Nyaya Darshan – Indian Philosophy related with Logic and Epistemology

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A. (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Indian philosophy, the systems of thought and reflection that were developed by the civilizations of the Indian subcontinent, includes both orthodox (astika) systems, namely, theNyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva-Mimamsa (orMimamsa), and Vedanta schools of philosophy, and unorthodox (nastika) systems, such as Buddhism and Jainism. Indian thought has been concerned with various philosophical problems, significant among which are the nature of the world (cosmology), the nature of reality(metaphysics), logic, the nature of knowledge (epistemology), ethics, and the philosophy of religion.

The first of the “Brahmanical” systems in the logical order of Indian thought (for their chronological order is uncertain, and they are in all essentials contemporary) is a body of logical theory extending over two millenniums. Nyaya means an argument, a way of leading the mind to a conclusion. One of the six DARSHANS (orthodox systems) of Indian philosophy, important for its analysis of logic and epistemology and for its detailed model of the reasoning method of inference. Like other darshans, Nyaya is both a philosophy and a religion; its ultimate concern is to bring an end to human suffering, which results from ignorance of reality Nyaya, one of the six orthodox systems (darshana) of Indian philosophy, important for its analysis of logic and epistemology. The major contribution of the Nyaya system is its working out in profound detail the reasoning method of inference.

The term “nyāya” ( Sanskrit: “Rule” or “Method”)  traditionally had the meaning “formal reasoning,” though in later times it also came to be used for reasoning in general, and by extension, the legal reasoning of traditional Indian law courts. Opponents of the Nyāya school of philosophy frequently reduce it to the status of an arm of Hindu philosophy devoted to questions of logic and rhetoric. While reasoning is very important to Nyāya, this school also had important things to say on the topic of epistemology, theology and metaphysics, rendering it a comprehensive and autonomous school of Indian philosophy.

The Nyāya school of Hindu philosophy has had a long and illustrious history,it belongs to the category of Astika Darshanas. It is important to know that Astika Darshanas realize the significance of verbal testimony or the authority of the Vedas. The founder of this school is the sage Gautama (2nd cent. C.E.)—not to be confused with the Buddha, who on many accounts had the name “Gautama” as well. He is also called Akshapada.  Nyāya went through at least two stages in the history of Indian philosophy. At an earlier, purer stage, proponents of Nyāya sought to elaborate a philosophy that was distinct from contrary darśanas. At a later stage, some Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika authors (such as Śaṅkara-Misra, 15th cent. C.E.) became increasingly syncretistic and viewed their two schools as sister darśanas. As well, at the latter stages of the Nyāya tradition, the philosopher Gaṅgeśa (14th cent. C.E.) narrowed the focus to the epistemological issues discussed by the earlier authors, while leaving off metaphysical matters and so initiated a new school, which came to be known as Navya Nyāya, or “New” Nyāya. Our focus will be mainly on classical, non-syncretic, Nyāya.

The metaphysics that pervades the Nyāya texts is both realistic and pluralistic. On the Nyāya view the plurality of reasonably believed things exist and have an identity independently of their contingent relationship with other objects. This applies as much to mundane objects, as it does to the self, and God. The ontological model that appears to pervade Nyāya metaphysical thinking is that of atomism, the view that reality is composed of indecomposable simples (cf. Nyāya-Sūtra IV.2.4.16).

Like all Hindu thinkers, Gautama announces, as the purpose of his work, the achievement of Nirvana, or release from the tyranny of desire, here to be reached by clear and consistent thinking; but we suspect that his simple intent was to offer a guide to the perplexed wrestlers in India’s philosophical debates. He formulates for them the principles of argument, exposes the tricks of controversy, and lists the common fallacies of thought.

The Nyāya’s acceptance of both arguments from analogy and testimony as means of knowledge, allows it to accomplish two theological goals. First, it allows Nyāya to claim that the Veda’s are valid owing to the reliability of their transmitters (Nyāya-Sūtra II.1.68). Secondly, the acceptance of arguments from analogy allows the Nyāya philosophers to forward a natural theology based on analogical reasoning. Specifically, the Nyāya tradition is famous for the argument that God’s existence can be known for (a) all created things resemble artifacts, and (b) just as every artifact has a creator, so too must all of creation have a creator (Udayanācārya and Haridāsa Nyāyālaṃkāra I.3-4).

Its most famous text is the Nyaya Sutra. The sutras are divided into five chapters, each with two sections.  , 10 ahnikas and 528 sutras.  It accepts 4 pramanas and 16 padarthas.According to Nyaya, midhya jnana (nescience) causes sansara and tatva jnana (gnosis) brings liberation.The work begins with a statement of the subject matter, the purpose, and the relation of the subject matter to the attainment of that purpose. The ultimate purpose is salvation—i.e., complete freedom from pain—and salvation is attained by knowledge of the 16 categories: hence the concern with these categories, which are means of valid knowledge (pramana); objects of valid knowledge (prameya); doubt (samshaya); purpose (prayojana); example (drishtanta); conclusion (siddhanta); the constituents of a syllogism (avayava); argumentation (tarka); ascertainment (nirnaya); debate (vada); disputations (jalpa); destructive criticism (vitanda); fallacy (hetvabhasa); quibble (chala); refutations (jati); and points of the opponent’s defeat (nigrahasthana).

Nyāya’s treatment of logical and rhetorical issues, particularly in the Nyāya Sūtra, consists in an extended inventory acceptable and unacceptable argumentation. Nyāya is often depicted as primarily concerned with logic, but it is more accurately thought of as being concerned with argumentation.

The words knowledge, buddhi, and consciousness are used synonymously. Four means of valid knowledge are admitted: perception, inference, comparison, and verbal testimony. Perception is defined as the knowledge that arises from the contact of the senses with the object, which is nonjudgmental, or unerring or judgmental. Inference is defined as the knowledge that is preceded by perception (of the mark) and classified into three kinds: that from the perception of a cause to its effect; that from perception of the effect to its cause; and that in which knowledge of one thing is derived from the perception of another with which it is commonly seen together. Comparison is defined as the knowledge of a thing through its similarity to another thing previously well-known.

It is called Nyaya because it is constituted of five “laws” – Pratijna, Hetu, Udaharana, Upanaya, Nigamana. Nyaya includes formal logic and modes of scientific debate. It explains the logical constructs like antecedent and laws of implying. It expounds various modes of scientific debate and methods for debate, like tarka, vitanda, chala, jalpa and so on.

Nyaaya is greatly concerned with logic and elaborates on the principle of inference based on syllogism, of course logic is only one of the many subjects it deals with. Nyaaya preaches that a statement should only be accepted if it passes the test of reason. So according to it, error and ignorance are the causes of pain and suffering. The road to wisdom is to develop the process of logical thinking. It does not seem to deny God and accepts God as the Supreme Soul.

The syllogism

Like another Aristotle, he seeks the structure of reasoning in the syllogism, and finds the crux of argument in the middle term;( The Nyaya syllogism, however, has five propositions: theorem, reason, major premise, minor premise and conclusion. E.g.:

(i) Socrates is mortal,

(2) For he is a man

(3) All men are mortal;

(4) Socrates is a man;

(5) Therefore Socrates is mortal.( like another James or Dewey)

He looks upon knowledge and thought as pragmatic tools and organs of human need and will, to be tested by their ability to lead to successful action.  He is a realist, and will have nothing to do with the sublime idea that the world ceases to exist when no one takes the precaution to perceive it.

Of the four main topics of the Nyaya-sutras (art of debate, means of valid knowledge, syllogism, and examination of opposed views), there is a long history. There is no direct evidence for the theory that though inference (anumana) is of Indian origin, the syllogism (avayava) is of Greek origin. Vatsayana, the commentator on the sutras, referred to some logicians who held a theory of a 10-membered syllogism (the Greeks had three). The Vaisheshika-sutras give five propositions as constituting a syllogism but give them different names. Gautama also supports a five-membered syllogism with the following structure:

1.            This hill is fiery (pratijna: a statement of that which is to be proved).

2.            Because it is smoky (hetu: statement of reason).

3.            Whatever is smoky is fiery, as is a kitchen (udaharana: statement of a general rule supported by an example).

4.            So is this hill (upanaya: application of the rule of this case).

5.            Therefore, this hill is fiery (nigamana: drawing the conclusion).

The characteristic feature of the Nyaya syllogism is its insistence on the example—which suggests that the Nyaya logician wanted to be assured not only of formal validity but also of material truth. Five kinds of fallacious “middle” (hetu) are distinguished: the inconclusive (savyabhichara), which leads to more conclusions than one; the contradictory (viruddha), which opposes that which is to be established; the controversial (prakaranasama), which provokes the very question that it is meant to settle; the counterquestioned (sadhyasama), which itself is unproved; and the mistimed (kalatita), which is adduced “when the time in which it might hold good does not apply.”


As far as the question of epistemology, the Nyāya-Sūtra recognizes four avenues of knowledge: these are perception, inference, analogy, and verbal testimony of reliable persons. Perception arises when the senses make contact with the object of perception. Inference comes in three varieties: pūrvavat (a priori), śeṣavat (a posteriori) and sāmanyatodṛṣṭa (common sense) (Nyāya-Sūtra I.1.3–7).The validity of the means of knowing is established as against Buddhist skepticism, the main argument being that if no means of knowledge is valid then the demonstration of their invalidity cannot itself claim validity. Perception is shown to be irreducible to inference, inference is shown to yield certain knowledge, and errors in inference are viewed as being faults in the person, not in the method itself. Knowledge derived from verbal testimony is viewed as noninferential.

According to the first verse of the Nyāya-Sūtra, the Nyāya school is concerned with shedding light on sixteen topics: pramāna (epistemology), prameya (ontology), saṃśaya (doubt), prayojana (axiology, or “purpose”), dṛṣṭānta(paradigm cases that establish a rule), Siddhānta (established doctrine), avayava(premise of a syllogism), tarka (reductio ad absurdum), nirnaya (certain beliefs gained through epistemic ally respectable means), vāda (appropriately conducted discussion), jalpa (sophistic debates aimed at beating the opponent, and not at establishing the truth), vitaṇḍa(a debate characterized by one party’s disinterest in establishing a positive view, and solely with refutation of the opponent’s view), hetvābhāsa (persuasive but fallacious arguments), chala (unfair attempt to contradict a statement by equivocating its meaning),jāti (an unfair reply to an argument based on a false analogy), and nigrahasthāna (ground for defeat in a debate) (Nyāya-Sūtra and Vātsyāyana’s Bhāṣya I.1.1-20).

Praman: Sources of knowledge – Prama = valid knowledge¢ Pramana is that through which valid knowledge is received.Knowledge. it is of two types: 1. Anubhava (experiential) and 2. Smriti (memory).Both categories can be divided into valid and invalid knowledge.  Valid experiential knowledge is called prama and  Invalid experiential knowledge is aprama. Praman. (Valid) 1. Pratyaksa (direct perception). 2. Anumana (inference) . 3. Upamana (comparison) . 4. Sabda (testimony): Aprama. (Invalid) 1. Doubt (samsaya), faulty cognition (bhrama or viparyaya) and 2. Hypothetical argument (tarka).

Pratyaksha-This source occupies the foremost position in Nyaya and is divided into(1)  Laukika or ordinary perception as attained through the senses, viz., visual-by eyes, olfactory-by nose, auditory-by ears, tactile- by skin, gustatory-by tongue and mental-by mind. (2) Alaukika or extra-ordianry. Involves, Samanyalakshana (perceiving generality from a particular object),  Jñanalakshana (when one sense organ can also perceive qualities not attributable to it, such as when seeing a chili, one knows that it would be bitter or hot), and  Yogaja (when certain human beings, from the power of Yoga, can perceive past, present and future and may have supernatural abilities).

Anumana (inference) :It is the detailed proces Anumana (inference) Anumana (inference) s of knowing something not by means of contact between the senses and the objects of the world and not by observation but rather through the medium of a sign or linga that is invariably related to it..The types of inferences are –  Svarthanumana, or inference for oneself . Parathanumana, inference for others. Purvavat (inferring an unperceived effect from a perceived cause) Sheshavat (inferring an unperceived cause from a perceived effect) Samanyatodrishta (when inference is not based on causation but on uniformity of co-existence).

Upamana (comparison) :Upamana refers to the relationship between a word and an object that is referred to by the word, produced by the understanding of a knowledge of similarity.

Sabda (testimony) :¢ Sabda is the knowledge derived from words or sentences .It is of two types –  Vaidika, or the words of the Vedas, and  Laukika, or the words of humans who are trustworthy.)

Prameya: The Object of Knowledge- Nyaya considers 12 objects of knowledge. 1- Atma – the individual conscious unit 2- Sarira – the material body 3- Indriyas – the sense organs 4 -Artha – the objects of the senses 5- Buddhi – cognition 6- Manas – the mind 7- Pravrti – activity 8- Dosa – mental defects 9 -Pretyabhava – life and death 10- Phala – the results of pleasure and pain 11- Duhkha – suffering 12- Apavarga – permanent relief from all suffering

Samsay : (Doubt)- A state in which the mind wavers between conflicting views regarding a single object. Is that a rope or a serpent?¢ Samsaya is not certain knowledge, nor is it a mere reflection of knowledge, nor is it invalid knowledge.¢ It is a positive state of cognition but the cognition is split in two and does not provide any definite conclusion.¢ Doubt is the product of a confused state of mind.

Prayojana –( Aim) No action can be performed without an objective, a target or an aim.  One acts either to achieve desirable objects or to get rid of undesirable ones; these desirable or undesirable objects are known as prayojana.

Drstanta: (Example)¢ This refers to using an example or an illustration to highlight a common fact and establish an argument. For instance, one can say that there must be fire because one sees smoke and one can refer to the fire and smoke in a kitchen to establish common ground.

Siddant:((Doctrine)¢ An axiomatic postulate accepted as undisputed truth and serves as the foundation for the entire theory of a system of philosophy.

Avayava: Constituents of Inference¢/ Parts or components.¢

Nyaya uses inference to establish reasons and come to conclusions in arguments.¢ If an inference has five necessary parts, it is assumed that it can give correct knowledge.¢ These components are: 1. pratijna (statements), 2. hetu (reason), 3. udaharana (example), 4. upanaya (universal proposition) and 5. nigamana (conclusion).

Tarka (Hypothetical argument) The minds jabbering that creates confusion and misunderstanding, because the mind is clouded by its own modifications. Tarka is the process of clarifying the confusion. It is the process of questioning and cross- questioning with the mind that leads to a particular conclusion.¢

Nirnaya (Conclusion) is certain knowledge that is attained by using legitimate means. It is the ascertaining of the truth about something, perhaps using Tarka or other ways of perceptions.

Bada (Discussion) A debate between two parties – exponent and opponent – on a subject.  Both are agreed on using the methods of reasoning and logic and valid knowledge can be reached if both parties are honest and free from prejudices

Jalpa (Wrangling) When the two parties try to defeat each other through dishonest means.  There is an involvement of ego instead of a true search for knowledge.¢ Jalpa contains all the characteristics of a valid debate except that of aiming to discover truth.¢ It is that type of discussion in which each party has a prejudice for his own view and thus tries to gather all possible arguments in his own favour¢.

Vitanda¢( Irrational reasoning) An argumentation aimed at refuting or destroying an antagonist’s position without seeking to establish one’s own position – it is mere destructive criticism. In irrational reasoning either or both tries to refute the others position instead of establishing his own.

Hetvabhasa ( Specious reasoning) An irrational argument or the reasoning that appears to be valid but is really unfounded

Chala (Unfair reply) A statement meant to cheat or to fool someone in an argument.¢ A person pretends to understand a word or phrase used in a particular sense as other than what was intended and then denies the truth of this deliberate misinterpretation of the speaker’s words.

Jati (Generality based on false analogy) –¢ A debate in which an unfair reply or conclusion is based on a false analogy. Example of sound – is it non-eternal or eternal?  A. Sound is no eternal because it is an effect of a certain cause, just as a pot is produced from clay.  One can argue that it is eternal by comparing it with the sky. But it is a false analogy because there is no universal relationship between the non-material and the eternal .

Nigrahasthans (Grounds of defeat) - The point at which he accepts his defeat is called nigrahasthana. The grounds on which a person is defeated in his argument. ¢ Happens when a person misunderstands his own or his opponent’s premises and becomes helpless and eventually accepts defeat in the debate

TheNavya-Nyaya (“New Nyaya”)

The logicians of this school were primarily interested in defining their terms and concepts and for this purpose developed an elaborate technical vocabulary and logical apparatus that came to be used by, other than philosophers, writers on law, poetics, aesthetics, and ritualistic liturgy. The founder of the school of Navya-Nyaya (“New Nyaya”), with an exclusive emphasis on the pramanas, was Gangesha Upadhyaya (13th century), whose Tattvachintamani (“The Jewel of Thought on the Nature of Things”) is the basic text for all later developments. The school may broadly be divided into two subschools: the Mithila school, represented by Vardhamana (Gangesha’s son), Pakshadhara or Jayadeva (author of the Aloka gloss), and Shankara Mishra (author of Upaskara); and the Navadvipa school, whose chief representatives were Vasudeva Sarvabhauma (1450-1525),Raghunatha Shiromani (c. 1475–c. 1550), Mathuranatha Tarkavagisha (flourished c. 1570), Jagadisha Tarkalankara (flourished c. 1625), and Gadadhara Bhattacharya (flourished c. 1650).

By means of a new technique of analyzing knowledge, judgmental knowledge can be analyzed into three kinds of epistemological entities in their interrelations: “qualifiers” (prakara); “qualificandum,” or that which must be qualified (visheshya); and “relatedness” (samsarga). There also are corresponding abstract entities: qualifierness, qualificandumness, and relatedness. The knowledge expressed by the judgment “This is a blue pot” may then be analyzed into the following form: “The knowledge that has a qualificandumness in what is denoted by ‘this’ is conditioned by a qualifierness in blue and also conditioned by another qualifierness in potness.”

A central concept in the Navya-Nyaya logical apparatus is that of “limiterness” (avacchedakata), which has many different uses. If a mountain possesses fire in one region and not in another, it can be said, in the Navya-Nyaya language, “The mountain, as limited by the region r, possesses fire, but as limited by the region r′ possesses the absence of fire.” The same mode of speech may be extended to limitations of time, property, and relation, particularly when one is in need of constructing a description that is intended to suit exactly some specific situation and none other.

Inference is defined by Vatsayana as the “posterior” knowledge of an object (e.g., fire) with the help of knowledge of its mark (e.g., smoke). For Navya-Nyaya, inference is definable as the knowledge caused by the knowledge that the minor term (paksha, “the hill”) “possesses” the middle term (hetu, “smoke”), which is recognized as “pervaded by” the major (sadhya, “fire”). The relation of invariable connection, or “pervasion,” between the middle (smoke) and the major (fire)—“Wherever there is smoke, there is fire”—is called vyapti.

The logicians developed the notion of negation to a great degree of sophistication. Apart from the efforts to specify a negation with references to its limiting counterpositive (pratiyogi), limiting relation, and limiting locus, they were constrained to discuss and debate such typical issues as the following: Is one to recognize, as a significant negation, the absence of a thing x so that the limiter of the counterpositive x is not x-ness but y-ness? In other words, can one say that a jar is absent as a cloth even in a locus in which it is present as a jar? Also, is the absence of an absence itself a new absence or something positive? Furthermore, is the absence of colour in general nothing but the sum total of the absences of the particular colours, or is it a new kind of absence, a generic absence? Gangesha argued for the latter alternative, though he answers the first of the above three questions in the negative.

Though the philosophers of this school did not directly write on metaphysics, they nevertheless did tend to introduce many new kinds of abstract entities into their discourse. These entities are generally epistemological, though sometimes they are relational. Chief of these are entities called “qualifierness,” “qualificandumness,” and “limiterness.” Various relations were introduced, such as direct and indirect temporal relations, paryapti relation (in which a number of entities reside, in sets rather than in individual members of those sets), svarupa relation (which holds, for example, between an absence and its locus), and relation between a knowledge and its object.

Among the Navya-Nyaya philosophers, Raghunatha Shiromani in Padarthatattvanirupana undertook a bold revision of the traditional categorical scheme by (1) identifying “time,” “space,” and “ether” with God, (2) eliminating the category of mind by reducing it to matter, (3) denying atoms (paramanu) and dyadic (paired) combinations of them (dvyanuka), (4) eliminating “number,” “separateness,” “remoteness,” and “proximity” from the list of qualities, and (5) rejecting ultimate particularities (vishesha) on the grounds that it is more rational to suppose that the eternal substances are by nature distinct. He added some new categories, however, such as causal power (shakti) and the moment (kshana), and recognized that there are as many instances of the relation of inherence as there are cases of it (as contrasted with the older view that there is only one inherence that is itself present in all cases of inherence).

Nyayas most important contribution to Hindu thought is its elucidation of the pramanas (tools of epistemology). Nyaya Metaphysics¢ It developed a system of logic adopted by other Indian schools of philosophy.¢ Nyaya differs from Aristotelian logic in that it is more than logic in its own right.¢ Obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to obtain release from suffering.¢ To identify valid sources of knowledge and to distinguish these from mere false opinions.



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