A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of venkatanatha’s treatment of doubt: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eighth part in the series called the “philosophy of the ramanuja school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 8 - Veṅkaṭanātha’s treatment of Doubt

Veṅkaṭanātha defines doubt as the appearance of two or more alternatives (which are in themselves incompatible) owing to the non-perception of their specific contradictory qualities and the perception of some general characteristics common to them both; e.g. when a tall thing only is seen, which may be either a man or a stump, both of which it could not be, they being entirely different from one another. So the two alternatives are not to be entirely different, and from what is seen of the object it cannot be known that it must be the one and not the other, and this causes the doubt. Veṅkaṭanātha tries to justify this analysis of doubt by referring to other earlier authorities who regarded doubt as an oscillating apprehension in which the mind goes from one alternative to another (dolā-vegavad atra sphuraṇa-kramaḥ), since it would be contradictory that the same object should be two different things at the same time. The author of the Atma-siddhi has therefore described it as the loose contact of the mind with two or more things in quick succession (bahubhir-yugapad a-dṛḍha-saṃyogaḥ). Doubt may arise either from the apprehension of common characteristics—such as from tallness, whether the object perceived be a tree-stump or a man—or from not having been able to decide between the relative strength of the various opposite and different possibilities suggested by what is perceived or otherwise known (a-gṛhyamāna-bala-tāratamya-viruddhā-neka-jñāpako-pasthāpanam iha-vipratipattiḥ).

So, whenever there are two or more possibilities, none of which can be ruled out without further verification, there is doubt[1]. Thus, doubt arises between a true and a false perception as when I perceive a face in the mirror, but do not know whether it is a real face or not until it is decided by an attempt to feel it by touch. So, between valid and invalid inference, when I judge from smoke that the hill is on fire, and yet through not perceiving any light doubt that it is on fire; between opposition of scriptural texts, jīva has been said to be different from Brahman and to be one with it,” whether then the jīva is different from Brahman or one with it; between conflicting authorities (e.g. the Vaiśeṣika philosophers and the Upaniṣadic doctrines) such as “are the senses material or are they the products of the ego ?” Between perception and inference (e.g. in the case of the illusory perception of yellow conch-shell, the perceiving of it as yellow and the inferring that it could not be yellow because it is a conch-shell and hence the doubt, whether the conch-shell is white or yellow, and so forth).

In referring to the view of Varadanārāyaṇa in his Prajñā-paritrāṇa, Veṅkaṭanātha says that the threefold division of doubt that he made, due to perception of common characteristics, apprehension of different alternatives, and the opposition of scholars and authorities, is in imitation of the Nyāya ways of looking at doubt[2], for the last two forms were essentially the same. Veṅkaṭanātha further refutes the Nyāya view of doubt in which Vātsyāyana, in explaining Nyāya-sūtra, i. n. 23, says that there can be doubt even from special distinguishing qualities. Thus, earth has smell as a distinctive characteristic which is not possessed either by eternal substances, such as self, or by non-eternal substances, such as water, etc.; and there can naturally be a doubt whether earth, being different from eternal substances, is non-eternal, or whether, being different from non-eternal substances, it is eternal.

Veṅkaṭanātha points out that here doubt does not take place owing to the fact that earth possesses this distinguishing quality. It is simply because the possession of smell is quite irrelevant to the determination of eternity or non-eternity, as it is shared by both eternal and non-eternal substances. Doubt would continue until a distinguishing characteristic, such as is possessed by eternal or non-eternal substances alone, is found in earth (vyatireki-nirūpaṇa-vilambāt), on the strength of which it could be determined whether it is eternal or not. Veṅkaṭanātha, in various illustrations, shows that doubt consists essentially of an oscillation of the mind, due to indecision between two possible alternatives. He would admit even such inquiries as “What may be the name of this tree?” as doubt, and not mere indecision or want of knowledge (an-adhyavasāya). Such inquiries can rightly be admitted as doubts; for they involve doubt regarding two or more alternative names, which are vaguely wavering in the mind and which are followed by a desire to settle or decide in favour of one or the other.

So here also there is a want of settlement between two alternatives, due to a failure to find the determining factor (avacchedakā-darśanāt an-avacchinna-koti-viśeṣaḥ). Such a state of oscillation might naturally end in a mental reckoning in favour of or against the possible or probable alternatives, which is called ūha (but which must be distinguished from ūha as tarka in connection with inference), which leads to the resolution of doubt into probability[3]. However, Anantārya, a later writer of the Rāmānuja school, further described doubt as being a state of mind in which one perceived only that something lay before him, but did not notice any of its specific features, qualities or characters (puro-vṛtti-mātram a-gṛhīta-viśeṣaṇam anubhūyate). Only the two alternatives (e.g. “a tree stump or a man”— sthāṇu-puruṣau) are remembered. According to the Sarvārtha-siddhi, the imperfect observation of something before us rouses its corresponding subconscious impression (saṃskāra), which, in its turn, rouses the subconscious impressions leading to the simultaneous revival in one sweep of memory of the two possible alternatives of which neither could be decided upon[4].

The point disputed in this connection is between a minority party of interpreters, who think that the perception of something in front of us rouses an impression which in its turn rouses two different subconscious impressions leading to one memory joining up the two alternative entities (e.g. tree-stump and man), and a majority party, who think that the perception of something in front of us leads directly to the memory of two different alternatives, which is interpreted as doubt. 'The former view, by linking up the two memories in one act of knowledge, supposes the oscillating movement to be one act of judgment and so holds the opinion that in doubt also there is the false substitution of one judgment for another, which is in accordance with the anyathā-khyāti (illegitimate substitution of judgments) theory of illusion. The latter view, which holds that there are two separate memories of the two possible alternatives, interprets Rāmānuja as an upholder of realism of knowledge (jñāna-yāthārthxa-vāda), or the view that whatever is known or perceived has an objective and a real basis.

Footnotes and references:


The Nyāya analysis of doubt, as found in Vātsyāyana's bhāṣya, I. 11. 23, is as follows: When the common characteristics of two possible things are noticed, but not the specific quality which would decide for the one or the other, the anguish of the mind in determining or deciding in favour of the one or the other is called doubt. Doubt may also arise from conflicting opinions (vipratipatteḥ), e.g., some say that there is a soul, while others hold that there is no soul. Doubt may also arise from the perception of determining qualities (production through division, vibhāgajatva) which a thing (e.g. sound) has in common with other things (e.g. substance, attributes, and actions). Doubt may arise from perception of things which may be illusorily perceived even when non-existent (e.g. water in mirage), out of a desire for certainty and also from a non-perception of things (which may yet be there, though non-evident), out of a desire to discover some traits by which one could be certain whether the thing was there or not. The special contribution of Veṅkaṭanātha consists in giving a general analysis of doubt as a state of the mind instead of the specification of the five specific forms of doubt. Veṅkaṭanātha points out that doubt need not be of five kinds only but can be of many kinds which, however, all agree in this, that in all states of doubt there is an oscillation of the mind from one alternative to another, due to the indetermination of the relative strength of the different possible alternatives on account of the perception of merely certain common characteristics without their specific determining and decisive features.


sādhāraṇā-kṛter dṛṣṭyā'nekā-kāra-grahāt tathā
vipaścitāṃ vivūdāc ca tridhā saṃśaya iṣyate.
quoted in Nyāya-pariśuddhi, p. 62.


ūhas tu prāyaḥ puruṣeṇā'nena bhavitavyam ity-ādi-rūpa eka-koṭi-saha-carita-bhūyo-dharma-darśanād anudbhūtā-nya-koṭikaḥ sa eva.
p. 68. Chowkhamba.


puro-vṛtty-anubhava-janita-saṃskāreṇa koṭi-dvayo-pastḥiti-hetu-saṃskārā-bhyāṃ ca yugapad-eka-smaraṇaṃ saṃśaya-sthale svīkriyata iti sarvā-rtha-siddhau uktam.
     Anantārya’s Jñāna-yāthārthya-vāda.
     Govt. Oriental MS. No. 4884.

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