The Self in Buddhism and Western Philosophy (from Political Theory in Canonical Buddhism, by Matthew J. Moore, in Philosophy East and West, January 2015)
Yet, not surprisingly, the Western philosophical tradition contains several different strands of thought about the self, which are more or less close to the [no-self] Buddhist position. The view that is the furthest from the Buddhist no-self theory is the Greek and Christian idea that human beings are or posses selves, and that these selves are indestructible, immortal natural essences (i.e. souls). A view that takes one step toward the Buddhist position is the idea that human beings are or posses selves, but that these selves arise more-or-less contingently from the functioning of the body and/or mind. In this group we get thinkers like William James, who argues that the self is ultimately merely a way of talking about some aspects of the body, like Kant, who argues that the mind’s perception of a single, unified self is merely the logically necessary but empirically unverifiable corollary of the mind’s perception of external objects extended in space and time, and finally like the contemporary “embodied mind” school of thought [cf. embodied cognition], which builds off of phenomenology to suggest that our experience of being selves may be rooted in both bodily and cognitive processes. The closest that Western thinking about the self gets to the Buddhist perspective comes in the work of Hume, who suggests that the self is an illusion but one that we cannot get rid of, and Nietzsche, who suggests that the self is an illusion that we might turn to our own purposes. One influential line of contemporary Western thought (which roughly corresponds to “postmodernism”) has built on the insights of Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche to argue that identity is either largely or wholly contingent or constructed.
Given this range of ideas, we can see, first, that while the Buddhist no-self position goes further in one direction than any influential Westerm theory, there are similarities between the two traditions, and, second, that the Buddhist position extends one of the Western approaches to its logical conclusion. The anatta doctrine would not be shocking to Hume, Kant, or Nietzsche, though none of them would be prepared to embrace it, and it, at the same time, represents the logical next step for contemporary theories of the constructed and contingent nature of identity. Thus, the Buddhist theory is not so foreign that it could not enter into conversation with Western theories, and it presents the opportunity to extend more familiar theories in their natural direction of development. For both reasons, it is simultaneously distinct from Western theories and an appealing alternative (or supplement) to them. (this excerpt compiled by advayavada.org)