Anomie’s Eastern origins: The Buddha’s indirect influence on Durkheim’s understanding of desire and suffering

European Journal of Social Theory 19 (3):355-373 (2016)
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Durkheim’s claim in Suicide that humanity’s ‘inextinguishable thirst’ causes suffering was adopted from Arthur Schopenhauer’s argument that the will-to-live’s ‘unquenchable thirst’ causes suffering, which was previously adopted from the Buddha’s argument that ‘ceaselessly recurring thirst’ causes suffering. This article retraces this demonstrable though seemingly unlikely history of ideas and reveals that the philosophical underpinnings of Durkheim’s theory of anomie are rooted, through Schopenhauer, whose thought influenced many thinkers during the Neo-Romantic fin de siècle period, including Durkheim, in the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth – a doctrine made available to Schopenhauer in European translations of Buddhist texts during the previous turn of the century’s ‘Oriental Renaissance’. By achieving a more thorough understanding of the ambiguous concept of anomie through its Eastern intellectual origins, this project shows that the common conceptualization of anomie as ‘normlessness’ is inconsequential without presupposing that humans thirst and unconstrained thirst causes pain.



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Orientalism.Edward Said - 1979 - Vintage.
India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding.Wilhelm Halbfass - 1988 - State University of New York Press.
The Philosophy of Schopenhauer.Bryan Magee - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
Schopenhauer: A Biography.David E. Cartwright - 2010 - Cambridge University Press.

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