Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? Charles Francois Dolu, the Royal College of La Flèche, and the Global Jesuit Intellectual Network - PDF

Hume Studies Volume 35, Number 1&2, 2009, pp Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? Charles Francois Dolu, the Royal College of La Flèche, and the Global Jesuit Intellectual Network Alison Gopnik

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Hume Studies Volume 35, Number 1&2, 2009, pp Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? Charles Francois Dolu, the Royal College of La Flèche, and the Global Jesuit Intellectual Network Alison Gopnik Abstract: Philosophers and Buddhist scholars have noted the affinities between David Hume s empiricism and the Buddhist philosophical tradition. I show that it was possible for Hume to have had contact with Buddhist philosophical views. The link to Buddhism comes through the Jesuit scholars at the Royal College of La Flèche. Charles Francois Dolu was a Jesuit missionary who lived at the Royal College from , overlapping with Hume s stay. He had extensive knowledge both of other religions and cultures and of scientific ideas. Dolu had had first-hand experience with Theravada Buddhism as part of the second French embassy to Siam in In 1727, Dolu also had talked with Ippolito Desideri, a Jesuit missionary who visited Tibet and made an extensive study of Tibetan Buddhism from It is at least possible that Hume heard about Buddhist ideas through Dolu. 1. Introduction Both philosophers and Buddhist scholars have long noted the affinities between David Hume s empiricism and the Buddhist philosophical tradition. 1 The conventional wisdom, however, has been that these affinities must either be the Alison Gopnik is Professor of Psychology and affiliate Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA E mail 6 Alison Gopnick result of an independent convergence or of a general oriental influence on eighteenth-century philosophy and letters. This is because very little was known about Buddhism in the Europe of the 1730s, when Hume was writing A Treatise of Human Nature. Buddhism had died out in India, Japan was closed to the West, and European scholars in the Chinese court focused on the elite Confucian and Taoist traditions. 2 I will show that, in spite of this, it was possible for Hume to have had contact with Buddhist philosophical views. The link to Buddhism comes through the Jesuit scholars at the Royal College of La Flèche. Hume lived in La Flèche from and wrote the Treatise there. In particular, Charles Francois Dolu was a Jesuit missionary who lived at the Royal College in La Flèche from , overlapping with Hume s stay. He was a sophisticated and well-traveled man, who had extensive knowledge both of other religions and cultures and of scientific ideas. Dolu had had first-hand experience with Theravada Buddhism as part of the second French embassy to Siam in Buddhism was the official religion of Siam and members of the embassy interacted extensively with the talapoins the European name for Siamese Buddhists. In 1727, just eight years before Hume s visit, Dolu also had talked with Ippolito Desideri, a Jesuit missionary who visited Tibet and made an extensive study of Tibetan Buddhism from Desideri studied the Lam Rim Chen Mo of Tsongkhapa, one of the central figures of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. Desideri s unpublished book describing Tibet was one of the most extensive and accurate accounts of Buddhist philosophy until the twentieth century. Dolu and Desideri were part of a network of philosophically, culturally, and scientifically knowledgeable Jesuits, with connections to both La Flèche and Asia. They included Jean Venance Bouchet, the notable Hindu scholar, Jean Richaud and Jean Fontaney, distinguished astronomers who made discoveries in India and China, and Joachim Bouvet who was a mathematical advisor to the Chinese Emperor and corresponded with Leibniz. There is increasing recognition of the mutual influence between European and Asian intellectual traditions in the early modern period. 3 The story of Hume and the Jesuits suggests that there could have been contact between Buddhist ideas and one of the founding fathers of the European Enlightenment. The story is also interesting as a case study in the complexities of determining philosophical influence. Within the history of philosophy influence is often seen as a matter of explicit argumentation and persuasion between philosophers with different positions. We can outline, say, Descartes views on identity and compare them point for point with Hume s (or, for that matter, Parfit s or Tsongkhapa s). The picture is of a sort of grand philosophical colloquium conducted in the Elysian fields among the dead giants of the past. From a purely philosophical point of view such exercises can be very informative and illuminating. Hume Studies Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? 7 From a psychological, historical and causal point of view, however, influence may be rather different. We know that psychologically, people can be influenced by ideas, even if they themselves forget the source of those ideas. In fact, this source amnesia is the rule rather than the exception. Information about sources is actually encoded in a different kind of memory, autobiographical or episodic memory, while ideas or facts themselves are stored in more robust semantic memory. 4 We know that listeners can be influenced by ideas even when they are not advocated by the people who present them. 5 Psychologically, arguing against a position, as well as arguing for it, can lead your interlocutor to encode and remember that position. And, psychologically and historically, even great philosophers are not only influenced by other great philosophers (especially before they are great themselves!). They may pick up ideas from much more obscure figures who happen to be the people they find congenial or talk with on a regular basis the equivalent of the guy in the next office. From this psychological perspective, the relevant causal constraints of time, place and proximity become much more relevant. From a philosophical point of view we can talk about what Tsongkhapa or Parfit s views could mean for Hume. But from a psychological and historical perspective, Parfit s ideas could not have influenced Hume s. It might seem that the same is true for Tsongkhapa that the actual circumstances of time and place would have made such contact impossible. What I will show in this paper is that, in fact, the opportunity for this sort of psychological and historical influence was actually present through the intermediary of the Jesuits at La Flèche. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jesuits raise these issues about the causal mechanisms of influence in a particularly fascinating way. 6 On the one hand, the official philosophical views advocated and argued for by the Jesuits were relatively conservative and narrow and reflected the constraints of the Church. On the other hand, Jesuit travelers and missionaries characteristically explored and recorded the ideas of the other cultures they encountered, even as they argued against them. The Jesuits also had a particularly strong general intellectual and scientific tradition. And they were famous or infamous for their ability to juggle apparently contradictory views, the Jesuitical stereotype. So the Jesuits, in particular, could have been causal agents for the transmission of ideas they did not actually advocate, and even actively deplored. 2. David Hume and the Jesuit College at La Flèche It is always frustrating that so few people save great men s letters before they become great. But the lack of information about Hume s early life is particularly problematic. Hume s magnum opus, The Treatise of Human Nature, was written when he was an unknown in his early twenties, and yet it contains almost all Volume 35, Number 1&2, 2009 8 Alison Gopnick his original philosophical discoveries his later work was largely elaborations or reworkings of the ideas in the Treatise. We know something about the influences on those ideas but much is still obscure. 7 In an early letter, Hume himself cites Malebranche, Descartes, Berkeley and Bayle as prerequisites for understanding the Treatise, but he also makes it clear that he has taken the general skeptical view much further than they have. 8 However, we do know that from , at the time he wrote the Treatise, Hume lived at La Flèche, a short walk away from The Royal College, established by Henri IV. It was the second most important Jesuit college in France, exceeded only by Louis Le Grand in Paris. It had an extensive library, with 40,000 volumes. Descartes was an alumnus. 9 There are only four letters from Hume s three years in France and only one from La Flèche, plus a slightly later letter referring to his time there. 10 Hume always described his time at La Flèche with great fondness. His brief autobiography talks about The three years I passed very agreeably in France, and says, I there laid down the Plan of Life which I have steadily and successfully pursued. 11 After he came back, he wrote about his perfect tranquility in France. 12 In his one letter from La Flèche, written just after he arrived, he says he is engaged in constant study, and extols the virtues of a good library the La Flèche college library was exceptional compared to University courses and professors. And for reaping all the advantages of both travel and study, he says, There is no place more proper than La Flèche.... The People are extremely civil and sociable and besides the good company in the Town, there is a college of a hundred Jesuits, which is esteemed the most magnificent both for buildings and gardens of any of that Order in France or even in Europe. 13 In 1762 Hume wrote a reply to George Campbell, a distinguished Scots academic who had attacked Hume s argument against miracles on religious grounds. He describes how his argument originally occurred to him as I was walking in the cloisters of the Jesuit college of La Flèche, a town in which I passed two years of my youth, and engaged in a conversation with a Jesuit of some parts and learning, who was relating to me and urging some nonsensical miracle performed in their convent when I was tempted to dispute against him: and as my head was full of the topics of my Treatise of Human Nature, which I was at that time composing, this argument immediately occurred to me. He didn t convince the Jesuit who was very much graveled at first, but at last observed that Hume couldn t be right because in that case you would have to reject the Gospels as well as the specific miracle in question. Which observation, Hume says dryly, I thought it proper to treat as sufficient answer. He goes on to note the irony of the fact that such a skeptical argument was the product of a convent of Jesuits. 14 Though this letter might seem dismissive of the Jesuits, it is worth noting that it is addressed to Campbell, a Protestant writer making very similar arguments. Hume Studies Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? 9 Hume is making a sly rhetorical point by comparing the learned Jesuit s defense of Catholic miracles, which Campbell would have vigorously rejected, to the equally learned Campbell s own arguments. In the eighteenth century, defending nonsensical miracles was not just a Jesuit practice, nor was it a sign of intellectual backwardness. Hume was gregarious all his life he loved talking about ideas, and participated vigorously in intellectual clubs and societies. 15 The Jesuits also had a long tradition of intellectual discussion. It seems likely that during the time he wrote the Treatise, Hume was talking with the Jesuits at the Royal College. Although they were officially conservative, advocating and defending the Church positions, recent work emphasizes the extent to which the Jesuits in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century participated in scientific and intellectual developments, particularly in a global context. 16 In particular, in early eighteenth-century Europe, the Jesuit community knew more about Asian religious and philosophical ideas than anyone else. 3. Charles Francois Dolu Who did Hume talk to? Who might be candidates for the Jesuit of some parts and learning? The triennial Jesuit catalogs listed all the members of all the Jesuit colleges, including their birthplaces and dates and brief details of their expertise and history. There were 34 official Jesuit fathers at La Flèche in 1734 and 40 in There were also students and coadjutors assistants performing menial labor (57 in 1734 and 52 in 1737) making up the hundred Jesuits Hume described. 17 A number of these fathers were of some parts and learning and had connections to Asia. Robert Besnard was rector in Born in 1660, Besnard had been associated with the supporters of Malebranche, a strong influence on Hume, who had been active at La Flèche in the first part of the eighteenth century. 18 Yves-Marie André was Malebranche s biographer, correspondent and most fervent disciple and taught philosophy at La Flèche from André was persecuted by the authorities and his followers at La Flèche recanted by the 1720 s though, like him, they remained in the order. 19 André reported to his own pupil, Le Quens, that Besnard was a good philosopher who had similar ideas but that, unlike André himself, he had avoided conflict with the authorities bon homme quoique habile. 20 There were also eight ex-missionaries at La Flèche in Hume s time. Michel Pernet had been trained as a missionary to China and had visited Batavia, now Jakarta, before being turned back to Europe by the Dutch. 21 The 1737 rector, Jean Phillipe Bunou, had published treatises on barometric pressure and on geography and taught in Quebec. 22 Gabriel Baudon, who was at La Flèche in 1734 and 1737, corresponded extensively with other Jesuits in both the Indies and China. In Volume 35, Number 1&2, 2009 10 Alison Gopnick 1741 his student Père Roy brought two Chinese converts, Fathers Liou and Tsao, to La Flèche. 23 (Baudon is also interesting as the likely source for the nonsensical miracle that Hume described. Both the Jansenists in La Flèche (dismissively) 24 and the Jesuits (approvingly) 25 report that Baudon became a cult among the locals, particularly women, who claimed that he had performed miracles.) However, the most interesting of the Jesuit fathers in Hume s time, and the one with the closest connections to Buddhism, was Charles Francois Dolu. Dolu was born in 1655 in Paris. He was the son of Jean-Jacques Dolu, who had been the intendant of New France, had traveled to Québec, and was part of the (relatively) culturally tolerant and curious circle surrounding Champlain. 26 Charles Francois entered the Jesuit order in 1674 and took his vows as a spiritual coadjutor in 1687, 27 just before he joined the French embassy to King Nair in Siam. He was one of fourteen Jesuits who went to Siam. In 1688, after a revolution that deposed Nair and led to the expulsion of the Europeans, he fled Siam for Pondicherry in India where he was a missionary until around In India, he figured in the Malabar Rites Controversy a debate over whether indigenous religious practices could be incorporated into Christian missionary rites. 29 In 1713 he accompanied the Duchess of Alba to Spain. In 1723 he retired to La Flèche where he stayed until his death, at 85, in The 1687 Siamese embassy was a follow-up to an initial 1685 embassy. Both voyages were documented by several of the participants, particularly Guy Tachard, the Jesuit leader. 31 The second voyage was recorded by Tachard, by Ceberet, the trade envoy, and most significantly by Simon De La Loubere, the diplomatic envoy. 32 La Loubere composed a detailed, accurate and widely-read description of Siam, which included a section on the Siamese religion a form of Theravada Buddhism. 33 The motivations for the embassies were complex, including diplomatic, political, military and trade ambitions on both sides. The Jesuits in the embassies, however, were primarily involved in evangelization and astronomy. As part of the embassy, Dolu had first-hand experience with Buddhist practice. The Jesuits interacted extensively with the talapoins the European term for the Siamese Theravada Buddhist monks. In fact, three of the Jesuits, including Jean Venance Bouchet, lived in the Buddhist monastery, and followed its rules, in order to learn the official language of the court. The monastery was close to the official house of the remaining Jesuits, and the fathers living with the monks visited the others every day. 34 It is likely that their reports contributed to La Loubere s account of Siamese religion La Loubere was only in Siam for three months and during that time was ill and heavily engaged in diplomatic negotiations. 35 Indeed, La Loubere himself says that the second volume of his book, which contains descriptions of Siamese religion, linguistics, mathematics, natural history, and astronomy, and includes translations from Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhist texts, was written by other unspecified authors. 36 Hume Studies Could David Hume Have Known about Buddhism? 11 Dolu also seems to have had the typically Jesuit combination of evangelical fervor and ethnographic openness. Dolu fled Siam to Pondicherry after the revolution with Bouchet, the missionary who had lived in the Siamese monastery, and they worked closely together. Once in India, Bouchet became an observer and recorder of Hindu religion and culture, as well as the superior of the mission. Like other Jesuits in India, he adopted many Hindu ascetic practices including vegetarianism and Hindu dress. 37 Dolu was deeply committed to evangelizing the Indies. In 1700 he wrote a letter from Pondicherry celebrating Jesuit conversions which appeared in the Lettres edifiantes et curieuses, 38 a collection of Jesuit travel writings. But he had also felt the conflict between evangelization and a sensitivity to the native religious traditions. Dolu, in concert with Bouchet, organized ceremonies for Christian converts, such as parades, funerals and weddings that were heavily influenced by Hindu practice and tradition. In the Malabar rites controversy, which was initiated by the more conservative Capuchins, Rome investigated and condemned the practices. However, the Papal reaction was somewhat ambiguous and the practices continued indeed, the Jesuits argued that conversion would be impossible without them. 39 Dolu also had scientific interests. Dolu was eighty when Hume arrived at La Flèche. He had been shaped during a period in the mid to late seventeenth century, when the Jesuits were close to the forefront of intellectual and scientific progress. 40 The Jesuit members of the two Siamese embassies were closely tied to the Royal Academy of Science in Paris. King Nair, like the Kang Xi Emperor, had specifically requested European mathematical and astronomical advice. Two of the members of the 1685 Siamese embassy, Jean Fontaney and Joachim Bouvet, went on to China where they became distinguished mathematicians and astronomers and scientific advisors to the Emperor. (Fontaney also later was a rector of La Flèche and Bouvet had been educated there.) 41 Fontaney and Dolu corresponded, and in 1703 Dolu sent a pound of quinine to Fontaney to treat the ailing emperor. 42 According to the Mercure de France, which excitedly chronicled the second embassy, the fourteen Jesuits of the 1687 expedition were selected from over 150 candidates, 43 and they were explicitly chosen for their scientific talent. They were named as official Mathematicians to the King. They brought a 12-foot and 6-foot telescope to the Siamese palace, observed a lunar eclipse, and planned to build an observatory. 44 Their astronomical observations were coordinated with the Academy. 45 La Loubere s book includes an analysis by Cassini, the Royal Astronomer, of Siamese astronomical observations that the Jesuits had collected 46 and Cassini also coordinated the observations. 47 Thomas Gouye published the Jesuits reports to the Academy in Gouye includes general reports of the Jesuits findings and specific scientific reports by several of the members of the embassy, especially Jean Richaud. Volume 35, Number 1&2, 2
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