A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Part 9 - Error and Doubt according to Veṅkaṭanātha

Error is defined by Veṅkaṭanātha as occurring when one or more incompatible characters are predicted of an entity without any notion of their incompatibility or contradictions. It is generally due to a wrong psychological tendency in association with other vicious perceptual data, as in the case of the perception of the conch-shell as yellow, the perception of one big moon as small and two, the relativistic (anekānta) assertion of contradictory predicates with reference to one thing or the predication of both reality and unreality in regard to world-appearance by the Śaṅkarites[1]. Doubt, on the other hand, occurs when a perceived characteristic is not incompatible in predication with regard to two or more entities which are felt to be exclusive and opposed to one another, and which therefore cannot both at the same time be affirmed. This state is therefore described by some as an oscillator)' movement of the mind from one pole to another. Decision results from a unipolar and firm direction of mind to one object; doubt results from a multipolar oscillation, as has been set forth in the Atma-siddhi. Absence of firmness of the direction of the mind is due to the natural constitution of mind, which has necessarily to reject a particular alternative before it can settle down in its opposite.

Bhattārakaguru repeats the same idea in his Tattva-ratnākara, when he defines doubt as the association of two contrary or contradictory qualities with any particular entity. Doubt, according to Veṅkaṭanātha, is of two kinds: from samāna-dharma and from vipratipatti, i.e. when different indications point to two or more conclusions and the relative strength of these indications cannot be conclusively decided. The condition of doubt in the first case is the uncertainty caused by the fact that two contrary possibilities, the relative strength of which cannot be determined on account of certain similar traits (samāna-dharma-vipratipattibhyām), claim affirmation. Thus, when we see something tall before us, two possibilities may arise—the tall object may be a man or a post, since both these are tall. When the relative strength of the different sources of knowledge, e.g. perception, illusion, inference, testimony, etc., leading to different conclusions (a-gṛhyamāṇa-bala-tāratamya) cannot be determined, both claim affirmation with regard to the same object or conclusion, and doubt arises as to which is to be accepted. Thus, when one sees in the mirror the image of one’s face, which is not corroborated by touch, there arises the doubt as to the reality of the reflection.

Again, there may be a doubt arising from two possible inferences regarding the existence of fire in the hill from smoke, and its possible non-existence from the existence of light. Again, as there are texts in the Upaniṣads some of which are monistic and others dualistic, a doubt may arise as to which is the right view of the Upaniṣads, and so forth. Doubt may also arise from two opposing contentions, such as those of the atomists and the Upaniṣadists regarding the question as to whether the senses have sprung from matter or from the ego. It may also arise regarding the opposing assertions of two ordinary individuals; between perception (e.g. illusory perception of conch-shell as yellow) and inference which indicates that the conch-shell cannot be yellow; between perception of the self as an embodied being and the scriptural testimony concerning the self as atomic.

Doubt may also arise between inferential knowledge of the world as atomic and the scriptural knowledge of the world as having Brahman as its substance. The Naiyāyikas, however, think that doubt can also arise regarding the two different contentions of opposing parties[2]. Veṅkaṭanātha points out that both the Nyāya-sūtra and the Prajñā-paritrāṇa are wrong in giving the perception of similar traits (samāna-dharma) and of special characteristics (aneka-dharma) as two independent reasons for the origin of doubt[3]. The explanation given with regard to the doubt arising from a special characteristic such as odorousness is that, as this characteristic is not possessed by non-eternal substances, one may be led to think of including earth under eternal substances; and, again, as this characteristic is not to be found in any of the eternal substances, one may be led to include earth under non-eternal substances.

But the doubt here is due not to the perception of a special characteristic, but to the delay of the mind in determining the ultimate differentia (vyatireki-nirupaṇa-vilambāt) which may justify one in including it under either of them. Odorousness as such is not an indispensable condition of either eternality, or non-eternality; so naturally an inquiry arises regarding such common features in eternal or non-eternal substances as may be possessed by the odorous earth and may lead to a classification. The doubt here is due not to the fact that odorousness is a special characteristic of earth, but to the fact that earth possesses such characteristics as are possessed by eternal things on the one hand and by non-eternal things on the other. Even when it is urged that the odorous character distinguishes earth from eternal and non-eternal substances and that this is the cause of doubt, it may be pointed out that doubt is due not to this distinguishing characteristic, but to the fact that earth possesses qualities common to both eternal and noneternal substances.

There are some who think that doubt through vipratipatti (i.e. through uncertainty arising from reasoned assertions of contending persons) may also be regarded as a case of doubt from samāna-dharma (i.e. perception of similar traits), because the opposed assertions have this similarity amongst themselves that they are all held as true by the respective contending persons. Veṅkaṭanātha, however, does not agree with this. He holds that doubt here does not arise merely on the strength of the fact that the opposed assertions are held as true by the contending persons, but because of our remembering the diverse reasons in support of such assertions when the relative strength of such reasons or possibilities of validity cannot be definitely ascertained. Thus, vipratipatti has to be accepted as an independent source of doubt.

Doubt arises generally between two possible alternatives; but there may be cases in which two doubts merge together and appear as one complex doubt. Thus, when it is known that one or other of two persons is a thief, but not which of them, there may be a doubt— “this man or that man is a thief”. In such a case there are two doubts: “this man may or may not be a thief” and “that man may or may not be a thief,” and these merge together to form the complex doubt (saṃśaya-dvaya-samāhāra). The need of admitting a complex doubt may, however, vanish, if it is interpreted as a case where the quality of being a thief is doubted between two individuals. Doubt, however, involves in it also an assertory aspect, in so far as it implies that, if one of the alternatives is ruled out, the other must be affirmed. But, since it cannot be ascertained which of them is ruled out, there arises the doubt. There is, however, no opposition between doubt and the assertory attitude; for all doubts imply that the doubtful property must belong to one or other of the alternatives[4].

But there may be cases in which the two alternatives may be such that the doubtful property is not in reality affirmable of either of them, and this is different from those cases in which the alternatives are such that, if the doubtful property is negated of the one, it is in reality affirmable of the other. From these two points of view we have further twofold divisions of doubt. Thus, when a volume of smoke arising from a heap of grass on fire is subject of doubt as being either an elephant or a hill, in this case negation of one alternative does not imply the actual affirmation of the other. Uncertainty (an-adhyavasāya, e.g. “what may be the name of this tree?”) cannot be regarded as an independent state of mind; for this also may be regarded as a case of doubt in which there is uncertainty between a number of possible alternative names with which the tree may be associated. It seems, however, that Vēnkatanātha has not been able to repudiate satisfactorily the view of those who regard uncertainty or inquiry as a separate state of mind. Ūha (in the sense of probability such as “that must be a man”) does not involve any oscillation of the mind between two poles, but sets forth an attitude of mind in which the possibility of one side, being far stronger, renders that alternative an object of the most probable affirmation and so cannot be classed as doubt. Where such a probable affirmation is brought about through perception, it is included under perception, and when through inference it is included under inference.

Veṅkaṭanātha, following Rāmānuja, admits only three pramāṇas, viz. perception, inference, and scriptural testimony. Rāmānuja, however, in his commentary on the Gītā[5], includes intuitive yogic knowledge as a separate source of knowledge; but Veṅkaṭanātha holds that intuitive yogic knowledge should be included under perception, and its separate inclusion is due to the fact that the yogic perception reveals a special aspect of perception[6]. Correct memory is to be regarded as a valid pramāṇa. It should not be classed as an independent source of knowledge, but is to be included within the pramāṇa which is responsible for memory (e.g. perception)[7].

Meghanādāri, in discussing the claim of memory to be regarded as pramāṇa, says that memory satisfies the indispensable condition of pramāṇa that it must not depend upon anything else for its selfmanifestation; for memory, being spontaneous, does not depend upon anything else for its manifestation. It is true, no doubt, that the revelation of objects in memory depends upon the fact of their having been perceived before, but the functioning of memory is undoubtedly spontaneous[8]. But it may be argued that, since the objects revealed in memory can never be manifested if they were not perceived before, memory, though partly valid in so far as its own functioning is concerned, is also invalid so far as the revelation of the object is concerned, since this depends on previous perception and cannot, therefore, be regarded as spontaneous manifestation, which is the indispensable condition of a pramāṇa. To this Meghanādāri’s reply is that the criticism is not sound; for the spontaneous manifestation is also at the same time revelation of the object remembered, and hence the revelation of the remembered object does not depend on any other condition. Memory, therefore, is valid both in its own manifestation and in the revelation of its object. It may be pointed out in this connection that the revelation of knowledge necessarily implies the revelation of the object also. The revelation of the object should not, therefore, be regarded as depending on any other condition, it being spontaneously given with the revelations of knowledge[9].

In many other systems of philosophy the definition of a pramāṇa involves the condition that the object apprehended should be such that it was not known before (an-adhigatā-rtha-gantṛ), since in these systems memory is excluded from the status of pramāṇa. Megha-nādāri objects to this. He says that the condition imposed does not state clearly whether the apprehension of the object which is intended to be ruled out should be of the perceiver or of other persons. In the case of permanent objects such as the self or the sky these have all been perceived by many persons, and yet the validity of the perception or inference of the present knower is not denied[10]. It also cannot be said that the object of valid perception or inference should be such that it has not been perceived before by the present perceiver; for when a person seeks to find out an object which he knew before and perceives it, such a perception would be invalid; and similarly, when an object perceived by the eye is re-perceived by touch, the tactile perception will be invalid[11]. The reply is often given (e.g. Dharmarājādhvarīndra in his Vedānta-pari-bhāṣā) that, when an object known before is again perceived, it has a new temporal character, and so the object may be regarded as new and thus its later perception may be regarded as valid. Meghanādāri’s criticism against this is that, if the new temporal character can constitute the newness of the object, then all objects will be new, including memory. Hence there will be nothing which would be ruled out by the condition that the object must be new (an-adhigatārtha-gantṛ).

There are others who hold that the validity of a pramāṇa of any particular sense-knowledge, or of inference, is conditioned by the fact of its being attested by the evidence of other senses, as in the case where a visual perception is corroborated by the tactile. These philosophers regard corroboration (a-visaṃvāditva) as an indispensable condition of the validity of pramāṇa. Meghanādāri criticizes this by pointing out that on such a view the validity of each pramāṇa would have to depend upon others, and thus there would be a vicious circle[12]. Moreover, the determinate knowledge of the Buddhists, which is corroborative, would, under the supposition, have to be regarded as a pramāṇa.

Unlike Veṅkaṭanātha, Meghanādāri holds that Rāmānuja admitted five pramāṇas, viz.

  1. perception,
  2. inference,
  3. analogy,
  4. scripture
  5. and implication.

Perception is defined by Veṅkaṭanātha as direct intuitive knowledge (sākṣātkāri-pramā). This may be regarded either as a special class of cognition (jāti-rūpa) or knowledge under special conditions (upādhi-rūpa). It is indefinable in its own nature, which can onlv be felt by special self-consciousness as perception (jñātia-svabhāz a-viśeṣaḥ svātma-ṣākṣikaḥ). It may be negatively defined as knowledge which is not generated by other cognitions, as in the case of inference or verbal knowledge ana memory[13]. Yaradaviṣṇu also, in his Māna-yāthātmya-nirṇaya, has defined perception as clear and vivid impression (pramāyā āparokṣyaṃ nāma viśadā-vabhāsatvam). Clearness and vividness with him mean the illumination of the special and unique features of the object, as different from the appearance of generic features as in the case of inference or verbal knowledge.

Meghanādāri also defines perception as direct knowledge of objects (artha-paricchedaka-sākṣāj-jñānaṃ). The directness (sākṣ-āttva) consists in the fact that the production of this knowledge does not depend on any other pramāṇas. It is, no doubt, true that sense-perception depends upon the functioning of the senses, but this is no objection; for the senses are common causes, which are operative as means in the perception of the hetu, even in inference[14]. The directness of perceptual knowledge, as distinguished from inference, is evident from the fact that the latter is produced through the mediacy of other cognitions[15]. Meghanādāri criticizes the definition of perception as vivid impression (viśadā-vabhāsa), as given by Varadaviṣṇu Miśra, on the ground that vividness is a relative term, and even in inference there are different stages of vividness. Clearness of awareness, “dhī-sphuṭatā,” also cannot be regarded as defining perception; for all awarenesses are clear so far as they are known. The definition of perception as sense-knowledge is also open to criticism; for in that case it would only apply to indeterminate (nirvikalpa) knowledge, in which certain specific characters of the object are imprinted through the functioning of the senses, but which it did not carry further for the production of determinate knowledge (savikalpa).

Both Veṅkaṭanātha and Meghanādāri hold that the pure objective substance without any character or universals is never apprehended by sense-perception. Following Rāmānuja, they hold that objects are always apprehended with certain characters at the very first instance when they are grasped by the visual sense; otherwise it is difficult to explain how in the later instance they are apprehended in diverse characters. If they were not apprehended in the first instance, they could not have been known in the later instance in their fullness in a related manner. So it has to he admitted that they were all grasped in the first instance, but could not manifest themselves in their fullness in the short span of the first moment. In the Vedārtha-saṃgraha of Rāmānuja the determinateness of all perceptions has been illustrated bv the case of their apprehension of universals at the first moment of perception. This has led some interpreters to think that the apprehension of determinate characters in the first moment of perception applies only to the universals on account of the fact that it involves the assimilation of many individuals in one sw'eep which must be started at the very first moment in order that it may be manifested in its full form in the second moment. But Meghanādāri holds that the apprehension of other characters also, such as colours, etc., has specific differences when the object is near or at a distance. This involves the grasping of diverse shades of colour in one colour-perception, and thus they also are apprehended at the first moment of perception, on the same grounds which led to the affirmation of the apprehension of universals at the first moment of perception.

It is objected that the concept of determinateness or relatedness (viśiṣṭatva) of all knowledge is incomprehensible and indefinable. What exist are the two relata and the relation. The relatedness cannot be identical with them or different; for we do not know “relatedness” as an entitv different from the two relata and the relation. Also relatedness cannot be defined either as the manifestation of two entities in one cognition or the appearance of two cognitions without any break or interval ; for in a concrete specific illustration, as in such awareness as “jug-and-pot,” though two different cognitions have appeared without anv break, they have not lost their unique separateness, as mav well be judged by the duality implied in such awareness. Thus, there is no wav in which the concept of determinateness, as distinguished from that of the relata and the relation, can be arrived at.

To this Meghanādāri’s reply is that, in such a sentence as “bring a white cow,” the verb refers to a qualified being, the “white cow,” and not to the separate elements, “the whiteness” and “the cow.” Both the relation and the relata are involved in the determinate conception, the “white cow.” In contactual perception, such as “a man with a stick,” the contactual relation is directly perceived. The conception of a determinate being is not thus different from the relation and the relata, but implies them. The relations and the relata thus jointly yield the conception of a determinate being[16]. The unifying trait that constitutes determinateness is not an extraneous entity, but is involved in the fact that all entities in this world await one another for their self-manifestation through relations, and it is this mutual awaitedness that constitutes their bond of unity, through which they appear connectedly in a determinate conception[17]. It is this mutual awaitedness of entities that contributes to their apprehension, as connected in experience, which is simultaneous with it, there being no mediation or arresting of thought of any kind between the two[18]. The fact that all our perceptions, thoughts and ideas always appear as related and connected is realized in universal experience. All linguistic expressions always manifest the purport of the speech in a connected and related form. Had it not been so, communication of ideas through our speech would have been impossible.

Nirvikalpa knowledge is a cognition in which only some fundamental characters of the object are noted, while the details of many other characters remain unelaborated[19]. Savikalpa knowledge, on the other hand, is a cognition of a number of qualities and characters of the object, together with those of its distinctive features by which its differentiation from other objects is clearly affirmed[20].

On the analogy of visual perception, the perception of other senses may be explained. The relation of samavāya admitted by the Naiyāyikas is discarded by the Rāmānuja view on account of the difficulty of defining it or admitting it as a separate category. Various relations, such as container and contained, contact and the like, are revealed in experience in accordance with the different directions in which things await one another to be related; and these determine the nature of various relations which are perceived in sense-experience[21]. Veṅkaṭanātha also points out that the very same collocations (sāmagrī) that manifest the awareness of substance and attribute also manifest the awareness of relations; for, if the relations were not grasped at the first moment of perception, they could not originate out of nothing at the later moment. The relatedness being a character of entities, the awareness of entities necessarily means the awareness of relations.

Footnotes and references:


See Nyāya-pariśuddhi, pp. 54-5.


samānā-neka-dharmo-papatter vipratipatter upalabdhy-anupalabdhy-avy-avasthātaś ca viśeṣā-pekṣo vimarśaḥ saṃśayah.
I. i. 23.

The interpretation given by Uddyotakara is that in all cases of doubt there are three factors, viz. knowledge of the (1) common or (2) special features, (3) opposite assertions and contending persons associated with a non-determinate state of mind due to the want of definite realization of any of the contrary possibilities, and a hankering to know the differentia. Uddyotakara thinks that doubt can arise not only from a conflict of know ledge, but also from a conflict of opinions of contending persons, vipratipattiḥ being interpreted by him as vādi-vipratipattiḥ.

This view is also held by the Prajñā-paritrāṇa by Varadaviṣṇu Miśra, as is evident from the following śloka:

sādḥāraṇā-kṛter dṛṣṭyā-nekā-kāra-grahāt tathā,
vipaścitāṃ vivādāc ca tridhā saṃśaya iṣyate.

Prajñā-paritrāṇa, quoted in the Nyāya-pariśuddhi, p. 61.

This view is criticized by Veṅkaṭanātha as a blind acceptance of the Nyāya view.


As an example of doubt arising from perception of similar traits, Vātsyāyana gives the example of man and post, in which the common traits (viz. height, etc.) are visible, but the differentia remains unnoticed. The example given by him of doubt arising from perception of special characteristics is that odorousness, the special character of earth, is not characteristic of dravya (substance), karma (action), and guṇa (quality), and this may rouse a legitimate doubt as to whether earth is to be classed as substance, quality, or action. Similarly, from the special characteristic of odorousness of earth a doubt may arise as to whether earth is eternal or non-eternal, since no other eternal or non-eternal thing has this characteristic.


sarvasminn api saṃśaye dharmy-aṃśādau mrṇayasya dustyajatvāt.
p. 66.


jñānam indriya-liṅgā-gama-yogajo vastu-niścayciḥ.
15. 15.


Viṣṇucitta also, in his Prameya-saṃgraha, holds that Rāmānuja admitted only three pramāṇas.


This view has been supported by Bhawārakaguru in his Tattva-ratnākara. VaradaViṣṇu Miśra, in his Prajñā-paritrāṇa, includes divya (i.e. intuitive knowledge through the grace of God) and svayaṃ-siddha (natural omniscience) as separate sources of knowledge, but they are also but modes of perception.


sva-sphuraṇe pramāṇā-ntara-sā-peksatvā-bhāvāt viṣaya-sphurana eva hi-smṛteḥ pūrvā-nubhūta-bhāvā-pekṣā.
     Meghanādāri’s Naya-dyu-maṇi.


jñāna-sphūrtivad viṣayasyāpi sphūrtiḥ.


sthāyitvenā-bhimatā-kāiā-deḥ pūrvair avagatatva-saṃbhavāt tad-viṣayā-numānāder aprāmāṇya-prasaṅgāt.


sva-viditosyā’rthasya sattvā-nveṣaṇe pratyakṣā-der o-prāmāṇya-prasangāc cakṣuṣā dṛṣṭa-viṣaye dravye sparśanasyā’prāmāṇya-prasaṅgāt.
     Meghanādāri’s Naya-dyu-maṇi.




jñāna-karaṇaja-jñāna-smṛti-rahitā matir aparokṣam.
     Veṅkaṭanātha’s Xyāya-pariśuddhi, pp. 70-71.

This view has also been supported in the Prameya-saṃgraha and Tattva-ratnākara.


indriyāṇāṃ sattā-kāraṇatvena karaṇatvā-bhāvāt. Naya-dyu-maṇi.


The word sākṣāttva is explained by some as svarūpa-dhl (its own awareness). But such an explanation is exposed to criticism; for even inferential knowledge reveals some features of the object. If svarūpa is taken to mean “nothing but the nature of the object,” then the definition would not be applicable even to perception ; for perception reveals not merely the object, but also its relation to other objects, and thereby transcends the limit of the object merely as it is.


na ca pratyekam viśiṣṭatā-pātaḥ militānām eva viśiṣṭatvāt.


eka-buddhi-viṣayatā-rhāṇāṃ padā-rthānām anyo-nya-sāpekṣa-svarūpatvaṃ militatvaṃ.


viśiṣṭatva-dhl-viṣayatve ca teṣāṃ sōpekṣatvaṃ ca yaugapadyāt tatra virāmā-pratīteḥ sāpekṣatā siddhā ca.


nirvikalpakaṃcaghaṭā-der anullekhitā-nuvṛtti-dharma-ghaṭatvā-di-katipaya-viśeṣaṇa-viśiṣṭatayā-rthā-vaccḥedakaṃ jñānam.


ullekhilā-nuvṛtty-ādi-dharmakā-neka-viśeṣaṇa-viiiṣṭatayā sākṣād-vastu-vya-vacchedakaṃ jñānaṃ savikalpakam.

Veṅkaṭanātha however defines savikalpa and nirvikalpa knowledge as
sa pratyavamarśa-pratyakṣaṃ savikalpakam
and “tad-rahitaṃ pratyakṣaṃ nirvikalpakam.
p. 77.


atas tat-smbandhād vastuta upādhito va’dhārā-dheya-bhāva-vastv-antaram eva. evaṃ ca kalpanā-lāghavam. sa ca guṇā-di-bhedād anekah na ca tat-sambandha-smbahdhinos sambandhā-ntara-kalpanāyām armvasthā. anyo-nya-sāpekṣa-svarūpotva-rūpo-pādhi-vyatirekeṇarthā-ntarā-bhāvāt.

The nirvikalpaka is the knowledge involving the notion of certain positive features and rousing the subconscious memory resulting in the first moment of perception through the direct operation of the sense. Savikalpaka knowledge involves the noting of differences consequent upon the operation of memory.

They are thus defined by Viṣṇuacitta:

saṃskāro-dbodha-sahakṛte-ndriya-janyaṃ jñūnaṃ savikalpakam iti eka-jātīyeṣu prathama-piṇḍa-grahaṇaṃ dvitīyā-di-piṇḍa-gruhaṇeṣu prathamā-kṣa-san-nipātajaṃ jñānaṃ nirvikalpakam iti.

And in the Tattva-ratnākara :

viśeṣaṇānāṃ svā-yoga-vyāvṛttir avikalpake savikalpe'nya-yogasya vyāvṛttiḥ saṃjñīnā tuthā.
p. 82.

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