Transcript: 35. Ujjwala Jha and V.N. Jha on Nyāya

The First Family of Indian Epistemology joins us to discuss the theories and later influence of the Nyāya school.
Podcast series

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts. 


PA: I thought I'd start by just getting you to give our listeners a quick reminder about the Nyāya School, what the main characteristics of the school are and who the main figures are, especially in the earlier period of Nyāya. 

VNJ: I think what you need to understand is that Nyāya School is one of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy. The Sanskrit term for orthodox school is āstika, as against nāstika. The term for philosophy in Sanskrit is darśana. You have to be a little careful in understanding Indian philosophy by focusing on the term darśana. Darśana comes from the root dṛś, to see. It implies that we should visualize, we should see, we should discover, we should realize certain things, the reality through philosophy. It is in this sense we have to understand the term darśana. And Nyāya system is one of such systems of philosophy. And Gautama, the systematizer of the Nyāya philosophy, wrote Nyāya Sutra. And then we have a history of thousand years of dialogue through commentaries. So Nyāya Sutra, commented upon by Vātsyāyana, which was commented upon by Udyotakara, which was commented upon by Vācaspati Miśra, which was commented upon by Udayanācārya by 10th century AD. These commentaries are form of a dialogue, I have said, because there must be some reason to write a commentary again. In the exercise, there has been dialogue. So it's a deep kind of a dialogue, philosophical dialogue. So when Gautama puts some thesis, some theory, some point of view for consideration, it may not be acceptable to one and all. So questions were being raised, and in order to answer and to respond to those questions, commentaries used to be written. It is in this way we have a history, recorded history fortunately, of 1,000 years of intense philosophical dialogue. And in the course of time what happened, they developed certain tools as well, because the idea was to communicate. One such tool was the epistemology. Another was logic. The other was a universal model of inquiry. So these are the things which happened all through these 1,000 years, and through that a very deep epistemological results were at hand. 

PA: As we've been looking at Nyāya, we emphasize very much what you just mentioned, their contributions in epistemology and logic, but their seeking ultimate happiness fits into the project of the Vedic schools more generally. So we might think for example of Vedānta or of Yoga. What is the relationship then between the Nyāya project of epistemology and logic and this search for ultimate happiness? 

VNJ: Philosophizing should also have some purpose. It's not that philosophizing for philosophizing sake. So Indian tradition of philosophy did not believe that philosophy should be simply a mental exercise. Thought was required to be put into practice, and that was the reason that philosophy has to address human purpose. 

PA: So is the idea then that I have beliefs about the right way to live, and then the thing that they're really interested in is whether that kind of belief counts as knowledge? 

VNJ: It is in this context you have to look into the first Sutra of Gautama. He gives a kind of a road map, of a man, to arrive at the reality and identify who he is. And this has a context of the Vedic period, the earlier period, Upaniṣadic period particularly, where intensely this question is being asked, who I am? And that is why in the first Sutra itself Gautama puts this and says that by the true cognition of 16 entities that he has listed, pramāṇa, prameya, I hope by now you are familiar with these terms. Pramāṇa is the process of knowing. So how we acquire knowledge, process. And the system has accepted there are four processes of knowing. Prameya is that what we know, knowable. But one should be very careful, this prameya here, and the Vaiśeṣika also started to understand the entire universe through language. So when their prameya is the whole universe, and the term for universe the Vaiśeṣika introduced is Padārtha, that is the referent of language. So whatever language refers to is universe. And here however Gautama also uses the term Padārtha. He says by knowledge of the 16 Padārthas one is going to acquire the ultimate goal of human life, but these Padārthas are the entities which are required for engaging yourself in arguments, in order to understand who you are. So if I am to discover myself, I will have to identify myself. And I am one entity in the whole universe. So me and non-me, myself and what I am not, unless I know what I am not, how am I able to identify what I am? And therefore I must address my inquiry into the entire universe. And it is in this context he says that this is why the Vaiśeṣikas are interested in knowing the whole universe. There also the term Padārtha has been used. So that Padārtha term is categorical. That addresses exactly the reference of the language, that is the whole universe is meant by Padārtha. Here however Gautama has chosen few Padārthas, few entities which are helpful for him to identify the self as distinct from all that is not self. And to now link you this inquiry and his answer is in the Sutra 1.1.2. Now 1.1.2 gives you the entire causal relationship. That why we are in a conditioned state, we human beings are conditioned state and therefore we are suffering. Now what is the meaning of conditioned state? Conditioned state precisely means that we have taken X to be Y. The reality is if reality is X we know it to be Y. So this is what he calls mithyā-jñāna, a wrong conception. Not knowing X as X, Y as Y, but we have taken to be true X as Y. And it is because of this mithyā-jñāna, this misconception, that immediately what emerges in us is an attitude. That attitude prompts my behavior. My behavior then produces sometimes good result, sometimes bad result. But they go on accumulating in me and ultimately they become responsible for my coming again and again going back. So the cycle of birth and rebirth is produced ultimately by mithyā-jñāna. And if this is my condition state in which I am and because of this I am suffering. If I have to go out of suffering, I should go out of ultimately, permanently out of the cycle of birth and rebirth. And for that, since I have been able to diagnose the root cause of my suffering, which is namely the mithyā-jñāna, now it can be cured, it can be removed only by yathārtha-jñāna. Tattva-jñāna, tat is X. By knowing X as X and it is that reason that if I have tattva-jñāna or the correct cognition or right knowledge, then my mithyā-jñāna, my misconception will go out and that will produce an attitude that will also be corrected. Then my behavior will be corrected, my actions will be corrected and naturally that is not going to leave residue which will be responsible for bringing me to suffer in the cycle of birth and rebirth. 

PA: Okay, so that tells us what knowledge has to do with the wider aims of Nyāya already in Gautama as you've been saying. And I guess that's something that we associate with other schools, both Vedic and non. So for example, the Buddhists also would say that knowledge is in a way the root to freedom from suffering. Let's now turn to your wife, Ujjwala Jha, who is going to tell us something about the other aspect of early Nyāya. And this is not so much epistemology but logic. Now obviously, if you're interested in knowledge, then you might be interested in things like truth conditions or arguments. And this is certainly something that we already see in Gautama. In early Nyāya, one of the developments that you get is a focus on the form of arguments and it develop a theory of the syllogism, which may seem a little bit simplistic or ad hoc, but perhaps you can tell us about this theory and what there is to say in favor of it. 

UJ: I think that one should not take the syllogism, which we find in the early Nyāya, as you said, as ad hoc. Because the sūtrakāra has defined the syllogism. And there he gives, there are five members to the syllogism. These five members are very well defined by him and then explained by the bhāṣyakāra. Had it been ad hoc, I mean, it would have been abandoned afterwards. Because if it had some purpose, particular purpose to serve, and then when the purpose was over, this would have been abandoned. But as we find that the same five member syllogism is defended, is justified throughout the Nyāya tradition, and also up to the Nyāyasiddhāntamuktāvalī of Viśvanātha, you will find that he also is justifying and defending the five member syllogism. He belongs to the 17th century AD and also Annam Bhāṭṭa in his Tarkasamgraha defends this five member syllogism. So Nyāya tradition is throughout justifying the five member syllogism. And bhāṣyakāra, even when he explained the five members, he took into account another view of another section of Naiyāyikas who believed that 10 members would have been correct. So there could have been 10 members of the syllogism and Vātsyāyana has denied that possibility, and he says that only five members are there. So just to bring us to the stock example that the tradition gives of the syllogism, that is: “parvataḥ vahnimān” - So the mountain has fire, “dhūmāt” - because it has smoke. Wherever there is smoke, so “yatra yatra dhūmaḥ, tatra tatra vahniḥ, yathā mahānasaḥ”, this is the third member. Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, just as in the kitchen. Then the fourth is “tathā ca ayaṃ” - the same is this mountain. That means the same smoke which is invariably related with fire is seen on this mountain. And “tasmāt tathā” - therefore that is from the basis, from the dhūma, from the smoke, we conclude that this mountain must have fire. So this is the stock example that we find in the tradition because dhūma and vahni, that is smoke and fire, they have this invariable relationship. So when one knows the invariable relationship between x and y, and when one sees x, then he invariably remembers y. This is the point and this has been justified and defended throughout the Nyāya tradition. Not that it was not at all objected to. We can find that Mīmāṁsakas are always asking the question, why should you have five members of syllogism? Three are enough because they say that the two seem to be repeated. But this is not accepted by the Nyāya tradition. They have very much refuted the stand of Mīmāṁsa. And we can find that even the sūtrakāra who defined the five members for the first time in the history of Nyāya, even he is aware of the element of repetition.

PA: What exactly is repetition? Which two steps are repeated? 

UJ: The first member is “parvataḥ vahnimān”, so there is fire on the mountain. And the conclusion is therefore there is fire on the mountain. 

PA: So it's like the first step is I say what I am trying to prove and the last step is I conclude from the syllogism that what I wanted to prove is true. 

UJ: Exactly, it is like that. But those who want to say that this seems to be a repetition, I mean they had some idea that this repetition, but this element of repetition is noted by the sūtrakāra. So while defining the conclusion, for the conclusion we have a term ‘nigamana’. For defining conclusion, the sūtrakāra says that this is the ‘punarvacana’, this is the restatement of the proposition. The first one is there is fire on the hill, it is called proposition, ‘pratijñā’ in Sanskrit. Then because there is smoke, the second step “dhūmāt”, this is known as ‘hetu’ in Sanskrit, which means probance in the, you can translate it into English as probance. 

PA: So the thing that proves something.

UJ: So that is the basis of proving the object that you want to prove. Then the third one is you have to say that there is an invariable relationship between the two objects, that is the thing that you want to prove and the basis on which you want to prove it. So these two are then mentioned in the third step, which is known as example and which is also a statement of invariable relationship. So both these are together. So wherever there is smoke, there is fire. This is the statement of invariable relationship. And as in the kitchen, this is the example of the same relationship. 

PA: So in other words, I've seen in my kitchen that whenever there's fire, there's smoke or whenever there's smoke, there's fire. So I can infer that that's generally true. 

UJ: Yes, very much correct. But it is the other way around, it is wherever there is smoke, there is fire. Because the other way is not correct. Because there could be fire and there can be an absence of smoke. But the other way around is not correct. I mean, wherever there is smoke, there has to be fire. So this is, I mean, the smoke is the basis for inferring fire. And not fire is never the basis for inferring smoke. 

PA: Because I guess the idea would be if you lit a candle, you'd have fire but no smoke. 

UJ: Yes. And there are so many traditional examples in the Nyāya tradition. They say that hot iron ball, it has fire, but it doesn't have smoke. So the area that is covered by fire is quite bigger than the area which is covered by smoke. And therefore, there is terminology of pervader and pervaded. So what is pervaded can be the basis of inferring the pervader, but not the other way around. 

PA: How general is this idea that syllogism is supposed to be? Are they thinking that you can use this pattern of argument to basically prove any kind of questionable conclusion? So you can start with anything where you're trying to prove that it's true. You can use this five-step syllogism and prove that thing. 

UJ: Exactly. Exactly. This is the case. Because this is why it is there. Because as Professor Jha mentioned, that the Nyāya is more or less trying to develop the methodology of dialectics. So in the dialectics, you will certainly require to prove your own point. And for that, you can use this method of inference. This is what we call Anumāna Prayoga. So these five steps that we call Anumāna Prayoga, the form of inference. So this is the form of inference which you can use. So we were talking about the five members. And the fourth one is it is said to be confirmative recognition. That the same type of smoke. So after you have the example, you remember the invariable relation, you confirm that the same type of smoke is there on the mountain. Same type of smoke we mean. We mean the smoke which is invariably with fire. And that is how it leads to the conclusion, the last step, that therefore there must be fire on this mountain. So this is how the conclusion comes. 

VNJ: To add, it is necessary to have all the five. Anything less than this is not going to complete the process. So all the five sentences should make one sentence. And that is called mahāvākya.

PA: One thing that strikes me about this whole procedure is that, as you've just said, the situation that you're analyzing for this proof needs to be described linguistically. And yet one of the pramāṇas, the sources of knowledge that Nyāya recognize is perception. And there's a debate within Nyāya and other schools about how those two things join together. So if I have a perception of, let's say, smoke, then it seems very important for the syllogism to go through that you've just described. That I actually understand that this thing I'm seeing is smoke. And I also understand that there's this invariable relationship between smoke and fire. What I'm wondering then is whether they want to say that that always comes for free with perception, so to speak. In other words, when I see something, it's not like I just see a black blur or something like that. But I'm already seeing it as smoke. Is that the idea? Or is the idea that perception gives me some kind of raw data that I then have to interpret using a concept like smoke? 

VNJ: I don't think that. I think you are taking me to another aspect. I should tell you that the Nyāya is utter realism, a system of utter realism. By this I mean that that is real, which is knowable and nameable. And when I say it is knowable, there is a causal relationship between that which I know and the knowledge that emerges after that process of knowing. And a cause must perceive the effect. And therefore, the world which I am going to know has to precede the knowledge of the world. And because of this, so this is a kāraṇa and jñāna is a kārya. So a perception is a kārya, is an effect. And perception of X, then X has to perceive perception of X. And therefore it has to be independent of my mind. And therefore the entire world is independent of mind. And it is this reason, this is one aspect. Another aspect that there is a tradition of debate that the idealist held a position that reality cannot be captured through language. This started at the Upaniṣadic period itself, got concretized, formulated with the Buddhist logicians and when it was taken for debate, Nyāya all along took the position that language also can refer to reality. And on these two issues, Udayanācārya of Mithila of 10th century wrote two texts. One is called Ātmatattvaviveka. This is to establish self. And the other one Nyāyakusumañjali to establish God. So be it a paramāṇu, a subtle which our eyes normal, gross eyes cannot perceive or God, anything that exists is knowable and nameable. And it is by these two criteria alone the reality claim is made by the Nyāya school. 

PA:  So it's a very optimistic epistemology. And of course that means that they're under an obligation to respond to skeptical attack. And the skeptical attack duly comes especially from the Buddhists. And there's a lot of things one could raise here. We're going to get into Buddhist skepticism later on in the series. But I wanted to ask about one particular kind of skeptical attack so you can tell us what the Nyāya school says in response to it. And this is basically a kind of regress argument. The idea being that whatever pramāṇa, whatever source of knowledge I take, I have to somehow give a further reason for the reliability or accuracy of that pramāṇa. For example, if I say, well, my perceptions count as knowledge, then I have to have some other reason other than perception, which guarantees the accuracy or truth or reliability of perception. Well, that will be some other pramāṇa maybe. But then I can just keep playing this game all day and there's a regress. So how do the Nyāya respond to this kind of demand for a regress of justification? 

UJ: Actually, this attack or this accusation that pramāṇa, that is the source of knowledge, if it is already known, then only it operates towards its object. This premise itself is faulty or defective, can I say, so that the accusation does not stand at all. Because Nyāya accepts that there are two types of sources of knowledge. A type of source of knowledge is known first and then it operates towards its object. But there is also another type of source of knowledge, which even not known operates towards its object. So in Sanskrit we say, “jñātaṃsat pramāṇam bhavati” - something is a source of knowledge when it is already known, it itself is known, and “ajñātamsat pramāṇam bhavati” - So something is a source of knowledge which is not itself known. If this is what you mean, I mean. Then the very basic pramāṇa they accept is pratyakṣa-pramāṇa, that is the perceptual way of knowing things. So there the pramāṇa, pramāṇa is nothing but the sense organ, pramāṇa is the source of knowledge, what is the source of knowledge in perception? It is nothing but sense organ. And for perceptual cognition, one need not know his own sense organ. So eyes see color or the knower sees through eyes a color of a thing, then he need not know eyes first. So that is not at all required. But there are the other means of knowing namely anumāna, upamāṇa and śabda, which are accepted in the system of Nyāya. They are as we discussed some time before the process of anumāna, there we saw that unless we know the invariable relationship between x and y, we are not in a position to infer y on the basis of x. So we saw that in the kitchen or in so many places we have seen that smoke and fire are together. So but what is this? This is perception. So perception is the basis of all pramāṇas. So in other words, I mean in the other cases that is anumāna, upamāṇa and śabda, that is analogy and verbal cognition, in all these cases you must have some knowledge, that is knowledge of the source, it is very much required. So upamāṇa that is analogy is also accepted to be an independent means of knowing. Analogy is nothing but resemblance, similarity. So unless you know the similarity between again x and y, you will not know one on the basis of the other. Similarly in verbal cognition unless you know the language, you are not in a position to understand what the speaker is saying. So for that also they say that “pada-padārtha-saṃbandha-jñāna” the relationship between the word and its meaning must be known prior to the communication with the speaker and hearer. So whatever the language the speaker is using must be known by the hearer. This is the requirement for śabda-pramāṇa, that is for the verbal understanding. But one cannot accept the accusation because for pratyakṣa-pramāṇa we do not need that the source of knowledge must be known prior to the operation. 

PA: That is really interesting. So in contemporary analytic cosmology there is this distinction between externalist theories of justification and internalist theories of justification. And one way of putting the difference is that externalists do not think that the knower has to have access to the fact that what they believe is really knowledge. So they do not have to know that they know is enough for them to know. Whereas internalists think that you do have to know that you know in order to count as knowing. So to use this example of perception, an externalist would say, well, as long as your eyesight is working properly and as long as the lighting conditions are good and so on, then perception is a means of knowledge. Can you be absolutely sure that your vision is working and so on? Maybe not, but it does not matter because it is working properly. Whereas an internalist would say, no, no, you actually have to somehow be sure, like the objection, the regressive objection says, you have to have some further way of being sure that your perception is working. So what is interesting about what you just said, I think, is that it sounds like they have an externalist theory of perception, but an internalist theory of other sources of knowledge. So for example, linguistic knowledge, you are able to know that your linguistic knowledge is accurate, even though they do not make that demand for perception. Is that right? 

UJ: Yes, very correct.

PA: One other thing I would like to ask before talking about the later historical development of Nyāya is about its relationship to the other Vedic schools. It's famously associated with Vaiśeṣika and you've already said something about that. But what about school like the Yoga tradition, which seems to be much more oriented towards practice and maybe a more kind of ethical or practical dimension of Indian philosophy. Is there any way to bring together Yoga and these sometimes very technical issues in logic and epistemology that we associate with Nyāya? 

VNJ: Yoga also is a plan of a journey, inner journey I call it, from a conditioned state of man to a deconditioned state of himself. Again I recall Jayanta Bhatta, a Kashmiri logician, he's a very fascinating man. He says that well, up to this you can go with this thought, but unless thought is put into action, transformation is not going to be that easy. And therefore all the methods which were developed by Yoga, by Patañjali in the Yoga Sutra, need to be practiced by even Naiyāyikas. Because ultimately it is a system for transformation. So external transformation will not help you. You have to help, you have to transform inside. And this roadmap which was prepared by Patañjali should be made available to one and all systems and the Naiyāyikas are very happily accepted. It is in this way particularly Nyāya is related to Yoga philosophy. 

PA: I think that's really fascinating because it shows that in Indian philosophy and I guess it's true of for example ancient Greek philosophy as well, you have in the same thinkers and certainly in the same traditions, is kind of combination of highly technical philosophy and also kind of ethical or shaping of the self tradition. And one question that arises I think here is how technical it actually gets because we've been talking about for example the syllogism, but you gave sort of everyday example about smoke and fire. To what extent could we actually say that they develop something on the order of formal logic the way that we sometimes see formal methods of logic being used in contemporary philosophy sometimes brought into contact with epistemology? Is this something that we see in the development of Nyāya as well? 

UJ: Maybe that you may not be able to say that the way formal logic is done in contemporary philosophy, you may not find a similar type of formal logic in Nyāya. But Nyāya through centuries I mean as we saw that from the very beginning they have been talking about dialectics and dialectics was not getting successful because of some problems in the ordinary language. Because whenever we speak in ordinary language there is a room for ambiguity and that is how I mean whatever the Bhāṣyakāra said was not properly understood by the Buddhist logicians and they raised questions. Then further those questions were answered by suppose Udyotakara, but then what Udyotakara had in mind was not again understood properly by the Buddhist logicians. And as it is mentioned that the dialogue of 1000 years was on and there is a record of this dialogue we can go through the literature and we can understand that how one term is taken to mean something else by the other. And that is how actually the point of time came when they thought that the language of communication must be rectified, must be evolved in different way so that we can have some inambiguous or unambiguous or non-ambiguous communication. And that is how we find that after the time of Praśastapāda, Praśastapāda belongs to 6th century AD, Praśastapāda wrote a commentary on the Vaiśeṣika Sutras. So Vaiśeṣika Sutras are very old maybe that same time with Nyāya Sutras maybe some somewhere 100 BC or something like that. But from that up to the Praśastapādabhāṣya time we do not have much literature in Vaiśeṣika. But the Praśastapādabhāṣya mentions Īśvara. So Īśvara which was accepted by Nyāya tradition is now accepted by the Vaiśeṣikas. And so you can see that slowly the two have started merging into each other. And Udayanācārya he wrote a commentary on the Praśastapādabhāṣya. In his commentary we find the traces of the evolution of new language. He wants that the same terminology should not be used so that the confusion arises. And that is how he started using some particular terminology to give the specific meaning, to give this precise meaning that if you want to say X the hearer will understand only X and nothing else. That was the terminology he slowly started developing and it was further developed by Gaṅgeśa Upādhyāya in the 13th century AD. And we go from Udayanācārya to Gaṅgeśa through the contributions of Śaśadhara. Śaśadhara wrote one Nyāyasiddhāntadīpa and one who studies Nyāya Darśana he knows that Śaśadhara was little compact and Gaṅgeśa developed all his ideas to the fullest of extent. And that is how Gaṅgeśa's work which is Tattvachintāmaṇi, it belongs to 13th century AD that became the magnum opus of Navya Nyāya. So there you find that the things are formalized. Formalized in the sense all ambiguity has been tried to be removed. So to make the communication precise this method was adopted by the Navya Nyāya language and whatever emerged is now known as Navya Nyāya language. So that language is further I mean accepted by all the other schools of Indian philosophy. So after 13th century whosoever is doing Vedānta he will adopt Navya Nyāya language. Whosoever is doing other Mimansa he will adopt Navya Nyāya language. Whosoever is doing even grammar or even poetics they will adopt Navya Nyāya language. I mean they adopted Navya Nyāya language and that is how they could succeed in their precise communications. Navya Nyāya means new Nyāya, new logic. But here you have to understand it as the proper name of the language it is Navya Nyāya language. 

PA: Okay so that takes us up to the 13th century or so. Can we say that Nyāya is a tradition that carried on through early modernity and even maybe down to the present day I mean through the coming of Islam in India and so on. Is it so to speak a living tradition? I mean earlier we had the mention of the five step syllogism still being accepted in the 17th century which is giving Aristotle a run for his money. Can we basically just say that Nyāya has always been there ever since its invention in Indian intellectual history?

VNJ: I think so. I think Nyāya you have to see up to 10th century one let us say one phase of development and then whatever happens after 10th century is another phase that is what is new form of Nyāya called Navya Nyāya mainly because by the time of Udayanācārya as I told you 10th century AD he could have an overlook that why the same questions are emerging again and again and then he identified that the problem lies in the medium of communication and so language became very important for him. So as you have in the west a linguistic turn which is a very late phenomenon after Chomsky so we have in the Indian tradition in the 10th century Udayanācārya coming and pointing out that language is that important because otherwise how can we communicate and unless we communicate unless we understand each other how then either we accept or reject because rejection and acceptance requires understanding and that is obstructed by so more natural language you are using for communication perhaps. You are opening the gate for ambiguity and therefore there is necessity to develop a new language of discourse and that language slowly developed as Navya Nyāya language new Nyāya language and not only the Nyāya tradition or Vaiśeṣika tradition by the time Vaiśeṣika Nyāya became one because they all agreed with the metaphysics same metaphysics so there was no problem. Other systems Mīmāṃsa, Yoga, Sāṃkhya, Dharmaśastra, Vedānta, Vedānta of eight varieties of Vedānta you know so all of them started philosophical discourse only through this medium of Navya Nyāya language and to tell you the truth that in each and every traditional Sanskrit education institution even today the debate takes place only in Navya Nyāya language so whether he is a Vedantin or belonging to any other system of knowledge the debate medium of debate medium of discourse is Navya Nyāya language. 


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