On the basis of the comparison between India and the modern West, Dumont identifies two opposed conceptions of man and society: the 'olistic' one and the 'individualistic' one. In the first one the fundamental value is placed in the society, understood as a hierarchical totality; in the second one the supreme value is the individual, understood as an autonomous and independent moral being. According to this view the individual is both culturally specific and historically determined. The essay suggests that the individual and the social are not antithetical terms. It argues, moreover, that a general common-sense belief corcerning the self lies behind its different historical and cultural configurations.