A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

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

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

Part 19 - Negation in Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika

The problem of negation or non-existence (abhāva) is of great interest in Indian philosophy. In this section we can describe its nature only from the point of view of perceptibility. Kumārila[1] and his followers, whose philosophy we shall deal with in the next chapter, hold that negation (abhāva) appears as an intuition (rnānani) with reference to the object negated where there are no means of ordinary cognition (Pramāṇa) leading to prove the existence (satparicchedakam) of that thing. They held that the notion “it is not existent” cannot be due to perception, for there is no contact here with sense and object. It is true indeed that when we turn our eyes (e.g. in the case of the perception of the nonexistence of a jug) to the ground, we see both the ground and the non-existence of a jug, and when we shut them we can see neither the jug nor the ground, and therefore it could be urged that if we called the ground visually perceptible, we could say the same with regard to the non-existence of the jug. But even then since in the case of the perception of the jug there is sense-contact, which is absent in the other case, we could never say that both are grasped by perception.

We see the ground and remember the jug (which is absent) and thus in the mind rises the notion of non-existence which has no reference at all to visual perception. A man may be sitting in a place where there were no tigers, but he might not then be aware of their non-existence at the time, since he did not think of them, but when later on he is asked in the evening if there were any tigers at the place where he was sitting in the morning, he then thinks and becomes aware of the non-existence of tigers there in the morning, even without perceiving the place and without any operation of the memory of the non-existence of tigers.

There is no question of there being any inference in the rise of our notion of non-existence, for it is not preceded by any notion of concomitance of any kind, and neither the ground nor the non-perception of the jug could be regarded as a reason (liṅga), for the non-perception of the jug is related to the jug and not to the negation of the jug, and no concomitance is known between the non-perception of the jug and its non-existence, and when the question of the concomitance of non-perception with non-existence is brought in, the same difficulty about the notion of non-existence (abhāva) which was sought to be explained will recur again.

Negation is therefore to be admitted as cognized by a separate and independent process of knowledge. Nyāya however says that the perception of non-existence (e.g. there is no jug here) is a unitary perception of one whole, just as any perception of positive existence (e.g. there is a jug on the ground) is. Both the knowledge of the ground as well as the knowledge of the non-existence of the jug arise there by the same kind of action of the visual organ, and there is therefore no reason why the knowledge of the ground should be said to be due to perception, whereas the knowledge of the negation of the jug on the ground should be said to be due to a separate process of knowledge. The non-existence of the jug is taken in the same act as the ground is perceived. The principle that in order to perceive a thing one should have sense-contact with it, applies only to positive existents and not to negation or non-existence. Negation or non-existence can be cognized even without any sense-contact.

Non-existence is not a positive substance, and hence there cannot be any question here of sense-contact. It may be urged that if no sense-contact is required in apprehending negation, one could as well apprehend negation or non-existence of other places which are far away from him. To this the reply is that to apprehend negation it is necessary that the place where it exists must be perceived. We know a thing and its quality to be different, and yet the quality can only be taken in association with the thing and it is so in this case as well.

We can apprehend non-existence only through the apprehension of its locus. In the case when non-existence is said to be apprehended later on it is really no later apprehension of nonexistence but a memory of non-existence (e.g. of jug) perceived before along with the perception of the locus of non-existence (e.g. ground). Negation or non-existence (abhāva) can thus, according to Nyāya, generate its cognition just as any positive existence can do. Negation is not mere negativity or mere vacuous absence, but is what generates the cognition “is not,” as position (bhāva) is what generates the cognition “it is.”

The Buddhists deny the existence of negation. They hold that when a negation is apprehended, it is apprehended with specific time and space conditions (e.g. this is not here now); but in spite of such an apprehension, we could never think that negation could thus be associated with them in any relation. There is also no relation between the negation and its pratiyogi (thing negated—e.g. jug in the negation of jug), for when there is the pratiyogi there is no negation, and when there is the negation there is no pratiyogi. There is not even the relation of opposition (virodha), for we could have admitted it, if the negation of the jug existed before and opposed the jug, for how can the negation of the jug oppose the jug, without effecting anything at all? Again, it may be asked whether negation is to be regarded as a positive being or becoming or of the nature of not becoming or non-being. In the first alternative it will be like any other positive existents, and in the second case it will be permanent and eternal, and it cannot be related to this or that particular negation.

There are however many kinds of nonperception, e.g.

  1. svabhāvānupalabdhi (natural non-perception— there is no jug because none is perceived);
  2. kāranānupalabdhi (non-perception of cause—there is no smoke here, since there is no fire);
  3. vyāpakānupalabdhi (non-perception of the species— there is no pine here, since there is no tree);
  4. kāryānupalabdhi (non-perception of effects—there are not the causes of smoke here, since there is no smoke);
  5. svabhāvaviruddhopalabdhi (perception of contradictory natures—there is no cold touch here because of fire);
  6. viruddhakāryopalabdhi (perception of contradictory effects—there is no cold touch here because of smoke);
  7. viruddhavyāptopalabdhi (opposite concomitance—past is not of necessity destructible, since it depends on other causes);
  8. kāryyaviruddhopalabdhi (opposition of effects—there is not here the causes which can give cold since there is fire);
  9. vyāpakaviruddhopalabdhi (opposite concomitants—there is no touch of snow here, because of fire);
  10. kāraṇaviruddhopalabdhi (opposite causes— there is no shivering through cold here, since he is near the fire);
  11. kāraṇaviruddhakāryyopalabdhi (effects of opposite causes— this place is not occupied by men of shivering sensations for it is full of smoke[2]).

There is no doubt that in the above ways we speak of negation, but that does not prove that there is any reason for the cognition of negation (heturnābhāvasamvidaḥ). All that we can say is this that there are certain situations which justify the use (yogyata) of negative appellations. But this situation or yogyatā is positive in character. What we all speak of in ordinary usage as non-perception is of the nature of perception of some sort. Perception of negation thus does not prove the existence of negation, but only shows that there are certain positive perceptions which are only interpreted in that way. It is the positive perception of the ground where the visible jug is absent that leads us to speak of having perceived the negation of the jug (anupalambhaḥ abhāvaṃ vyavahārayati)[3].

The Nyāya reply against this is that the perception of positive existents is as much a fact as the perception of negation, and we have no right to say that the former alone is valid. It is said that the non-perception of jug on the ground is but the perception of the ground without the jug. But is this being without the jug identical with the ground or different? If identical then it is the same as the ground, and we shall expect to have it even when the jug is there. If different then the quarrel is only over the name, for whatever you may call it, it is admitted to be a distinct category. If some difference is noted between the ground with the jug, and the ground without it, then call it “ground, without the jugness” or “the negation of jug,” it does not matter much, for a distinct category has anyhow been admitted.

Negation is apprehended by perception as much as any positive existent is; the nature of the objects of perception only are different; just as even in the perception of positive sense-objects there are such diversities as colour, taste, etc. The relation of negation with space and time with which it appears associated is the relation that subsists between the qualified and the quality (viśeṣya viśeṣaṇa). The relation between the negation and its pratiyogi is one of opposition, in the sense that where the one is the other is not. The Vaiśeṣika sūtra (IX. i. 6) seems to take abhāva in a similar way as Kumārila the Mlmamsist does, though the commentators have tried to explain it away[4].

In Vaiśeṣika the four kinds of negation are enumerated as

  1. prāgabhāva (the negation preceding the production of an object—e.g. of the jug before it is made by the potter);
  2. dhvaṃsābhāva (the negation following the destruction of an object—as of the jug after it is destroyed by the stroke of a stick);
  3. anyonyābhāva (mutual negation—e.g. in the cow there is the negation of the horse and in the horse that of the cow);
  4. atyantābhāva (a negation which always exists—e.g. even when there is a jug here, its negation in other places is not destroyed)[5].

Footnotes and references:


See Kumārila’s treatment of abhāva in the Slokavārttika, pp. 473-492.


See Nyāyabindu, p. 11, and Nyāyamañjarī, pp. 53-7.


See Nyāyabinduṭīkā, pp. 34 ff., and also Nyāyamañjarī, pp. 48-63.


Praśastapāda says that as the production of an effect is the sign of the existence of the cause, so the non-production of it is the sign of its non-existence. Śrīdhara in commenting upon it says that the non-preception of a sensible object is the sign (liñga) of its non-existence. But evidently he is not satisfied with the view for he says that non-existence is also directly perceived by the senses (bhāvavad abhāvo’pīndriyagrahaṇayogyaḥ) and that there is an actual sense-contact with non-existence which is the collocating cause of the preception of non-existence (abhāvendriyasannikarṣo’pi abhāvagrahaṇasāmagrī), Nyāyakandalī , pp. 225-30.


The doctrine of negation, its function and value with reference to diverse logical problems, have many diverse aspects, and it is impossible to do them justice in a small section like this.