, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 149–163 | Cite as

Reason, Irrationality and Akrasia (Weakness of the Will) in Buddhism: Reflections upon Śāntideva’s Arguments with Himself

  • Tom J. F. Tillemans


Let it be granted that Buddhism has, e.g., in its logical literature, detailed canons and explicit rules of right reason that, amongst other things, ban inconsistency as irrational. This is the normative dimension of how people should think according to many major Buddhist authors. But do important Buddhist writers ever recognize any interesting or substantive role for inconsistency and forms of irrationality in their account of how people actually do think and act? The article takes as its point of departure a recurring theme in the writings of the 8th Century Indian Buddhist thinker, Śāntideva, who subjects his own behaviour and thought to minute scrutiny in argumentation with himself, only to be puzzled at his own seemingly irrational persistence in ways of thinking that he knows to be wrong and actions that he knows to be worse courses. The Buddhist’s situation is profitably comparable to issues of akrasia, weakness of the will, that are taken up by Plato, Aristotle and many modern philosophers, including notably Donald Davidson and David Wiggins.


Śāntideva Dharmakīrti Akrasia Inconsistency Rationality Ethics 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Oriental Languages and CulturesUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland

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