Monday, 12 September 2016

The Nyaya Theory of Epistemology

Aksapada Gautama was the author of the Nyaya-Sutras which is the foundational text for the Nyaya School of logical reasoning. It is generally believed that he lived in the 2nd-century or the 3rd-Century BC.

The word “Nyaya” stands for “formal reasoning,” while “Sutras” stand for “aphorisms,” and therefore the title of the treatise “Nyaya-Sutras” may be translated as “The aphorisms for formal reasoning.”

The Nyaya School has made contributions in epistemology, theology, and metaphysics. In this article I focus on the key tenets of the Nyaya theory of epistemology which was quite advanced for the period when it was first proposed.

In the Nyaya-Sutras, Aksapada Gautama rejects the philosophy of scepticism and proposes that human beings have the ability to acquire valid knowledge. The Nyaya School says that the information on objects and processes that human beings get through their senses is correct and can be used for developing knowledge.

While refuting the philosophy of scepticism, the Nyaya-Sutras presents the argument that if none of the means of gaining knowledge were valid, then the demonstration of the invalidity of these means of knowledge cannot itself claim validity.

The first sutra (aphorism) in the Nyaya-Sutras states that salvation can only be achieved through knowledge, and therefore every human being must make efforts to gain knowledge. The treatise goes on to describe the four avenues through which human beings can attain knowledge:

1. Pratyaksha (Direct Perception)
2. Anumana (Inference)
3. Upamana (Comparison)
4. Shabda (Verbal Testimony)

Pratyaksha (Direct Perception) is the knowledge that people gain through direct contact between the senses and the object that is being perceived. The Nyaya School rejects the idea of consciousness having an effect on realty—it states that perception is not dependant on inference.

Anumana (Inference) is the knowledge that precedes perception and is of three kinds: purvavat, or a priori; sesavat, or a posteriori; and samanyatodrsta, or common sense. Inference can lead to valid knowledge, and if inference leads to false knowledge then it is the person who is to be blamed and not the method itself.

Upamana (Comparison) is the knowledge that comes through an analysis of the similarities and differences in objects or processes.

Shabda (Verbal Testimony) is the knowledge that we get by listening to people who can be relied upon to speak the truth. The knowledge derived from verbal testimony is non-perceptual and non-inferential.

The Nyaya School maintains that for the achievement of salvation, human beings must attain sixteen categories of knowledge:

1. Pramana: Knowledge achieved directly through the senses.
2. Prameya: Ontology
3. Samsaya: Doubt
4. Prayojana: Purpose
5. Drstanta: Paradigm cases that can establish a rule
6. Siddhanta: Established doctrine, tenet or conclusion
7. Avayava: Premise of a syllogism
8. Tarka: Indirect reasoning. It can also refer to a reductio ad absurdum.
9. Nirnaya: Beliefs gained through valid means.
10. Vada: An appropriate discussion
11. Jalpa: Arcane debates for defeating an opponent, rather than establishing the truth.
12. Vitanda: Cavil
13. Hetvabhasa: Persuasive but fallacious arguments
14. Chala: Quibble unfairly to contradict a statement
15. Jati: Use false analogy to post an unfair reply in an argument
16. Nigrahasthana: The point of defeat in a debate

Out of the sixteen categories of knowledge (except for Pramana and Prameya), fourteen are the derivatives of the art of disputation. Pramana and Prameya are by themselves broad enough to cover all the concepts, but the Nyaya School has proposed 16 categories to ensure clarity of the concepts and to distinguish its ideas from other schools of thought.

According to the Nyaya School, three elements are involved whenever an individual is acquiring knowledge:

1. Jnatr: The knower, or the person who seeks the knowledge
2. Jneya: The metaphysical aspect of reality (an object or process) that is knowable
3. Jnana: What is finally known (the knowledge)

In the Nyaya-Sutras there is lot of emphasis on the science of definitions—it has been stated that it is important to accurately define every concept so that the philosophical arguments that are being proposed do not get mired in obscurity.

The relation of the words to their meanings is conventional and not natural. Particular words can have specific meanings, but the meanings can be affected by the context in which they are being spoken and the way in which they are being used in the sentence. To enable the hearer to understand the exact meaning of the verbal-proposition, the words must be clearly defined for every context and way of usage.

Aksapada Gautama’s Nyaya School has developed separately from the Vaiseskika School, and both schools hold independent positions in metaphysics and epistemology. But their differences are minor. At a later stage the Nyaya School and the Vaiseskika School came together to develop a holistic theory of the universe and human consciousness.

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