Hume and Cushman: Self, Empty Self, and Modern Psychology

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The discussion of identity and its role in understanding and interacting with the environment is a subject of numerous philosophies. David Hume is a historian, economist, and philosopher of the Enlightenment period, who contributed to the debates around the concept of the self. According to this philosopher, people are motivated by feelings rather than logical reasoning, which contradicts the widely accepted opinion that reasoning should guide the decisions. Hume (2004) argued that people experience the constant combination of events, while believing that they are aware of causal relationships between them. In other words, it is passion that stimulates people, and rationality cones next to support the ideas of passion. In this paper, it is aimed to discuss the notion of self by Hume (2004), as well as its impact on modern psychology and the concept of the empty self by Cushman (1990).

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According to Hume (2004), the entire content of the mind can be reduced to a set of elementary sensations. A sequence of separate sensations was found in thinking, while the ideas were perceived as feeble copies of impressions of individuals. The general feeling arose from the fact that the successive appearances of objects were connected in time in such a way that they could identify a single object that could persist despite external changes and demonstrate the identity of its sensory properties. Likewise, the consistency of the self in the mind was maintained by the spiritual unity of the soul in which they arise. Hume (2004) proposed his seemingly destructive philosophy of mind. When the philosopher first raised the issue of identity, he stated that there are some philosophers who imagine that people are internally aware of what we call our Self and that they feel the continuity of their existence. In turn, the author called for the reconsideration of the factors that motivate people.

The theoretical and empirical literature on emotional capitalism has made sense of the close links between rationality as the foundation of modernism, capitalist economics, and Western psychology (Cushman, 1990; Hume, 2004). An important product and necessary research base for this emotional capitalism is the therapeutic self. This self model is formed and supported by cultural technologies, especially those that make up popular culture, media, and self-help literature. In particular, Hume (2004) stated that not all feelings are acceptable, and it is critical to learn more patient, benevolent, and closer to the self. The ways to achieve these goals included encouragement, good examples, and sympathy. Accordingly, these are the ethical principles and agendas that are formulated for contemporary psychology. Social workers, counselors, psychologists, and psychotherapists try to inspire their clients to recognize and accept their feelings instead of avoiding or suppressing them.

In terms of common sense, Hume (2004) can be identified as a skeptic who denied the existence of the core self, believing that people are only a collection of different perceptions that constantly change. For example, it is the perception that defines whether the weather is cold or hot, but there is no enduring identity in the context of the entire life. At the same time, the philosopher proposed that some common sense ideas work, which makes them popular and useful. One’s experience was called the key source of knowledge that is applicable to a certain reality. In modern psychology, it is also stated that despite common sense perceptions, a person’s unique experience determines his or her behaviors and attitudes (Hume, 2004). Therefore, it is possible to claim that Hume’s ideas of personal identity informed the foundation of the contemporary idea of the self. For example, psychologists insist that it is normal when a person passes through several stages of self-identification since changes are inevitable across the life.

According to the view of Cushman (1990), there is the emergence of the empty self, which means a lack of shared meaning, traditions, and the absence of community. As stated by this author, the post-World War II period in the US is characterized by the increased attention to the outside environment, while interiority lacks personal conviction. Cushman (1990) believes that psychotherapy has found a niche for at least some useful application. The author sees this niche in the same lifestyle as a solution that made advertising one of the main life-creating forces of modern society. Psychotherapy practices fine-tune the empty self of the era by unknowingly allowing or encouraging patients to incorporate the therapist’s personality traits, including his or her manners, behaviors, and personal values (Cushman, 1990). Advertising uses lifestyle as a solution to sell products, while psychotherapy uses it to initiate patients into alternative cultural practices.

Most of the officially published psychotherapeutic rhetoric on the topic of objective disclosure and elaboration of traumatic causality within the self-closed individual is a product that has value only within the corporate-closed world of dissertations and blinkered thinking. The best case for real-life processes in a psychologist’s office is for the patient to face a model of behavior and thinking in the person of a helping specialist that provides a corrective emotional experience of caring, respect, and understanding. It makes the client aware of healthy ideas, values, ​​and a constructive personal style of the therapist. Thus, not only the disclosure or understanding of trauma and deformation takes place, as emphasized by Cushman (1990), but also processes and functions like modeling, guiding, and relatedness are integrated. In fact, they are the primary factors in the healing aspects of a modern psychologic session.

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By unconsciously offering the therapist’s personal values ​​and behaviors as a role model and incorporation into the patient’s empty self, psychotherapy actually functions as a substitute for more explicit, institutionalized forms of cultural transformations. The most important function of modern psychology is, therefore, offering alternative attitudes towards life, including trust and hope. The alternative cultural values involve respect for the feelings of the individual and the importance of understanding, empathy, and psychological insight, as well as alternative social practices, such as listening to others, honesty, and assertiveness. According to Cushman (1990), the most effective healing response to the problems of the modern individual is social and cultural reforms that would allow the individuals to fill themselves with long-term social meanings and values ​​that remain pivotal for future generations. It is critical to note that the bottom line is that the consultant has to draw and link the client’s empty self, which has damages and deficits, to some bearable niche for applying individual patches and restoring frames.

The assumptions of Hume (2004) regarding the self and the ideas of Cushman (1990) on the empty self are quite connected to each other. Namely, one can consider these two issues in terms of morality that was discussed as a social construct, the importance of which refers not only to personality but also the relationships with others. Speaking about morality, Cushman (1990) notes that with the new period after the war, there was a shift from moral integrity as a religious feature to becoming liked by others. Instead of doing morality, attention was given to gaining the approval of the surrounding people, which is another factor that made the self empty. In turn, Hume (2004) seems to impact the above assumptions of Cushman (1990) since the focus of the self should have been received from a set of good habits, not the social acceptance and appreciation. While media and environment in general motivate people to become rationally good, it is stated that decency, sympathy, and good manners should be taught from the childhood.

Synthesizing the ideas of the two discussed authors, it can be concluded that according to their opinions, the self is dynamic across one’s life. It is impacted by a great variety of factors and external factors, being a subject of perception. In terms of contemporary psychology, Hume (2004) and Cushman (1990) significantly contributed to the works with clients’ feelings in traumatic cases and situations when a person struggles to understand himself or herself. In particular, the approach with which a psychologist should listen to and consult clients should integrate pity, benevolence, gentleness, and empathy, serving as professional qualities. At the same time, to better understand one’s self, a person should accept that it is flexible and that feelings and passion should not be underestimated. While paying attention only to rationality, there is a threat to leaving the self empty for the entire life.


Hume, D. (2004). A treatise of human nature. Dover Publications.

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Cushman, P. (1990). Why the self is empty: Toward a historically situated psychology. American Psychologist, 45(5), 599-611.

The School of Life. (2016). Philosophy: David Hume [Video]. YouTube. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Hume and Cushman: Self, Empty Self, and Modern Psychology'. 1 February.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Hume and Cushman: Self, Empty Self, and Modern Psychology." February 1, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Hume and Cushman: Self, Empty Self, and Modern Psychology." February 1, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Hume and Cushman: Self, Empty Self, and Modern Psychology." February 1, 2022.