Hume and Buddhism Intro Notes Mar 20 2012

Topic: Hume and Buddhism

As proposed by Alison Gopnik (

More reading:

Gopnik suggests “the possibility that Hume’s account of personal identity/the self was influenced (indirectly) by Buddhist thought.”

Ippolito Desideri was an Italian Jesuit, who was sent to Tibet to convert the Buddhists there to Christianity.

After spending five years studying the language, religion and philosophy he was returned home. On his way home he stopped in at the college of La Flèche, where Hume stayed while writing the <i>Treatise on Human Nature</i>.

A short summary of Hume:

-He suggested that desire, rather than reason, governed human behaviour.

-He believed that human’s had knowledge only of things they directly experienced, rather than innate knowledge.

-He believed that humans had no conception of the self, only sensation associated with the self linked together by causation and resemblance.

-It has been suggested that Hume has rejected the idea of self altogether.

This is where Buddhism comes in.

When Desideri was at La Flèche, he became quite friendly with a man by the last name Dolu. Hume was known to interact with Dolu, years later.

Dolu, took part in the “Malabar Rights Controversy” – a debate whether Indigenous religious practices could be used alongside Christian missionary rites.

Some people involved in this debate suggested that it was the only way to have the two groups co-exist, or even to have the Indigenous people stick around.

This may be where he became familiar with the Buddhist ideas of “emptiness” and “no self”.

Hume is known to have written about Buddhist beliefs in his later works, “Of Miracles” and his “Natural History”.

He states, “Some nations of been discovered, who entertained no sentiments of religion…excessive penances of the Brachmans and the Talapoins.”

Here, he has grouped together the Indian Hindu and Siamese Buddhist practices.

The theory that Gopnik suggests, is that Hume, when writing his “Treatise” was aware, and even influenced by Buddhist thought.

If this is true, it would have been highly controversial in his time (not that he already wasn’t) because very few people were accepting of Buddhist thought.

Would this change the way we view Hume now?

Do you think that Hume’s philosophy was based on Buddhist thought, and if so, how does would that affect the religions of today?

I open the floor.


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