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.


Ippolito Desideri’s Account of Tibet

Ippolito Desideri’s Account of Tibet.

Here is a very interesting article about a man who went to Tibet to convert the Buddhists there to Christianity. It’s suspected that he may have influenced Hume’s philosophy.

Intro Notes for Tues Feb 7 Discussion 10amSLT

Topic: Hume, Copy Principle, and Causation

All quotations in these notes are from <; unless otherwise stated. Causation
1.the action of causing or producing.
2.the relation of cause to effect; causality.
3.anything that produces an effect; cause.

Causation is “the belief that events occur in predictable ways and that one event leads to another. If the relationship between the variables is non-spurious (there is not a third variable causing the effect), the temporal order is in line (cause before effect), and the study is longitudinal, it may be deduced that it is a causal relationship.” (Wikipedia,

“Deep understanding of causality sometimes requires understanding of very large patterns and their abstract relationships and interactions, not just the understanding of microscopic objects interacting in microscopic time intervals.” -<i>I Am A Strange Loop</i>, Douglas Hofstadter, pg. 41

“… Hume shows that experience does not tell us much. Of two events, A and B, we say that A causes B when the two always occur together, that is, are constantly conjoined. Whenever we find A, we also find B, and we have a certainty that this conjunction will continue to happen. Once we realize that “A must bring about B” is tantamount merely to “Due to their constant conjunction, we are psychologically certain that B will follow A”, then we are left with a very weak notion of necessity.”

“[Causation] alone allows us to go beyond what is immediately present to the senses and, along with perception and memory, is responsible for all our knowledge of the world.”

“Hume’s Copy Principle … states that all our ideas are products of impressions.”

Hume separates all “possible objects of knowledge into <i>relations of ideas</i> and <i>matters of fact</i>. Hume gives several differentiae distinguishing the two, but the principal distinction is that the denial of a true relation of ideas implies a contradiction. Relations of ideas can also be known independently of experience. Matters of fact, however, can be denied coherently, and they cannot be known independently of experience.”

Hume’s theories have been prevalent throughout societies history. Do you believe that no act or thought can be independent? Is it true that every thought has been thought before and that every act is reliant on the past? To admit that would essentially be admitting that none of us are truly individual, would it not? What about creativity and creation?Wouldn’t believing that everything is not unique imply that no patents are valid, that no copyright exists, and that no ownership applies?

I open the floor.

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