Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Nyāya Theory: On Enquiry

One of the six philosophical schools of Hinduism, Nyāya became established between 6th century BCE and 2nd century BCE. The foundational text of this school, the Nyāya Sūtras, was composed in this period by Akṣapāda Gautama whose exact dates are not certain. It is possible that several scholars may have made contributions to the Nyāya Sūtras. One of the achievements of the Nyāya school is that they developed a method based on specific rules of reasoning through which certain knowledge of a particular object of enquiry can be achieved.

According to the Nyāya school, an enquiry can be undertaken only if there are some doubts about the nature of what is being enquired into. This means that there is no point in enquiring about something for which certain knowledge is already available. Therefore, what is being enquired into has to be something about which there is lack of understanding. The availability of some kind of observational data on the basis of which the enquiry will be conducted is another important consideration that the enquirer has to consider. The insistence on observational data shows that the Nyāya school gave importance to the empirical world.

The enquirer has to ensure that there is possibility of attaining certain knowledge at the end of the enquiry. If certain knowledge is impossible, then conducting an enquiry is a futile exercise. However, doubt and the possibility of certain knowledge are not the only criteria on the basis of which an enquiry can be undertaken. Gautama insists that an enquiry should not be undertaken for flimsy reasons—there has to be a valid purpose to justify the exercise. He notes that an enquiry is meant to contribute to the highest good—some scholars have interpreted this to mean that the purpose of enquiry is to attain moksha or freedom from the cycle of brith and rebirth.

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