A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of upamana and sabda: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eighteenth part in the series called the “the nyaya-vaisheshika philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

The third pramāṇa, which is admitted by Nyāya and not by Vaiśeṣika, is upamāna , and consists in associating a thing unknown before with its name by virtue of its similarity with some other known thing. Thus a man of the city who has never seen a wild ox (gavaya) goes to the forest, asks a forester— “what is gavaya ?” and the forester replies—“oh, you do not know it, it is just like a cow”; after hearing this from the forester he travels on, and on seeing a gavaya and finding it to be similar to a cow he forms the opinion that this is a gavaya. This knowing an hitherto unknown thing by virtue of its similarity to a known thing is called upamāna. If some forester had pointed out a gavaya to a man of the city and had told him that it was called a gavaya, then also the man would have known the animal by the name gavaya, but then this would have been due to testimony (śabda-pramāṇa).

The knowledge is said to be generated by the upamāna process when the association of the unknown animal with its name is made by the observer on the strength of the experience of the similarity of the unknown animal to a known one. The naiyāyikas are thorough realists, and as such they do not regard the observation of similarity as being due to any subjective process of the mind. Similarity is indeed perceived by the visual sense but yet the association of the name in accordance with the perception of similarity and the instruction received is a separate act and is called upamāna[1].

Śabda-pramāṇa or testimony is the right knowledge which we derive from the utterances of infallible and absolutely truthful persons. All knowledge derived from the Vedas is valid, for the Vedas were uttered by Īśvara himself. The Vedas give us right knowledge not of itself, but because they came out as the utterances of the infallible Īśvara. The Vaiśeṣikas did not admit śabda as a separate pramāṇa, but they sought to establish the validity of testimony (śabda) on the strength of inference (anu-miti) on the ground of its being the utterance of an infallible person. But as I have said before, this explanation is hardly corroborated by the Vaiśeṣika sūtras, which tacitly admit the validity of the scriptures on its own authority. But anyhow this was how Vaiśeṣika was interpreted in later times.

Footnotes and references:


S w Nyāyamañjarī on upamāna. The oldest Nyāya view was that the instruction given by the forester by virtue of which the association of the name “wild ox” to the strange animal was possible was itself “upamāna.” When Praśastapāda held that upamāna should be treated as a case of testimony (āplavacana), he had probably this interpretation in view. But Udyotakara and Vācaspati hold that it was not by the instruction alone of the forester that the association of the name “wild ox” was made, but there was the perception of similarity, and the memory of the instruction of the forester too. So it is the perception of similarity with the other two factors as accessories that lead us to this association called upamāna. What Vātsyāyana meant is not very clear, but Diñnāga supposes that according to him the result of upamāna was the knowledge of similarity or the knowledge of a thing having similarity. Vācaspati of course holds that he has correctly interpreted Vātsyāyana’s intention. It is however definite that upamāna means the associating of a name to a new object (samākhyāsambandhapratipattirupamānārthaḥ, Vātsyāyana). Jayanta points out that it is the preception of similarity which directly leads to the association of the name and hence the instruction of the forester cannot be regarded as the direct cause and consequently it cannot be classed under testimony (śabda). See Praśastapāda and Nyāyakandalī, pp. 220-22, Vātsyāyana, Udyotakara, Vācaspati and Jayanta on Upamāna.

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