Home to Hume

There is a wonderful article by Alison Gopnik in the October issue of The Atlantic about depression, the Buddha and the Scottish philosopher, David Hume, whose work, “The Treatise of Human Nature” (1739) is a seminal work in the Western canon. Essentially, Hume dismissed all previous Western philosophical enquiry that placed man at the center of all things and suggested that there is no “I” at all since it is virtually impossible to abnegate the self without having either sensation or perception. This was radical in many ways and paved the way to a completely different understanding of the human condition.

The thing I have noticed about the current political season is how hard each candidate tries to stand out from the rest by intoning their accomplishments (real, semi-real or completely false). The pronoun, “I”, of course, leads the way in these statements as you might expect. However, one candidate hardly ever uses the pronoun and I am wondering if that is significant, whether the system demands self-aggrandizement or not? Does a candidate who loudly proclaims himself truly understand that the office is not about him or her, but about serving? The self, in Presidential mode, should not really exist.

Gopnik’s question concerning Hume’s book was how he made this philosophical breakthrough. The idea of it is Buddhist, but how could he have known anything about Buddhism? This is the meat of the article and it is Gopnik’s restorative from depression as she searches libraries, finds translators and, researches her way back from the brink of a mid-life crisis. Gopnik’s single minded pursuit of this discovery reads like a detective novel and is just as exciting. The link to the article is below.


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