George Walford: The General Individual

‘The individual is the only real thing in nature and in life. Neither the species, the genus nor the race actually exists; they are abstractions, terminologies, scientific devices, useful as syntheses but not entirely exact.’ (Quoted, with approval, from Pio Baroja, in issue No. 10 of THE EGOIST, published irregularly by S. E. Parker, [address], £2 for four issues.)

But how does the individual differ from the species, genus or race? It is quite as much an abstraction as they are, it no more ‘actually’ exists than they do. Neither Pio Baroja nor anybody else has ever seen, heard or felt ‘the’ individual any more than they have ‘the’ species (etc.). They have met people who were individuals, but never anybody who was an individual and nothing else.

Here we have an example of the rule that everything real has (at least) two sides. So long as we deal with individuals distinguished one from another by a unique combination of features which other individuals of the same race, species or genus also possess, so that each of our specimens exhibits both individuality and generality, we have real individuals. But when we try to conceive of an individual who shall be purely individual,and not general at all, have nothing whatever in common with any other individual, the thought collapses, for every such individual that exists has at least existence in common with every other.
Similarly, of course, with the species, genus or race. No one of these exists independently of the individuals constituting it, each of them is a generality composed of individuals.

from Ideological Commentary 35, September 1988.