A standard model of human practical reasoning is the belief-desire-intention model of action.

Very simply put: The agent has a desire (“I want to be a doctor”) and a set of beliefs (“Studying medicine will get me there”) on the basis of which s/he forms an intention to act in a certain way (“I’ll study hard and try to get in to medical school”). When you ask a person, the intention and the desire is what the person refers to as her or his reasons for doing (and not doing) what s/he does. F.ex. staying home and reading instead of going to the pub.

Does Buddhism have a model of practical rationality that can be extracted on the basis of canonical texts? And if so, is the Buddhist practical rationality model normative (what's beneficial/not beneficial) or descriptive, based on the agents subjective rationality like the belief-desire-intention model of action?

Here is more on the model (as ascribed to D. Davidson, the idea is pretty much all over western philosophy and goes goes back - hold fast! - to Plato).

  • Maybe you could add an external reference/source to this "belief-desire-intention model of action". That would make it easier for the reader to quickly gather the information needed. Do you know how to add links to text-body?
    – user2424
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:31
  • Great. I edited the post and added the reference. If you press the little metal "clip" when your writing a post, then you can add links with text to your post.
    – user2424
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:53
  • 1
    Ok, thanks! Does that work on app too? Or maybe that's a question for meta? Dec 4, 2015 at 18:55
  • Good question, I do not know. I rarely use the app, since I don't like the mobile-interface. That would indeed be a good meta-question.
    – user2424
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:56

3 Answers 3


the belief-desire-intention model of action

Are the "four noble truths" an example of that?

  • I "believe" the first three truths
  • I "desire" the end of suffering
  • Therefore I "intend" the fourth noble truth

Or "ethics":

  • I believe that immorality causes or doesn't alleviate suffering
  • I wish to avoid causing suffering
  • Therefore I intend to avoid immorality

Or "compassion":

  • I believe I am able to suffer (and want to avoid that)
  • I believe other people are like me (able to suffer and wanting to avoid that)
  • Therefore I intend other people to be free from suffering

the idea is pretty much all over western philosophy and goes back - hold fast! - to Plato

Have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I liked it. I'd rather not spoiler it but I was remembering it earlier today: towards the climax (which isn't at the end of the book), he goes back to Homer and the Sophists. He quite loses his cool over Aristotle, which is funny at the time, sadder later.

  • I like that perspective. That answer, I'll really take with me on the way Dec 5, 2015 at 21:14

The pattern you can see repeated over and over in Pali Suttas, is Buddha saying: "there is a case" when someone does X - then later it can be expected the result Y will follow. Much of Buddha's guidance takes form of such statements, "this is how things usually work out".

In some other suttas Buddha says "having a belief Z will help towards Y because it will motivate the person to do X".

-- These two are what you call "descriptive", right?

In some other suttas Buddha simply talks about wholesome/unwholesome behavior without connecting it to goals.

-- These seemingly appear to be what you call "normative" - however I think they are really just implicitly descriptive. It is just that the goals and beliefs are implied, depending on the type of the audience. He implies either the layman goal of happy/enjoyable living or the recluse's goal of attaining the final Enlightenment/Liberation/Nirvana.

Finally, in some other sutta Buddha says "ABC is a valid goal too, but Y is the highest goal, the ultimate goal".

-- This clearly looks like a normative kind of statement.

So, it looks like the Buddhist model of rationality is almost completely descriptive with the exception of the (normative) superiority of Enlightenment over all other goals. Besides the Enlightenment, which seems to be the didactic implant, most of the rest of Buddhism is highly descriptive:

Moggallana and Sariputta stayed with Sanjaya for some years, leading the life of wandering ascetics, but they were not really satisfied with what they were learning from their teacher. After a while they decided to split up and each go their own way in search for truth, promising that the first to find it should tell the other. One day, as Sariputta was walking through Rajagaha, he saw a monk and was deeply impressed by the grace and poise with which he moved and the calm happy expression on his face. The monk happened to be Assaji, one of the [first five] Buddha's disciples. Sariputta asked him:

"Who is your teacher?" and Assaji replied, "Friend, there is a great ascetic, a son of the Sakyans, who went forth from the Sakyan clan. It is because of this Lord that I have gone forth. This Lord is my teacher, I accept this Lord's Dharma."

"What doctrine does your teacher teach? What does he point to?"
"Friend, I am a beginner, I have only just gone forth, I am new in this Dharma and discipline. I cannot teach the Dharma in full, but I will tell you its essence."

"So be it, your reverence, tell me little or tell me much, but either way give me its essence, I just want the essence. There is no need for great elaboration."

So Assaji said: "Those things that proceed from a cause, of those things the Tathagata has told the cause. And that which is their stopping, of that the great recluse also has a doctrine."


Yes there is...

Buddhist point of view on daily life and goals established by an individual is quite simple.

  • For example

Sue likes to be a doctor one day,she study hard and do her best to become a doctor.

Here,Sue (our hypothetical student) is in the mindset to become a Doctor. She works hard for it.

But is there anything wrong with that?

No, Because as to Lord Buddha one must choose a path, he or she must choose a life (Monk or Civilian). The monk must work hard to reach his goal,Nirvana, And the Civilian must work extra hard to reach good living conditions and Nirvana.

So clearly the point is.....

It is alright to have goals on life but one mustn't be driven by them.Being a Buddhist is not about sitting all day wishing treasures to fall on lap, If you chose a normal life you must live it as to the teaching meantime focusing on your personal goals.

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