthroughs.


Note: At some point, I will likely write a longer article on this issue.

4 thoughts on “QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual

  1. The argument being made here, in one sense is obvious, but in another more interesting sense, conceals quite a bit. Even the most original thinkers to ever live did not think in a vacuum. Their ideas are the product of the culture that they were immersed in. Kant, for example*, would not have made the impact he did if it weren’t for his intense interest in David Hume. To say Kant’s ideas are ‘individual’ is to completely side-step his place in modern philosophy.

    Even more fundamentally, a thought expressed in a language (and I challenge you to conjure up a thought *not* expressed in a language), is, in some very real sense, a product of culture. One cannot express a thought without a shared language (Wittgenstein argues something like this, rather convincingly to most contemporary philosophers). To think that ideas are individual atomic units is to ignore the way that science, philosophy, etc., build on themselves.

    *Kant was chosen deliberately; I know how you Rand-folk love Kant 🙂

    • Yet, for some reason, you can distinguish Kant’s ideas from Hume’s and from Rand’s. How does that work, if ideas aren’t “individual” (i.e. originated by individuals)? The innovation is what is individual. It is an individual that takes that “next step” in thought. If thinking were collective, then all people in Kant’s culture should have come up with Kant’s philosophy simultaneously. There should have been no time or effort needed for its dissemination.

      This was only a QuickPoint, not a full essay. At some point, I plan to write a fuller essay on this.

      • “At some point, I plan to write a fuller essay on this.”

        I look forward to this. I’ve been noticing more and more how pervasive this “collective epistemology” is in the humanities in academia, and it’s sickening (I can’t believe my eyes haven’t fallen out given my amount of eye rolling in class). There also seems to be this plague of “ethical subjectivism” in the humanities as well.

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