Student Question

Compare Hume's theory of self with the Buddhist theory. How do they impact life?

Quick answer:

It is an illusion to think that we have a permanent sense of self. This illusion results in suffering, but it can be eliminated through enlightenment.

Expert Answers

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David Hume (1711–1776) was a Scottish philosopher who attended the University of Edinburgh at the age of twelve. He spent his life reading, contemplating, and writing on a wide range of topics, including philosophy, history, ethics, and economics. The basis for his inquiries was his search to understand the mind in relation to knowledge and ideas. His conclusion was that the only way to know anything is through experience. Through awareness, the mind gets impressions, and from these impressions, ideas are formed.

As an empiricist and a skeptic, Hume concluded that the existence of the self is only known through natural instinct and feelings, not reason. No objects or phenomena, including the self, exist outside of its properties. If one removes the properties of an object, the object would no longer exist. The idea of the self comes from the perception of these properties, and this perception comes from experiencing these properties through the senses and making them into a cohesive whole.

One of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism is the doctrine of anatta, or no-self, which teaches that it is an illusion to have a permanent sense of being. The Buddha told his followers to not contemplate about self-hood because understanding does not come from intellectual speculation. This is similar to Hume’s skepticism about knowing the self via reason.

Another Buddhist precept is "sunvata," which states that no beings or objects contain a self-essence. Existence is found only in the relation phenomena have to other phenomena. This relates to the idea that an object without its properties would not exist.

These are difficult concepts, and I strongly suggest that you read the links I have provided. What effects these ideas would have on your life is a question only you can answer.

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