Hume 'N Nature


Julian Sanchez, mulling over the existence of the self, quotes Hume:

For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. And were all my perceptions remov’d by death, and cou’d I neither think, nor feel, nor see, nor love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body, I shou’d be entirely annihilated, nor do I conceive what is farther requisite to make me a perfect non-entity. If any one, upon serious and unprejudic’d reflection thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I call reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu’d, which he calls himself; tho’ I am certain there is no such principle in me.

Sanchez adds:

I see that he too stresses that this is a case where language is the true source of the puzzle, and that quandaries about personal identity “are to be regarded rather as gramatical than as philosophical difficulties.” Moving outside the Western tradition, of course, the “no further fact” view dovetails nicely with Buddhism, which is almost entirely an introspective research program. The illusion of the persistent and unitary self, that tradition teaches, dissolves not in the acid of theory but the light of committed inward contemplation.

And he concludes:

[W]hen people talk about the strong intuitions they have about the nature of the self, I think they’re often really talking about an attachment to a linguistic and social convention rather than an unmediated apprehension of what it’s like to be one’s self.