Self and No Self: Comparative Study of Nāgārjuna and Hume

Some comparison could be, and have been, made between aspects of Hume’s philosophy and those of Buddhism as there seems to be a similarity in their views on the self, the object, and causation; moreover both take a great interest in how the human mind contributes to what we believe.  Although it is interesting to find affinities between two philosophical systems that are separated far apart by both time and space, the comparison would become rather superficial and thereby uninteresting if similarities were found merely in their general, overall claims or doctrines.  To engage with a more fruitful and interesting conversation between Hume and Buddhism, we will focus on the work of Nāgārjuna to compare with Hume’s psychologically-oriented, empiricist accounts of the self and personal identity.  We will start with Nagarjuna’s arguments against the substantiality of the self and his positive explanations of what the self is and how its identity is persevered, which are presented in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way). We will explore the question of whether it would be appropriate to consider his arguments and explanations as psychological and empiricist in light of the clear understanding of his text itself.  We will next take a close look at Hume’s professed methodology (Introduction), his arguments against the substantiality of the mind/self (1.4.5 and 1.4.6), and his account of personal identity (1.4.6) offered in A Treatise of Human Nature.  With a firm grasp of Hume’s and Nagarjuna’s arguments in hand, we will end the seminar by investigating whether their views of the self and personal identity are really as similar as they often are presented to be.