The principle of individuation, or principium individuationis,[1] describes the manner in which a thing is identified as distinct from other things.[2]

The concept appears in numerous fields and is encountered in works of Leibniz, Carl Gustav Jung, Gunther Anders, Gilbert Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, David Bohm, Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze,[3] and Manuel De Landa.


The word individuation occurs with different meanings and connotations in different fields.

In philosophy

Main article: Principle of individuation

Philosophically, "individuation" expresses the general idea of how a thing is identified as an individual thing that "is not something else". This includes how an individual person is held to be different from other elements in the world and how a person is distinct from other persons. By the seventeenth century, philosophers began to associate the question of individuation or what brings about individuality at any one time with the question of identity or what constitutes sameness at different points in time.[4]

In Jungian psychology

Main article: Analytical psychology § Individuation

In Jungian or analytical psychology, individuation is the process by which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious – seen as a developmental psychic process during which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature psyche, and the experiences of the person's life become, if the process is more or less successful, integrated over time into a well-functioning whole.[5] Other psychoanalytic theorists describe it as the stage where an individual transcends group attachment and narcissistic self-absorption.[6]

In the news industry

The news industry has begun using the term individuation to denote new printing and on-line technologies that permit mass customization of the contents of a newspaper, a magazine, a broadcast program, or a website so that its contents match each user's unique interests. This differs from the traditional mass-media practice of producing the same contents for all readers, viewers, listeners, or on-line users.

Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan alluded to this trend[need quotation to verify] when discussing[when?] the future of printed books in an electronically interconnected world.[7]

In privacy and data protection law

From around 2016, coinciding with increased government regulation of the collection and handling of personal data, most notably the GDPR in EU Law, individuation has been used to describe the ‘singling out’ of a person from a crowd – a threat to privacy, autonomy and dignity.[8][9] Most data protection and privacy laws turn on the identifiability of an individual as the threshold criterion for when data subjects will need legal protection. However, privacy advocates argue privacy harms can also arise from the ability to disambiguate or ‘single out’ a person. Doing so enables the person, at an individual level, to be tracked, profiled, targeted, contacted, or subject to a decision or action which impacts them - even if their civil or legal ‘identity’ is not known (or knowable).

In some jurisdictions the wording of the statute already includes the concept of individuation.[10] In other jurisdictions regulatory guidance has suggested that the concept of 'identification' includes individuation - i.e., the process by which an individual can be 'singled out' or distinguished from all other members of a group.[11][12]

However where privacy and data protection statutes use only the word ‘identification’ or ‘identifiability’, different court decisions mean that there is not necessarily a consensus about whether the legal concept of identification already encompasses individuation[13] or not.[14][15]

Rapid advances in technologies including artificial intelligence, and video surveillance coupled with facial recognition systems have now altered the digital environment to such an extent that ‘not identifiable by name’ is no longer an effective proxy for ‘will suffer no privacy harm’. Many data protection laws may require redrafting to give adequate protection to privacy interests, by explicitly regulating individuation as well as identification of individual people.[16]

In physics

Two quantum entangled particles cannot be understood independently. Two or more states in quantum superposition, e.g., as in Schrödinger's cat being simultaneously dead and alive, is mathematically not the same as assuming the cat is in an individual alive state with 50% probability. The Heisenberg's uncertainty principle says that complementary variables, such as position and momentum, cannot both be precisely known – in some sense, they are not individual variables. A natural criterion of individuality has been suggested.[17]

Arthur Schopenhauer

For Schopenhauer the principium individuationis is constituted of time and space, being the ground of multiplicity. In his view, the mere difference in location suffices to make two systems different, with each of the two states having its own real physical state, independent of the state of the other.

This view influenced Albert Einstein.[18] Schrödinger put the Schopenhaurian label on a folder of papers in his files “Collection of Thoughts on the physical Principium individuationis.”[19]

Carl Jung

Main article: Carl Jung

According to Jungian psychology, individuation (German: Individuation) is a process of psychological integration. "In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated [from other human beings]; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology."[20]

Individuation is a process of transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness (e.g., by means of dreams, active imagination, or free association) to be assimilated into the whole personality. It is a completely natural process necessary for the integration of the psyche.[21] Individuation has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.[21]

In addition to Jung's theory of complexes, his theory of the individuation process forms conceptions of an unconscious filled with mythic images, a non-sexual libido, the general types of extraversion and introversion, the compensatory and prospective functions of dreams, and the synthetic and constructive approaches to fantasy formation and utilization.[22]

"The symbols of the individuation process . . . mark its stages like milestones, prominent among them for Jungians being the shadow, the wise old man . . . and lastly the anima in man and the animus in woman."[23] Thus, "There is often a movement from dealing with the persona at the start . . . to the ego at the second stage, to the shadow as the third stage, to the anima or animus, to the Self as the final stage. Some would interpose the Wise Old Man and the Wise Old Woman as spiritual archetypes coming before the final step of the Self."[24]

"The most vital urge in every being, the urge to self-realize, is the motivating force behind the individuation process. With the internal compass of our very nature set toward self-realization, the thrust to become who and what we are derives its power from the instincts. On taking up the study of alchemy, Jung realized his long-held desire to find a body of work expressive of the psychological processes involved in the overarching process of individuation."[25]

Gilbert Simondon

Main article: Gilbert Simondon

In L'individuation psychique et collective, Gilbert Simondon developed a theory of individual and collective individuation in which the individual subject is considered as an effect of individuation rather than a cause. Thus, the individual atom is replaced by a never-ending ontological process of individuation.

Simondon also conceived of "pre-individual fields" which make individuation possible. Individuation is an ever-incomplete process, always leaving a "pre-individual" left over, which makes possible future individuations. Furthermore, individuation always creates both an individual subject and a collective subject, which individuate themselves concurrently. Like Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simondon believed that the individuation of being cannot be grasped except by a correlated parallel and reciprocal individuation of knowledge.[26]

Bernard Stiegler

Main article: Bernard Stiegler

The philosophy of Bernard Stiegler draws upon and modifies the work of Gilbert Simondon on individuation and also upon similar ideas in Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. During a talk given at the Tate Modern art gallery in 2004,[27] Stiegler summarized his understanding of individuation. The essential points are the following:

See also


  1. ^ Reese, William L. (1980). Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion (1st ed.). Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press. pp. 251. ISBN 978-0-391-00688-1.
  2. ^ Audi, Robert, ed. (1999). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 424. ISBN 978-0-521-63136-5.
  3. ^ Daniel W. Smith, Henry Somers-Hall (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Deleuze, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 244.
  4. ^ Garber, Daniel; Ayers, Michael (2003). The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-century Philosophy, Volume 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 212. ISBN 0521307635.
  5. ^ "The Stages of Life, Chapter 3 of Jung: A Very Short Introduction (1994/2001)", Living Archetypes, Routledge, pp. 70–85, 2015-06-26, doi:10.4324/9781315745541-12, ISBN 9781315745541, retrieved 2022-01-21
  6. ^ Hengehold, Laura (2017). Simone de Beauvoir's Philosophy of Individuation: The Problem of the Second Sex. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 41. ISBN 9781474418874.
  7. ^ alluded to this trend,
  8. ^ Johnston, Anna. "Individuation - re-thinking the scope of privacy laws". Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  9. ^ Greenleaf, Graham; Livingston, Scott (2017). "China's Personal Information Standard: The Long March to a Privacy Law". Privacy Laws & Business International Report (150): 25–28. SSRN 3128593. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  10. ^ e.g., 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) section 1798.140(o)(1).
  11. ^ Article 29 Working Party ‘Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data’ (WP 136, 20 June 2007) available at
  12. ^ Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) guidance 2017 What is personal information?, available at, and Commissioner initiated investigation into 7-Eleven Stores Pty Ltd [2021] AICmr 50 (29 September 2021), available at
  13. ^ Vidal-Hall v Google Inc [2015] EWCA Civ 311 at [115], available at
  14. ^ Patrick Breyer v. Bundesrepublik Deutschland [2016] ECLI:EU:C:2016:779; available at
  15. ^ Nadezhda Purtova, “From knowing by name to targeting: the meaning of identification under the GDPR, International Data Privacy Law, Volume 12, Issue 3, August 2022, Pages 163–183,
  16. ^ Johnston, Anna (2020). "Individuation: Re-imagining Data Privacy Laws to Protect Against Digital Harms" (electronic). Brussels Privacy Hub. 6 (24).
  17. ^ Jaeger, Gregg (2011). "Individuation in Quantum Mechanics". Foundations of Physics. 41 (3): 299–304. Bibcode:2011FoPh...41..299J. doi:10.1007/s10701-009-9382-x. S2CID 120353069.
  18. ^ Howard, Don A. (December 2005), "Albert Einstein as a Philosopher of Science" (PDF), Physics Today, 58 (12): 34–40, Bibcode:2005PhT....58l..34H, doi:10.1063/1.2169442, retrieved 2015-03-08 – via University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, author's personal webpage, From Schopenhauer he had learned to regard the independence of spatially separated systems as, virtually, a necessary a priori assumption ... Einstein regarded his separation principle, descended from Schopenhauer's principium individuationis, as virtually an axiom for any future fundamental physics. ... Schopenhauer stressed the essential structuring role of space and time in individuating physical systems and their evolving states. This view implies that difference of location suffices to make two systems different in the sense that each has its own real physical state, independent of the state of the other. For Schopenhauer, the mutual independence of spatially separated systems was a necessary a priori truth.
  19. ^ John Earman, John D. Norton (1997). The Cosmos of Science: Essays of Exploration. Univ of Pittsburgh Pr. pp. 131. ISBN 978-0822939306. Schrödinger's biographer, Walter Moore, details the lifelong influence of Schopenhauer on Schrödinger ... or the Schopenhauerian label that Schrödinger put on one folder of papers in his files: "Sammlung der Gedanken über das physikalische Principium individuationis".
  20. ^ Jung, C.G. Psychological Types. Collected Works, vol. 6, par. 757.
  21. ^ a b Jung, C.G. (1962). Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia (vol. 2). New York: Harper & Brothers.
  22. ^ Jung, C.G. (Shamdasani, S). (2009). The Red Book, p. 208, par. 3. Verona, Italy: Mondadori Printing.
  23. ^ Jung quoted in J. Jacobi, Complex, Archetype, Symbol (London 1959) p. 113-114.
  24. ^ Rowan, John, Subpersonalities (London 1990) p. 144.
  25. ^ Young, Elizabeth Deedy (2018). ""True Religion": Individuation, Alchemy, and Poetry". Psychological Perspectives. 61: 92–104. doi:10.1080/00332925.2018.1422932. S2CID 149579649.
  26. ^ Scott, David (2014). Gilbert Simondon's Psychic and Collective Individuation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 47. ISBN 9780748654505.
  27. ^ Bernard Stiegler: Culture and Technology Archived 2015-10-15 at the Wayback Machine,, 13 May 2004