Along all its history, the humanity was trying to find out what self is, and how the part called myself can be defined and explained. Philosophers from both the East and the West provided their special explanations. At some points, these assumptions had similar points that give us the idea that the verity is near. The definitions of self unite philosophy theories of distant parts of the world. The similarity of ideas of David Hume, a British philosopher and Buddhist views on the concept of self are a representative issue at this point.
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The philosophical ideas of David Hume, a prominent philosopher of the eighteenth century, are still widely referred to and discussed. Hume provided the explanation to many general and essential concepts of the world, God, the human mind, beliefs, etc. at his A Treatise of Human Nature. Hume’s philosophy is based on the ideas that all the knowledge of the world is gained from the interaction of human’s experiences (impressions) and the thoughts. The thoughts are formed on impressions. The previously gained experience is processed into new ideas, so the imagined things always have a defined background; imagination does not come from nowhere.
Applying this template to the idea of self, Hume claimed that the notion of constant personal me has no ground, as the impression of self has no initial core or experience to be derived from. If it would exist “that impression must continue invariably the same, through the whole course of our lives”, Hume says (Velasquez, 2013, p. 387). However, according to him, no such impression can be found. All the experiences and impressions follow each other changing all the time, combining and recombining every moment at different proportion, never the same. Thus, there is not a single possibility of existing something that could be called self at all.
Eastern philosophy of Buddhism originates from the region that is Nepal territory nowadays. The ideas of Buddhism practice following the “middle way”, the lifestyle that is between excessive pleasure and strict asceticism. According to the doctrines of Theravada group one of the major groups of Buddha followers, who claim their doctrines to be the true Buddhism teachings, everything in the universe is constantly changing following the Wheel of Life, and nothing stays constant all the time. Buddhists say, “All things are aggregates composed of elements that inevitably change and separate over time” (Velasquez, 2013, p. 104).
Therefore, nothing stays permanent and thus cannot be defined as an individual. Movement and constant change, dissolution and interfusion are the normal states of everything that exists. The self as a part of this universe also is in the state of constant flux and moving, combining and recombining every single moment of the time, consisting of perpetually shifting emotions, experiences, feelings, senses. Buddhist philosophy states that self, referred either to both body and mind, cannot possibly exist as something constant and always is a combination of mutually replacing elements and is not even capable of self-controlling. The body gets old, gets sick, gets disabled. The mind, thus it knows what is right, tends to turn the wrong way, do the things considered as evil and destructive.
Hume’s ideas on the concept of self at this point have a close ring of Buddhist understanding. Both philosophies deny the very existence of the self as it is generally claimed to be constant, some kind of a core that defines the inner word of an individual. According to both Hume and Buddhism understandings, the existence of core-self is impossible. Hume’s inner world is seen as a reflection of the impressions of the world around that succeed each other every time and the thoughts that appear due to processing of these impressions that constantly change too.
The above correlates with the Buddhist approach to the point that there is nothing constant in the world, and individual’s mind and body as considerable containers of the self are not an exclusion. Thus, self, not having the firm ground is not constant, altering and flowing all the time as its elements regroup. It is never possible to be considered as the same. Therefore, the self as we know it according to David Hume and Buddhism does not exist at all.
It is amazing how two entirely different cultures from distant places at different times could come up with the similar ideas on one of the fundamental concepts that defines an individual’s nature. The theories of the eighteenth-century philosopher from Scotland strongly relate to the key idea of the most spread doctrine of the East, originated fifth century BC. Despite the difference in the background, explanations and approach, both philosophic studies draw the analogous conclusion. The conclusion is that a human refers to as myself, pays much attention to it, forms his or her lifestyle grounds opinion and thoughts referring to it, is something that might not even be real. Moreover, the explanations directing to this “inexistence” are of the akin nature.
Velasquez, M. (2013). Philosophy: A text with readings. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.