Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

John P. Anton, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kwasi Wiredu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sidney Axinn, Ph.D.


Liberalism, John Dewey, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Justice, Human nature, Social conditions


This thesis traces versions of the theory of individualism by three major theorists, John Locke, John Stuart Mill and John Dewey, as they criticize existing social, cultural, economic, legal and military conditions of their times. I argue that each theorist modifies the theory of individualism to best suit their understanding of human nature, adapting it where they can and outright removing aspects where they cannot. Based upon each thinker's conception of human nature, their corresponding theory of individualism does justice to that nature. With their view of individualism, each thinker criticizes the activities of their day for its lack of justice to human nature for the bulk of humanity.

I examine each thinker's concrete conditions, their theory of human nature, theory of justice and their corresponding theory of individualism. In the first three chapters, I examine first Locke's, then Mill's then Dewey's theory of human nature, justice and individualism. In my final chapter, I critically examine each thinker's theory of individualism and find that John Dewey's is most adequate for our current social conditions.

Locke's individualism was a criticism of the absolute rule of aristocratic Land-owners and was an attempt to undermine the conceptual basis for their continued power. John Stuart Mill's individualism was a criticism of John Locke's individualism insofar as majoritarianism had taken root in England and resulted in the "Tyranny of the Majority." Therefore Mill gave high value to the sanctity of the individual even in disagreement with the overwhelming majority. Dewey's theory of individualism largely was a criticism of widespread poverty and abuse of political power in America during the Great Depression. laissez faire economics, combined with cut-throat competitiveness and atomistic individualism had resulted in pervasive injustice and Dewey recommended recognition of our inter-connectedness and continuity rather than our separateness. While I believe Dewey's theory of individualism to be most fit for our current social setting, even his theory suffers from problems yet to be worked out. I lay out these problems in the final chapter and conclude with remarks on what needs yet to be done.