27. The Theory of Evolution: Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhya-kārikā

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The oldest treatise of Sāṃkhya enumerates the principles of the cosmos and of the human mind.



Further Reading

• T.G. Mainkar (trans.), The Sākhyakārikā of Īśvarakṛṣṇa with the Commentary of Gauḍapāda (Poona: 1972).


• J. Bronkhorst, “The Qualities of Sāṃkhya,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 38 (1994), 309-22.

• P. Chakravarti, Origin and Development of the Sāṃkhya System of Thought (New Delhi: 1975).

• M. Hulin, A History of Indian Literature VI.3: Sāṃkhya Literature (Wiesbaden: 1978).

• G.J. Larson, Classical Sākhya: an Interpretation of its History and Meaning (Delhi: 1979).

• G.J. Larson and R.S. Bhattacharya (eds), Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, vol. IV: Sākhya, a Dualist Tradition in Indian Philosophy (Delhi: 1987).

• E. Frauwallner, “Die Erkenntnislehre des Klassischen Sāṃkhya-Systems,” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens 2 (1958), 84-139.

• A. Sen Gupta, Classical Sāṃkhya: a Critical Study (New Delhi: 1982).

• J.A.B. van Buitenen, “Studies in Sāṃkhya (I) (II) and (III),” Journal of the American Oriental Society 76 (1956), 153-7; 77 (1957), 15-25; and 77 (1957), 88-107.

• S.G.M. Weerasinghe, The Sākhya Philosophy: a Critical Evaluation of its Origins and Development (Delhi: 1993).


Brett on 17 October 2016

One ! One excellent podcast !

Ah ha ha ha !

Thanks again Peter for a podcast which not only illuminated philosophy (and taught me much) but also had me chuckling along.


Andres on 19 October 2016



Thanks for th podcast, great to listen about this subject in this format.

I'm currently studying the yoga sutras and Sankhya philosohpy is everywhere on that book.

I wonder if you can suggest what is the most accesible and recommended book from the biography, cause to be honest I don't know which of them is best to start.

Keep going with this iniciative, I greatly appreciatte your work.


In reply to by Andres

Peter Adamson on 19 October 2016

First reading on Samkhya

I'd say one of the two books by Larson is a good place to start. Good luck, hope you find it as interesting as I did!

Ralph on 30 October 2016

Will this get better?

I'd like this comment to be private, because I really appreciate your work on the overall series of The History of Philosophy and I don't want to insult you. Yet, I think you would want genuinely felt feedback.
I have been listening to your podcast since very close to the beginning. I have listened to most episodes several times. I was skeptical about the Islamic philosophy, but it turned out to be quite interesting until near the end. I have listened to all of the Indian Philosophy podcasts, and again usually a couple of times each. There does not seem to be anything to Indian philosophy other than appeals to authority. Is that just something in the earlier phases and maybe I can expect something meatier to come? I'll probably listen to a couple more of the Indian Philosophy podcasts and then just start skipping those weeks. I'll check back in the comments to see if any other listeners comment about this.
Have a wonderful day

In reply to by Ralph

Peter Adamson on 30 October 2016


Well, I'm not insulted for sure - I think the issue is more that the material is so different. I would suggest at least hanging in a few more episodes for Nyaya (coming up in a couple more episodes), since it is closer to what you might expect from philosophy (epistemology, justification, logic, etc). But the "appeal to authority" issue seems to me a bit of a red herring. Obviously you have that in many philosophical traditions - Platonism, Aristotelianism, medieval philosophy, etc. The question is whether you have genuine innovation within an authoritatively structured tradition, and it seems clear that we do here: think about the way that Sankara was attacked by other Vedantins for apparently going too far away from canonical Vedic teaching.

In reply to by Ralph

Stephen McLoughlin on 1 June 2018

Appeals to Authority

I would like to add that I find the Samkhya philosophy inuitively compelling without any appeal to authority (APTA). I think that it is possible that philosophers added these APTAs to satisfy those who wanted such a mooring, but that they were not necessary nor sufficient in the philosophy itself. Still only speaking for myself, I have found through Yoga, including meditation, that the concept of Purusha being outside of the mind matches what I have already found.

Meyer on 23 November 2018

The "I"

Hey there!

Thanks for the excellent podcast, enumerations aren't always that entertainig as you made them be! Maybe it's a bit late for the question but a fascinating detail mentioned by you wouldn't let me rest. It seems that in Samkhya the "I" emerges as an effect of the buddhi which you translated as intellect. It seems though, that one can also think of "buddhi" as of "thought" or "thoughts".

It strikes me that this relation between "thought" and the "I" is very much in opposition to the positions which one can find in the so called european traditions. Most "European/Western" philosophers seem to think of the existence of an "I" as a necessary condition for the existence of thought. In Samkhya it appears to be vice versa.

Now I'm aware that this kind of generalization is really dangerous if one is comparing philosophy. Thus, is this emphasis of thought as separated from the subject (or even causing it!) really absent from the so called european/western traditions until  recent times? Now that I think about it, are there maybe similar thoughts in Neoplatonism?


In reply to by Meyer

Peter Adamson on 24 November 2018

Thought and the self

Thanks, that's an interesting question. I think what you are asking is ambiguous: on the one hand I guess most philosophers would distinguish between the self and "thought" in the sense of the things that are actually entertained in the mind. So if I think about having pizza for dinner, the thought of having pizza is not the same as me (any more than the visual image seen by the eye is the same as the eye). The tricker question is whether the subject of thinking -- the one entertaining the thought of eating pizza -- is distinct from the self. And here I am tempted to agree with you: in the Indian tradition the agent of consciousness or active thinking is often distinguished from the underlying self. This is already true in the Upanisads, I would say. It also struck me as different from what one mostly sees in Western philosophy, where (including in Platonism) the true self is often taken to be the subject of thinking. Here instead there is an "organ" for thinking just like organs for other cognitive activities.

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