Digest of terms
the view that moral values be ascribed above all to individual human beings. In Kantian ethics this is supported by the claim that persons are 'ends in themselves'. In traditional Utilitarian ethics it is connected to the claim that each person should 'count for one, nobody for more than one'. In these and other related analyses the value of rational autonomy, individual liberty, and personal rights is emphasized.
There is disagreement however regarding the definition of the individual. Communitarians, and some feminists,argue that these views presuppose limited and unrealistically atomistic conceptions of personal identity, an 'unencumbered self', whereas identity is always relational. Defenders of liberalism, within which individualism finds its natural home, respond that identity is indeed relational, but individuals are in principle always free to assess and reconsider the relations constitutive of their identity, and in this sense individualism remains both coherent and morally central, for example in relation to freedom of religion - however important religious belonging may be, whether for the individual or the group, there should always be a 'right of exit'. This remains a point of contention with the communitarian aspect of Muslim ethics, where apostasy may be thought to merit the death penalty, and it is arguable that while individualism may be appropriate in a modern liberal democracy, prioritising group wellbeing, whether of family, tribe, casteor whatever retains validity in more traditionally organised communities and societies. The position of minorities in society raises further issues - should their culture/religion be protected from the surrounding individualism by invoking the notion of grouprights?The case may be conceded up to a point, but the mainstream liberal response would insist on retaining the aforementioned right of exit for dissenting individuals.