Nyaya Theory of Knowledge

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Item Code: NAF778
Author: S.C. Chatterjee
Publisher: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9788180901461
Pages: 381
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The book is composed of Nyaya theory and its various factors such as pramana, doubt (Samsya), error (Viparyyaya), hypothetical argument (tarka), etc.

Definition of valid knowledge (prama), Parmana (method of knowledge), Nyaya criticism of the Bauddha views of pramana, Nyaya criticism of the Nimamsa and Sankhya views, subject, object and method of valid knowledge, test of truth, Buddhist, Jaina, Prabhakara, Vedanta and Nyaya definitions of perception are also explained in detail in the book.

The book also talks about ordinary perception, extraordinary perception, nature and definition of anumana (inference), grounds of inference, classification and logical forms of inference, fallacies of inference, etc.

Upamana (comparison), its Nyaya definition, Jaina, Mimamsa, Vedanta views of Upamana, its classification, and Upaman as an independent source of knowledge are other aspects of the book with sufficient light thrown upon them.

The book also deals with Sabda (testimony), its Nyaya definition and different kinds, along with sounds and words and unity of words and the hypothesis of sphota.

In essence, the book touches almost every aspect of Nyaya theory. And, the order and presentation of matter in the book also contribute to make the book worth reading.


The history of Indian Philosophy is a record of many different forms and types of philosophical thought. There is hardly any system in the history of Western Philosophy which has not its parallel in one or other of the systems of Indian philosophy. But of the Indian systems, the Vedanta has received the greatest attention and it has sometimes passed as the only Indian system worth the name. This is but natural. The Vedanta with its sublime idealism has an irresistible appeal to the moral and religious nature of man. It has been, and will ever remain, a stronghold of spiritualism in life and philosophy. It is like one of "the great living wells, which keep the freshness of the eternal, and at which man must rest, get his breath, refresh himself." "The paragon of all monistic systems," says William James, "is the Vedanta philosophy of Hindustan." Although we have not such a sublime monism in the Nyaya, yet its contribution to philosophy is not really inferior in any way. In fact, the other systems-the Vedanta not excepted-have been greatly influenced by its logical and dialectical technicalities. In their later developments all the systems consider the Naiyayika as the most powerful opponent and try to satisfy his objections. The understanding of their arguments and theories presupposes, therefore, the knowledge of the Nyaya.

As a system of a realism, the Nyaya deserves special study to show that Idealism was not the only philosophical creed of ancient India. Then, as a system which contains a thorough refutation of the other schools, it should be studied before one accepts the validity of other views, if only to ascertain how far those views can satisfy the acid test of the Nyaya criticisms and deserve to be accepted. But above all, as a thorough going realistic view of the universe, it supplies an important Eastern parallel to the triumphant modern Realism of the West, and contains the anticipations as well as possible alternatives of many contemporary realistic theories. The importance of the Nyaya is, therefore, as great for the correct understanding of ancient Indian philosophy, as for the evaluation of modem Western Philosophy.

The theory of knowledge is the most important part-in fact, the very foundation of the Nyaya system. This book is an attempt to give a complete account of the Nyaya theory of knowledge. It is a study of the Nyaya theory of knowledge in comparison with the rival theories of other systems, Indian and Western, and a critical estimation of its worth. Though theories of knowledge of the Vedanta and other schools have been partially studied in this way by some, there has as yet been no such systematic, critical and comparative treatment of the Nyaya epistemology. The importance of such a study of Indian realistic theories of knowledge can scarcely be overrated in this modem age of Realism.

The scope of the book is limited to the history of the Nyaya philosophy beginning with the Nyaya-Sutra of Gautama and ending with the syncretic works of Annam Bhatta, Visvanatha and others. It does not, however, concern itself directly with the historical development of the Nyaya. There are ample evidences to show that Nyaya as an art of reasoning is much older that the Nyaya-Sutra. We find references to such an art under the names of Nyaya and vakovakya in some of the early Upanisads like the Chandogya (vii. 1.2) and the Subala (ii). It is counted among the upangas or subsidiary parts of the Veda (vide Caranavyitha, ii; Nyaya-Sutra- Vrtti 1.1.1). It is mentioned under the names of anviksiki and tarkasastra in some of the oldest chapters of the Mahabharata (vide sabha, anusasana and santi parvas). We need not multiply such references. Those here given show that the Nyaya as an art or science of reasoning existed in India long before the time of Gautama, the author of the Nyaya-Sutra. As a matter of fact, it has been admitted by Vatsyayana, Uddyotakara, Jayanta Bhatta and others that Gautama was not so much the founder of the Nyaya as its chief exponent who first gave an elaborate and systematic account of an already existing branch of knowledge, called Nyaya, in the form of sutras or aphorisms. It is in these sutras that the Nyaya was developed into a realistic philosophy on a logical basis. What was so long mere logic or an art of debate became a theory of the knowledge of reality. It is for this reason that the present work is based on the Nyaya-Sutra and its main commentaries.

So far as the account of the ancient Nyaya is concerned, my sources of information are mainly the Nyaya-Sutra, Nyaya-Byaya-Bhasya, Nyayavarttika Nyayavarttikataparyatika, Tatpryaparisuddhi, Nyayamanjari and Nyayasutravrtti. In my account of the modern and syncretist schools of the Nyaya, I have mainly made use of Gangesa’s Tattvacintamani with the commentary of Mathuranatha, Jagadisa’s Tarkamrta, Annam Bhatta’s Tarkasamgraha and Dipika, Varadaraja’s Tarkikaraksa,Kesava Misra’s Tarkabhasa and Visvanathas’ karikavali with Siddhantamuktavali and Dinakari. I have also consulted several English expositions of Indian Philosophy, like D. Jha’s Nyaya Philosophy of Gautama, Sir B. N. Seal’s Positive Sciences of the Ancient Hindus, Sir S. Radhakrishna’s Indian Philosophy, Dr. D.M. Datta’s Six Ways of knowing, Professor Keith’s Indian Logic and Atomism, Dr. S. N. Dasgupta’s History of Indian Philosophy, and MM. Kuppusvami sastri’s A Primer of Indian Logic. My indebtedness to these and other works has been indicated by footnotes in the proper places.

The method of exposition adopted in the book is comparative and critical. I have always tried to explain and develop the ideas and theories of Indian philosophy in terms of the corresponding ideas and concepts of Western Philosophy. The great danger of this is the tendency to read, consciously or unconsciously, Western ideas into Indian philosophy. I have taken all possible care to guard against the imposition of foreign ideas on the genuine thoughts and concepts of Indian philosophy. As a general rule, the different parts of the Nyaya theory of knowledge have been first explained and compared with those of the other systems of Indian philosophy. For the sake of completeness, the Indian theories have sometimes been elaborated in such details as to give one the impression of prolixity. I have then undertaken a discussion of the Indian views from the standpoint of Western philosophy. No attempt has been made to affiliate the Indian views with parallel views in Western philosophy. Such an attempt cannot surely do justice to the originality and individuality of Indian thought. While bringing out the points of agreement between Indian and Western philosophy, their difference and distinction have not been ignored and passed over. I have not been able to support or justify the Indian theories on all points. It has been found necessary to modify them in some places and supplement them in the light of Western philosophy. At the same time, I have duly emphasised the special contributions of Indian philosophy towards the solution of the problems of knowledge discussed in Western philosophy.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude first to the late lamented Professor Henry Stephen, of revered memory, who by his life and teaching made the study of Western philosophy popular among Indian students and infused into my youthful mind the spirit of an intensive philosophical study. I have also to acknowledge my indebtedness to Sir B.N. Seal, who was a versatile genius and an eminent authority in Indian and Western philosophy, and from whom I received great inspiration and valuable guidance in the early days of my researches in Indian philosophy. I have to express further my deep sense of gratitude to Professor K.C. Bhattacharya, a profound thinker and astute metaphysician, who for some time held the George V Chair of Philosophy in the Calcutta University. It was my proud privilege to sit at his feet, and discuss and clear up some of the abstruse problems of logic and philosophy treated in this book. I have to acknowledge with thanks the great help I have received from MM. Pandit Sitaram sastri, of the Calcutta University, while studying some original works of the Nyaya philosophy.

I have to express further my most grateful thanks to the great savant, Sir S. Radhakrishnan, George V Professor of Philosophy, Calcutta University, and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, Oxford University, for the constant encouragement, help and guidance I have received from him in completing this work. My thanks are also due to my esteemed friend and talented writer, Dr. D.M. Datta of the Patna College, for reading considerable parts of the manuscript and for making valuable suggestions.


The Nyaya philosophy is primarily concerned with the conditions of valid thought and the means of acquiring a true knowledge of objects. Nyaya as a science lays down the rules and methods that are essentially necessary for a clear and precise understanding of all the materials of our knowledge as these are derived from observation and authority. With this end in view, the science of Nyaya deals with all the processes and methods that are involved, either directly or indirectly, in the right and consistent knowledge of reality. That this is so appears clearly from the common use of the word anviksiki as a synonym for the Nyayasastra. The name anviksiki means the science of the processes and methods of a reasoned and systematic knowledge of objects, supervening on a vague understanding of them on the basis of mere perception and uncriticised testimony. In other words, it is the science of an analytic and reflective knowledge of objects in continuation of and as an advance on the unreflective general knowledge in which we are more receptive than critical. It is the mediated knowledge of the contents of faith, feeling and intuition. Accordingly, Nyaya (literally meaning methodical study) may be described as the science of the methods and conditions of valid thought and true knowledge of objects. In a narrow sense, however, Nyaya is taken to mean the syllogistic type of inference, consisting of five propositions called its members or constituents.

It should, however, be remarked here that the epistemological problem as to the methods and conditions of valid knowledge is neither the sole nor the ultimate concern of the Nyaya philosophy. Its ultimate end, like that of the other systems of Indian philosophy, is liberation, which is the summum bonum of our life. This highest good is conceived by the Nyaya as a state of pure existence which is free from both pleasure and pain. For the attainment of the highest end of our life, a true knowledge of objects is the sure and indispensable means. Hence, it is that the problem of knowledge finds an important place in the Nyaya philosophy.

But an enquiry into the conditions of valid thought and the methods of valid knowledge presupposes an account of the nature and forms of cognition or knowledge in general. It requires us also to consider the nature and method of valid knowledge in general and the nature and test of truth or validity in particular. Hence the preliminary questions that arise in the Nyaya theory of knowledge. are: What is cognition or knowledge as such? What are its different forms? What is valid knowledge? What is meant by a method of valid knowledge in general? What do we mean by truth or validity? What is the test of truth, the measure of true knowledge, the standard of validity? What are the constituents or factors of valid knowledge?

It is a matter of historical interest to note here that, among other things, the problems of knowledge in general and those of the methods of valid knowledge in particular were brought home to the Naiyayikas by the Buddhists and other sceptical thinkers of ancient India in the course of their scathing criticism of the realistic philosophy of Gautama.' They set at naught almost the whole of the Nyaya philosophy as an edifice built on sand. The Nyaya teaches that the highest good is attainable only through the highest knowledge. But the theory of knowledge in it is a vicious circle. It take upon itself the futile task of Kant's first Critique where he examines reason in order to prove the validity of thought and reason. "If it is the business of Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason to show how mathematics is possible, whose business is it to show how the Critique of Pure Reason itself is possible?'" With regard to the Nyaya theory of knowledge a similar question is asked by the Bauddha critics. It is pointed out by them that a criticism of knowledge must be made by the instrument under criticism and there by presupposes the very thing in question. Thus the validity of knowledge is made to rest on the validity of the methods of knowledge. To maintain that our knowledge is true we must prove that it is really so, that it is derived from a valid method of knowledge which always gives us true knowledge and never leads to a false result. But, then, how are we to know the validity of that method of knowledge? From the nature of the case, the task is an impossible intellectual feat.

With regard to the knowledge of validity there are two possible alternatives. The validity of knowledge may be cognised by itself, i.e. be self-cognised. Or, the validity of one knowledge may be cognised by some other knowledge. The first alternative that knowledge cognises its own validity is inadmissible. Knowledge, according to the Nyaya, cognises objects that are distinct from and outside of itself. It cannot turn back on itself and cognise its own existence, far less its own validity. Hence, no knowledge can be the test of its own truth. The second alternative, that the validity of any knowledge is tested by some other knowledge, is not less objectionable. The second knowledge cansat best cognise the first as an object to itself, i.e. as a particular existent. It cannot go beyond it object, namely, the first knowledge, and see if it truly corresponds with Its own object. An act of knowledge having another for its object cognises the mere existence of the other as a cognitive fact. It cannot know the further fact of its truth or falsity. Moreover of the two of cases of knowledge, the second, which knows the first, is as helpless as the first in the matter of its own validity. It cannot exhypothesi, be the evidence of its own validity. Hence, so long as the validity of the second knowledge is not proved, it cannot taken to validate any other knowledge. It cannot be said that the second has self-evident validity, so that we do not want any proof of it. This means that one knowledge, of which the validity is self evident, is the evidence for the validity of another. But if the truth of one knowledge can be self-evident, why not that of another? Hence, if the second knowledge has self-evident validity, there is nothing to prevent the first from having the same sort of self evidence. As a matter of fact, however, all knowledge has validity only in so far as it is tested and proved by independent grounds Truth cannot, therefore, be self-evident in any knowledge. If, by such arguments, the validity of knowledge itself is mad incomprehensible, there can be no possibility of assuring ourselves of the validity of the methods of knowledge, such as perception inference and the rest. The value and accuracy of a method of knowledge are to be known from the validity of the knowledge derived from it. It follows from this that if the validity of knowledge is unknowable, that of its method is far more unknowable. Hence we are involved in a vicious circle; the validity of knowledge depends on the validity of the method of acquiring such knowledge, while the validity of the methods is to be tested by the knowledge derived from them. As Hobhouse puts the matter: "Our methods create and test out knowledge, while it; s only attained knowledge that can test them.'? It is the contention of the Bauddha critics that the Nyaya theory of knowledge is involved in such circular reasoning in the attempt to prove the validity of knowledge. This contention, if admitted, renders the Nyaya philosophy utterly worthless. It becomes a hopeless attempt to realise the highest good by means of the highest knowledge which is impossible.

It was with the object of meeting the difficulties raised by its critics that the old Nyaya entered on a critical study of the problems of knowledge in its relation to reality. After Vatsyayana's first elaborate exposition of Gautama's Nyiiya-Sutra, his worthy successors had to defend the Nyaya against renewed attacks. They discussed both the logical and metaphysical problems more fully and also many other questions of general philosophical interest. The result is a fully developed and complete system of philosophy.

The modern school of the Nyaya, beginning with Gangesa, attempts to give greater precision to the thoughts of the old school. It lays almost exclusive emphasis on its theory of knowledge. The forms and concepts invented by it give the Nyaya the appearance of a symbolic logic. The old theory of knowledge is a criticism of thought as related to the real world of things. It is more empirical and practical, and it tries to discover the relations between reals. The modern theory becomes more formal or conceptual. It tries to find out the relations of meanings and concepts. It develops into a formal logic of relations between concepts and their determinants. The old Nyaya gives us what may be called philosophical logic, while the modern Nyaya is formal logic and dialectic.

The Syncretist school develops the Nyaya further by incorporating the Vaisesika theory within it. The categories of the Vaisesika become a part of the objects of knowledge (prameya) in the Nyaya. But this synthesis of the Nyaya and the Vaisesika does not ignore their differences with regard to the theory of knowledge. One is as severe as the other in its criticism of the opposed logical theories.

The Nyaya theory of knowledge is the cumulative body of the logical studies and their results in the different schools of the Nyaya. It may be said to have three aspects: the psychological, the logical and the philosophical. The first is concerned with the descriptive analysis of the facts of knowledge. The second is interested especially in the criticism of the forms and methods of knowledge. The third is an attempt to determine the final validity of knowledge as an understanding of reality. These aspects of the Nyaya epistemology, however, are not to be found in abstract separation from one another. In the next chapter we shall have to discuss the mainly psychological question as to the nature and forms of knowledge.


Chapter-1 Nature and Forms of Knowledge 1
1. Definition of Knowledge (Buddhi) 1
2. Classification of Knowledge 11
3. Memory and Dream 14
4. Doubt (Samsaya) 19
5. Error (Viparyyaya) 23
6. Theories of Illusion in Indian Philosophy 24
7. Hypothetical Argument (Tarka) 34
Chapter II Valid Knowledge and its Method (Prama and Pramana) 40
1 Definition of Prama or Valid Knowledge 40
2 Definition of Pramana or the Method of Knowledge 43
3 Nyaya Criticism of the Bauddha Views of Pramana 46
4 Nyaya Criticism of the Mirnamsa and Sankhya Views 51
Chapter III Factors of Valid Knowledge (Prama) 59
1 The Subject, Object and Method of Valid Knowledge 59
2 Distinction of the Method from the Subject and Object of Valid Knowledge 62
Chapter IV Test of Truth and Error 66
1 The Problems and Alternative Solutions 66
2 The Nyaya Theory of Extrinsic Validity and Invalidity 67 67
3 Objections to the Theory Answered by the Nyaya 71 71
4 Criticism of the Sankhya View of Intrinsic Validity and Invalidity 78
5 Criticism of the Bauddha Theory of Intrinsic Invalidity and Extrinsic Validity 80
6 Criticism of Mimamsa Theory of Intrinsic Invalidity and Extrinsic Invalidity 81
7 Indian and Western Theories of Truth 89
II. Perception as a method of knowledge (Pratyaksa-Pramana)
Chapter -V Definition of Perception 100
1 Primacy of Perception over other Methods of Knowledge 100
2 The Buddhist Definition of Perception 103
3 The Jaina, Prabhakara and Vedanta Definitions of Perceptions 106
4 The Nyaya definitions of Perception 108
Chapter VI Psychology of Perception 116
1 The Senses (Indriya) 116
2 Function of the Senses 123
3 The Nature and Function of the Mind (Manas) 128
4 The Self and its Function in Perception 132
Chapter VII Ordinary Perception and its Objects 136
1 Different kinds of Perception and the Categories of Reality (Padartha) 136
2 Perception of Substances or Things (Dravya) 138
3 Perception of Attributes (Guna) and Actions (Karma) 143
4 The Universal (Samanya), Particularity (Visesa) and the Relation of Inherence (Samavaya) 148
5 Perception of Non- Existence (Abhava) 158
6 Internal Perception and its objects 165
Chapter VIII Three Modes of Ordinary Perception 172
1 Nirnikalpaka and Savikalpaka Perceptions 172
2 Recognition (Pratyabhijna) as a Mode of Perception 187
Chapter IX Extraordinary Perception (Alaukika Pratyaksa) 191
1 Samanyalaksana or the Perception of Classes 191
2 Jnanalaksana or Acquired Perception 200
3 Yogaja or Intuitive Perception 208
III Theory of Inference (Anumana-Pramana)
Chapter X Nature of Inference 211
1 Definition of Anumana or Inference 211
2 Distinction Between Perception and Inference 212
3 The Constituents of Inference 213
Chapter XI Grounds of Inference 218
The logical ground of Vyapti or Universal Relation 218
The Question of Petito Principii in inference 230
The Psychological Ground of Inference (Paksata) 232
Lingaparamarsa as the Immediate Cause of Inference 238
Chapter XII Classification and Logical Forms of Inference 242
Svartha and Parartha Inferences 242
Purvavat,Sesvat and Samanyatodrsta Inferences 243
Kevlanavayi,Kevala-vyatireki and Anvaya-vyatireki Inferences 245
The logical form of inference 249
Chapter XIII Fallacies of Inference 258
1 Distinction between a valid and an invalid reason 258
2 The Fallacy of Savyabhicara or the Irregular Middle 260
3 The Fallacy of Viruddha or the Contradictory Middle 262
4 The Fallacy of Prakaranasama or the Counteracted Middle 264
5 The Fallacy of Asiddha or the Unproved Middle 265
6 The Fallacy of Kalatita ad Badita or the Mistimed and Contradicted Middles 267
7 The Fallacies of Cala, Jati and Nigrahasthana 269
IV. Upraman or Comparison
Chapter XIV Nature and Forms of Upamana 273
The Nyaya Definitions of Upamana 273
The Jaina, Mimansa dn Vedanta Views of Upamana 275
The Classification of Upamana 279
Chapter XV Upamanaas an Independent source of Knowledge (Pramana) 282
Can Upaman Give us Any valid knowledge? 282
1 Can Upamana be reduced to any other pramana? 284
Conclusion 286
Chapter XVI Sabda or Testimony
Nature and Classification of Saba 289
The Nyaya Definition of Sabda and its Different Kinds 289
Other Systems on the Nature and Forms of Sabda 291
Chapter XVII Words (Pada) 294
Sounds and Words 294
Words and Their meanings 296
The import of words 300
The unity of words and The Hypothesis of Sphota 303
Chapter XVIII Sentences (Vakya) 307
The Construction of a Sentence 307
The Meaning of a Sentence 311
The Import of Sentences 315
Sabda as an Independent Source of knowledge 319
Chapter XIX Other Sources of Knowledge 328
Different views about the Ultimate Sources of Knowledge 328
Arthapatti or Postulation as a Source of knowledge 331
Abhava and Anupalabhdi as sources of Knowledge 337
Smrti or Memory as a Distinct Source of Knowledge 341
Summary and General Estimate of Nyaya Epistemology 346
Index 354
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