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Nyaya: The Philosophy of Logic and Epistemology

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Among the systems of Indian philosophy, Nyaya has specialized in the fields of logic and epistemology.

Knowledge has been explained as the manifestation of objects.

Knowledge enlightens the objects as a lamp does.

Knowledge has two distinctions—valid (prama) and invalid (aprama).

According to Nyaya, valid knowledge is definite or real knowledge and it consists in knowing the objects as it is; for example, to know the snake as a snake and the bowl as a bowl.

Valid knowledge has four distinctive sources viz., perception, inference, comparison and testimony.

Knowledge arising from sources other than these is called invalid or aprama knowledged.


According to Gautama, perception is un-contradicted knowledge which arises out of the proximity of the object with the sense organ.

It is distinct and unrelated to any name. According to this view, perception is that form of knowledge which results from the contact or nearness between the object and the sense organ, and this is explicit and real knowledge.

For example, when any object is so near to my eye that I have no doubt whatsoever as to its being real,-then it is perceptual knowledge.

If a distinct object appears to me to be a human being and I have some doubts about this knowledge, then in spite of the actual contact between the sense organs and the object, the knowledge is not perceptual knowledge.

In the same way, knowledge of the rope as the snake is not perceptual knowledge even though it is not attended by any doubt.

Hence, illusory knowledge cannot be considered to be perceptual.

The Nyaya philosophers have recognized six kinds of proximity —samyog, samyak, samavaya, samyukt, samaveta, samavaya, samaveta, samavaya and visesana visesya bhava.

This analysis of perception does not take into account the extraordinary and intuitive perceptions because there can be no knowledge of them without contact with senses. Knowledge of pleasure and pain, etc., occurs without ostensible contact with the sense organs.

In this way, the general characteristic of perception is not contact with the senses but rather immediate cognition.

Perceptual knowledge of an object occurs only when there is cognition of it, meaning thereby that in perception, knowledge occurs without any past experience or inference.

In this way, some Nyaya philosophers have given the name of perception (pratiti) to cognition, implying thereby that perception is that knowledge which is not the result of any other knowledge.

Distinctions of perception:

Perception has been analyzed in various ways. From one angle, perception has two distinctions—ordinary (Laukika) and extraordinary (Alaukika).

Extraordinary perception provides immediate knowledge even without the senses.

Ordinary perception also admits of two distinctions—external (bahya) and internal (manas).

External perception has five distinctions connected with the five senses—visual, tactual, auditory, gustatory and olfactory.

In internal perception, the actual contact between the object and the mind produces knowledge of pleasure, pain, love, hatred, morality, immorality, etc.

In this way, the two kinds of perception, internal and external, admits of three distinctions—determinate (savikalpa), indeterminate (nirvikalpa) and recognition (Pratybhijna).

On the other hand, extraordinary perception also has three distinctions—perception of classes (samanya laksan), complication (jnana laksan) and intuitive (yogaja).

Again, ordinary perception has been divided into the following three classes:

1. Indeterminate perception:

Gautama, is his sutras, accepts the categories of determinate and indeterminate perception.

When the external sense organ comes into contact with the objects, first of all a particular kind of knowledge, known as 'sanmukh' or 'avyakrita' in Nyaya philosophy, arises in the self consisting merely of an awareness of the existence of the object without any knowledge of its name, qualities, etc.

It is called indeterminate perception because it lacks any determining feature, such as, quality. It is the undeveloped form of perception.

Its existence is proved not by perception but by inference.

According to the Nyaya philosophers, indeterminate knowledge should precede determinate knowledge.

These two types of perception are only inferred because no relation can be established between the object and the quality without differen­tiating or distinguishing the two.

2. Determinate perception:

Indeterminate perception can have no practical utility. In determinate perception there is no doubt as to whether the object is an animal or a human being or anything else.

According to the Nyaya view, a moment before it arises, the knowledge of an object is devoid of characters, such as, name and class; but following this, the next moment-there is awareness, in the same knowledge, of such characteristics of the object as name, class, shape, quality, etc., and the once indeterminate knowledge is manifested in practice in the form of sentences presenting determinate knowledge of such characteristics of the object as name, class, shape, quality, etc.

This is determinate perception.

In this way, determinate perception gives knowledge of the fact that 'this is a man', 'he is still' etc.

It is the developed form of perception and it is on the basis of it that the worldly activities continue to be performed.

3. Recognition:

In this arises the sense that the object now being perceived has been sent at some earlier juncture. To take an example.

If upon meeting the person to whom you were introduced a year ago, you feel that he is the same individual, this knowledge will be called recognition. In this knowledge there is always an element of immediate experience.

The extraordinary perception has been classified as follows:

1. Perception of classes:

The perception which involves the cognition of a common quality or attribute is different from ordinary perception, and it is therefore called the perception of classes.

When one says that all men are mortal, the observation is based upon the knowledge of the mortality of some men as representatives of a class and this knowledge is known as the perception of classes.

When, upon perceiving someone, one says that he is a man, one perceives manhood in him, or in other words, according to the Nyaya philosophers, knowledge of man arises from the perception of his common quality of 'manhood' which he shares with all men.

It is on the basis of this same perceptual experience that one says that man is mortal because mortality is an attribute of manhood.

2. Perception by Complication:

This includes perceptions such as, 'the ice looks cold', 'the stone appears solid and the grass soft'.

In these examples, coldness, solidity and softness are subjects of tactual perception. It may, therefore, be asked, how they can be visually perceived.

This has been explained by the Nyaya philosophers thus.

We have, on many previous occasions, perceived sandal wood.

By smelling it at the same time as perceiving it visually an association between its colour and its smell is established in the mind.

It is for this reason that the sight of sandalwood is the occasion of the perception of its smell as well.

In this example, the present experience of smell is based upon a recollection of the previous smell.

It is called perception by complication because it is based upon past experience.

It is extra-ordinary perception because generally one sense organ does not perceive sensations of a different nature which usually stimulate some other sense organ.

3. Intuitive perception:

It is the intuitive perception of all objects, and is peculiar to yogis who possess supernatural powers.

This experience can be had only by those who have achieved supernatural power after meditation and Yogic practices.

This power makes it possible for them to have perceptual knowledge of all objects, past and future, complex and minute, near and far.

Intuitive perception is also recognized by other Indian philosophers.

The distinctions of perception are clearly illustrated in the following chart:


The second source of valid knowledge according to Nyaya philosophy is inference.

Inference is the means to 'anumana'.

It is that knowledge preceding which there is some other knowledge.

It is past or indirect (paroksha) knowledge and takes place through the medium of some mark which is called the 'hetu', and bears the relation of invariable concomitance with the observed feature.

Anumana literally means that knowledge which follows some other knowledge.

The basis of inference is the relation of invariable concomitance.

The invariable relation between the 'hetu' and the 'sadhya' is called concomitance or 'vyapti'.

The knowledge of the qualities of the 'paksha' through the hetu is called 'paramarsha' or judgment.

Hence, inference or Anumana is said to be the knowledge gained through judgment, or in other words, the knowledge of the presence of the sadhya in the paksha through the linga, which is a quality of paksha and is invariably related by concomitance.

For example, there is fire on the hill, because there is smoke on the hill, and where there is smoke there is fire.

Here, there is the relation of invariable concomitance between smoke and- fire.

For this reason the presence of fire on the hill is inferred by the presence of the smoke on the hill because of concomitance, and because it has been observed on previous occasions that fire is invariably present where there is smoke.

Constituents of Inference:

In an inference there are three items put in a least three sentences.

These three constituents of inference are respectively called paksha, sadhya and hetu.

They are similar to the three items—monitor, major, and middle—of the syllogism of Western logic.

Paksha is not that of the inference about which there is inference.

Sadhya denotes that which is proved of the paksha.

Hetu establishes that there is relation between the sadhya and the paksha.

For this reason, hetu is also known as the means. To illustrate by means of an example, in the above inference of fire on the hill, smoke is the means of inference.

It is the linga or hetu or sign, the observation of which leads to the inference of the fire.

This inference is based upon the invariable concomitance between fire and smoke.

In this way the inference of fire from smoke involves three steps—(1) there is smoke on the hill. (2)

There is invariable concomitance between smoke and the fire (of which we are already aware). (3)

There is fire on the hill.

Here the hill is the paksha because it is in relation to it that the inference is being made, fire is the sadhya because it is fire which is being proved of the paksa (hill), and smoke is the linga.

In this way, from the standpoint of thought process, the first step in this inference is knowledge of paksa with the hetu, then the knowledge of the vyapti between paksha and sadhya and finally, the judgment about the relation of sadhya with the paksha.

Then this inference will be stated in the following manner:-

There is fire on the hillside.

Because there is smoke on the hillside.

Where there is smoke there is fire, as in the kitchen.
Comparison with Western Syllogism:

In the above-mentioned inference, the first step is to establish a relation between the minor paksha and the major sadhya, the second is to describe the middle hetu, and the final step is to give example to show the invariable relation of the sadhya with the hetu.

This order of inference in Indian logic differs from that of Western syllogism only in respect of the order of judgments, and not in the type of judgments which are the same in both cases.

The three judgments of the foregoing example are similar to the conclusion of both. In the Western syl­logism, the order is the following—major premise, minor premise and the con­clusion.

Thus, the order of the Western syllogism is the opposite of the order of the Indian inference.

In the Western syllogism the major premise is stated first, but in Indian, it is stated last. Conclusion is the last in the Western syllogism but first in the anumana.

All the three judgments of anumana are categorical and may be either affirmative or negative.

Types of Inference:

Inference has been divided into two types according to the purpose for which it is meant—(l) Svarth or for self and (2) Pararth or for others.

In the former, the inference is intended for oneself while in the latter it is for conveying knowledge to others.

In the former, there is no necessity of presenting the judgment in an orderly fashion but when it is a case of making another person understand, it is necessary that correct order of the judgments be adhered to.

According to the Nyaya philosophers, inference for others consists of five constituents.

An example the five constituents of the inference is as follows:

1. Pratijna— There is fire on the hill.

2. Hetu— Because (on the hill) there is smoke.

3. Dristanta— Where there is smoke there is fire, as in the kitchen.

4. Upanaya— There is smoke on the hill.

5. Nigamana— Hence, there is fire on the hill.

Hetu shows the reason for the pratijna.

Dristanta is a universal judgment which, along with an example, shows the invariable relation between sadhya and hetu.

Upanaya shows that the dristanta applies to this particular instance.

Nigamana is that which results from its preceding judgment.

In this inference, the linga is observed thrice.

The first time smoke is observed in the kitchen, the second time in the hill and the third time it is seen in relation to fire.

This inference having five constituents has been called 'paramanyava' by Gautama because it includes four pramanas.

In Gautama's ancient logic, inference has been divided into three kinds on the basis of the distinctions of vyapti.

These three kinds are—purvavat, sesavat and samanyatodrista.

Of these, the first two are based upon casual relationship while the last is not on this basis.

1. Purvavat:

'Purva' means previous or preceding, while 'vat' means like.

Hence, purvavat inference is that which is like the previous, or in other words, one in which the consequent effect is inferred from the precedent cause.

In this manner, in purvavat inference, the future effect is anticipated on the basis of the present cause. It is purvavat inference, when, perceiving the clouds in the sky, it is said that it will rain.

In purvavat inference there is a cause-effect relationship between the sadhana and the sadhya.

2. Sesavat:

'Sesa' means the residual effect.

Therefore, inference of the cause from its effect is sesavat inference.

Contrary to purvavat inference, here the casual relationship is between sadhya and sadhana in the vyapti.

In this, the previous or past cause is inferred from the present effect.

To infer that it must have rained somewhere by observing an increase in the water in the river, its speed or its muddiness, is to employ the sesavat form of inference.

It is also sesavat inference, when, on examining one part of the whole, it is deduced that the remaining must also possess the same qualities.

Thus, it is sesavat inference when from tasting a beakerful of sea water it is inferred that the water in the rest of the sea must also be saline.

Commentators upon the Nyaya classics have interpreted sesavat in­ference in a different way also.

When the alternatives are nullified and there is no possible material from left, then what remains is called sesa.

Any inference through the medium of this sesa is called sesavat inference.

For example, being a characteristic quality, sound is not in time, space or mind. It cannot be the special quality of earth, water, fire, air or soul because it is heard by the ears.

That which is left is the sky. There is no ninth form of matter or 'padartha'.

Hence, according to the sesavat inference, it is proved that sound is the quality of the sky.


The inference which provides knowledge of any imper­ceptible or unperceived object is called samanyatodrista such as the inference of motion in the sun by observing it in the East in the morning and in the West in the evening.

This inference is not based upon the relation of causality, but upon the fact that the means and the end are always found together.

The fact that there is motion in the sun is inferred from its change of position because, when other objects change their position, there is always motion.

Hence samanyatodrista inference resembles comparison to some extent.

On the basis of the method of establishing vyapti or the relation of invariable concomitance, inference has been further divided into three kinds by the Neo Nyaya, vis., Kcvalanvayi, Kevala vyatireki and anavaya vyatireki.


This applies to the case where the means and the object are always found going together, meaning thereby, the case in which the vyapti is established by an agreement in presence between the middle and the major term, and in which there is no exception.

For example—

All knowable objects are namble.

The pot is a knowable object.

Therefore the pot is namable.

Or, that which can be known must also have a name. The pot can be known; hence it must also have a name.

It the first premise of this inference, there is the relation of vyapti between the subject and the object.

===Kevala vyatireki===

Where the inference proceeds not from the agreement in presence of lie middle and the major term but from the vyapti between the absence of the major term and the absence of the middle term, it is called kevala vyatireki inference.

An example of this type of inference is as follows:

Thai which is not different from other elements has no smell.

The earth has smell.

Therefore, the earth is different from other elements.

In this inference the first premise established a relation between the absence of the major term and middle term and the relation established is one of invariable concomitance. It is not possible to discover the characteristics smell in any place other than earth.

For this reason, it is not possible to establish a relation of agreement in presence between the major and the middle term.

In this way, here inference has been made on the basis of invariable concomitance.

===Anavaya Vyatireki===

Where the relation between the major and the middle term is based on the agreement both in presence and absence, the inference is anvaya vyatireki.

The following is an example of it:—

Where there is smoke there is fire,

There is smoke on the hill,

Hence there is fire on the hill,

Where there is no fire there is no smoke.

There is smoke on the hill,

Hence there is fire on the hill.

The foregoing different types of inferences according to Nyaya philosophy may be illustrated by the following chart:-

According to the Nyaya philosophy, comparison is the name given to the knowledge of the relation between a name and the thing so named.

It supplies knowledge of the relation between a name and the object which is given that name.

It is based on the knowledge of some common properly or similarity between two major objects.

Take it for granted that you have never seen a wild cow.

A person dwelling in the forest informs you that it is not unlike an ordinary cow and possesses much the same shape.

If, then, you come across some animal which resembles a cow and conclude that this is the animal known as a wild cow, then this knowledge is the result of comparison.

Here, there is a relation between the name and the object of that name, or in other words, the animal known as the wild cow is similar to a known animal the cow. I

In this activity of comparison, when one sees the similarity between the cow and the wild cow, and recollects that the wild cow resembles a cow, only then does he know that its name is a wild cow.


According to the Nyaya philosophy, sabda is a reliable statement.

A sentence is a group of words, and 'word' is an entity which has the power to express some meaning.

According to the ancient Nyaya system, this power of meaning is due to God, while according to later Nyaya philosophers, it is endowed by tradition.

The quality of being evidence or source of valid knowledge is possessed, not by all words, but only by the words of seers.

If some individual has knowledge of the truth and presents this knowledge for the good of humanity, then his word shall be accepted as true.

Knowledge comes about with the comprehen­sion of the meaning and not only of the word.

Hence, the knowledge of the meaning of the statements of seers is testimony.

Types of words:

Words have been sub-divided into two classes according to the object of meaning—Dristartha and Adristartha.

The former relates to the knowledge of such objects that are perceptible, as statements of seers, ordinary persons who can be believed, descriptions contained in religious texts concerning objects that have been seen, evidence given by witnesses in courts of law, believable facts concern­ing agricultures and the rituals described in religious texts for rain, etc.

The latter classification relates to imperceptible objects such as acceptable statements of common men, saints, religious leaders and religious texts, statements of scientists concerning atoms, beliefs of religious leaders concerning sin and virtue and the explanations of God, creatures and other things offered in the religious texts.

The origin of words forms another basis for their classification viz., Vedic, and Laukika (ordinary). According to the Nyaya philosophers, words originate with some person, be it a human individual or even God himself.

Vedic words are creations of God himself. Ordinary words arc created by human beings.

For this reason, Vedic words are completely free from defects and delusions.

Ordinary words can be true as well as false.

The utterances of reliable individuals are treated as true.

It would be evident from the foregoing description of Nyaya epistemology that in epistemological thought, Nyaya philosophy is second to no other system of Indian philosophy.

After going through their detailed and subtle exposition of this subject, it cannot be said that logic has not been adequately developed in Indian philosophy.
The Concept of God:
What Is God?

According to the Nyaya, God is the creator, sustained and destroyer of the Universe.

He is the efficient, not the material, cause of the Universe.

He directs the activities of living souls. Just as an intelligent and benevolent father inspires the son to act according to intelligence, capability and qualities, so also, God inspires living beings to act according to the tendencies acquired by them in the past and to win rewards appropriate to their actions.

It is He who determines the pains and pleasures of the jivas, provides their merits and rewards their actions appropriately.

He creates the universe from the eternal entities such as atoms, space, time, ether, mind and soul which live with Him.

It is because of His desire that the universe remains in its state of stability.

In this way, it is He who also sustains the universe.

He employs his power of destruction when it becomes imperative that the universe be destroyed.

In this way, He is also the destroyer of the universe.

Substances such as space and time, have the same relation to God as the body has to the soul.

Consequently, they do not limit Him.

He is all-powerful unlike man whose power is limited by his virtues and sins.

He has real knowledge of all objects and occurrences.

He is, therefore, omniscient.

He is the substratum in which knowledge exists.

He is Himself not knowledge. In Him are the six perfections.

He is majestic, almighty, all-glorious, infinitely beautiful, and has infinite knowledge and perfect freedom from attachment.
Roofs of the existence of God:

The Nyaya philosophers have put forward many proofs of the existence of God.

Some of the important ones are the following:-

1. God is the creator of the organic objects of the universe:

There are two kinds of objects in the universe—organic and inorganic.

The atoms of space, time, soul, mind, earth, water, fire and air are perfect and eternal.

Hence, there cannot be any question of their creator.

But objects other than these are neither atomic nor all-pervading (vibha).

Hence, they must necessarily have some cause, without the guidance and direction by an intelligent agent, their material cause cannot give them the form or shape they are found possessing.

This agent must possess the knowledge, the desire to attain the objective, and the power to make an effort.

He must also be omniscient, otherwise he cannot have knowledge of such microscopic existence as the atoms.

All these qualities of such an agent are to be found only in God.

This proves the existence of God as the creator of the universe.

2. God is the cause of differences in fortune and the ruler of past tenden­cies:

In this world, the fortune of everyone is different: One is born in a rich family and another in the house of a pauper.

Some do not get a full meal even after back-breaking labour while others have everything at their beck and call. Some are intelligent and others foolish.

Naiyayikas believe that this difference is due to their past adrsta.

This entity, called adrsta, is a conglomeration of merits and demerits developing from good or bad actions of the past.

Good actions create merit in our souls and bad actions create demerit; in this way, adrsta is the collection of good and bad actions of the present and the previous lives.

Good actions have good and bad actions bad results.

According to this adrsta, the individual is the recipient of pleasure and pain in this as well as in the subsequent lives.

But adrsta is unintel­ligent and hence it cannot of itself create correlation in the past actions and their results.

For this an intelligent director and guide is needed.

The jivatma cannot be the guide of the adrsta, because it does not have any knowledge of its past tendencies.

Besides, the results of past tendencies have been known to run counter to the desire of the jivatma.

Thus, according to the Naiyayikas, only God who is immortal, all powerful and omniscient, can be the guide of the past tendencies.

In this way, a difference in fortunes of the individuals and the influence of past tendencies prove the existence of God.

3. God is the cause of the validity of religious texts:

The Vedas are valid and authoritative, and hence their creator, God, is also authoritative.

Just as a science can be declared valid after testing even only a part of it, similarly the Vedas including their supernatural dicta may be accepted as valid after testing the validity only of their pronouncements about the worldly things.

The validity of the Vedas depends upon their author.

The author of the Vedas cannot be a Jiva since he cannot be cognizant of their supernatural and extra-sensory subjects.

The author of the Vedas can only be one who has perceptual and actual knowledge of the past, the present and the future, of atoms and cosmos, and of sensible and extra-sensory objects.

For this reason, the creator of the Vedas is God and their validity emanates from Him.

Just as the validity of the sciences depends upon their creator so does the validity of the Vedas depend upon God.

4. Divine utterances also prove the existence of God:

The fourth proof about the existence of God comes from Sruti, the Vedic scriptures.

The existence of God has been accepted by the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita.

The existence of God can be proved by experience and not by logic.

For this reason, those individuals who do not have personal experience should depend upon Sruti or divine utteran­ces.

According to Kusumanjali, just as the sciences themselves and scientification are proofs of the truth of scientific laws, similarly Sruti also is evidence enough to prove the existence of God.

Udayana's arguments:

Udayana has advanced nine arguments as explained below, contained in the following verse, for proving the existence of God

1. Karyat:

The universe is an effect; hence, it must have an instrumental cause.

This cause is God.

2. Ayojanat:

Atoms are inactive hence they must be provided with motion by God, which is necessary for their conjuction.

Past tendency cannot impart motion to the atoms without God.

3. Dhrttyadeh:

The creator and the destroyer of the universe is God.

It is due to his decision that creation, maintenance and destruction take place.

4. Padat:

Words get their power of giving meaning to their subjects from God.

5. Pratyaytah:

God is the author of the authoritative Vedas.

6. Sruteh:

Sruti establishes the existence of God.

7. Vakyat:

Vedic sentences give expression to moral laws. God is the author of moral laws.

8. Samkhya Visesachcha :

According to Nyaya-Vaisesika, the diatomic structure is not formed of the microscopic substance of two atoms but of their number two.

The numeral one is perceptible, but all the other numerals are mental concepts.

At the time of creation, the souls, atoms,adrsta, space, time, manas, etc., arc all unconscious or unintelligent.

For this reason, number will be dependent upon the mind of God and will be created by it.

For this reason, it is necessary to believe in the existence of God.

9. Adrstat:

We experience the result of our factions and four characteristic actions lead to merit and demerit.

Adrsta is the collection of merits and demerits.

But this adrsta is unintelligent.

Hence, in order that there may be experience of the results of adrsta there must be God.

Some arguments have been given against the proofs for the existence of God which Naiyayikas have put forward.

They have been answered by the Nyaya philosophers.

The major among them are as follows:-

(1) In connection with the foregoing third and fourth proofs for the existence of God, it may be objected that they are interdependent, and consequently suffer from the fallacy of circular argument.

But according to the Sarva Darsana, Sangraha their interdependence is not circular because it would have been circular only if the two subjects had been interdependent from the same point of view.

In this particular case, from the viewpoint of existence, the Vedas are dependent upon God because God is their author, while from the viewpoint of human knowledge, God is dependent upon the Vedas because it is through the Vedas that human beings get to know God.

(2) The second objection to the Nyaya conception of God is that if God is the creator of this universe, he must possess a body, because without a body no activity can be indulged in.

The Nayayikas answer this by saying that the existence of God is either proved by the Sruti or it is disproved.

If it has been proved then there is no use raising such objection.

(3) The third objection to the Nyaya conception of God is concerned with the purpose which God has in creating the universe.

It is argued that God can have no purpose of his own in creating the universe because He is perfect He could not be doing it for others because one who works for the good of others cannot be wise.

If His purpose in creating the universe is simply benevolence, then there should not have been so many unhappy individuals in this world.

Hence, God cannot be credited with having created this world. Answering this objection, the Naiyayikas say that God has created this world out of compassion.

The world having been created, it is only natural that there should be pain and pleasure in the world, because the jivatmas are attended by their respective adrsta.

Just as mind is not the slave of the body though it helps in the achievement of its objective and in acting to this end, in much the same way, the universe does not make the God dependent upon His creation but helps Him in the realization of His objective.