A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of the doctrine of self-validity of knowledge: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the thirteenth part in the series called the “philosophy of the ramanuja school of thought”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 13 - The Doctrine of Self-validity of Knowledge

Pramāṇa, or valid knowledge, is defined as the cognition of objects as they are (tathā-bhūtā-rtha-jñānaṃ hi pramāṇam ucyate), and apramāṇa, or invalid knowledge, is described as cognition representing a wrong notion of an object (a-tathā-bhūtā-rtha-jñānaṃ hi a-pramāṇam). Such a validity, it is urged by Meghanādāri, is manifested by the knowledge itself (tathātvā-vadhāraṇā-tmakaṃ prām-āṇyam ātmanai’va niścīyate). This does not expose it to the criticism that knowledge, being passive, cannot at the same moment be also regarded as active, determining its own nature as valid (na ca karma-kartṛtā-virodhaḥ) ; for since it is of the nature of a faithful representation of the object, the manifestation of its own nature as such is an affirmation of its validity. If knowledge had no power by itself of affirming its own validity, there would be no way by which such a validity could be affirmed, for the affirmation of its validity by any other mediate process, or through any other instrumentality, will always raise the same question as to how the testimony of those processes or instruments can be accepted. For on such a supposition, knowledge not being self-valid, each such testimony has to be corroborated by another testimony, and that by another, and this will lead us to infinite regress.

In repudiating other views Meghanādāri points out that if validity is admitted as belonging to the collocative causes of knowledge (involving the self, the senses, and the object), then even the object would have to be regarded as a pramāṇa, and there would be no prameya or object left. Again, if affirmation is regarded as being of the nature of awareness, then even memory-knowledge has to be regarded as valid, since it is of the nature of awareness. Further, if affirmation of validity be of the nature of power, then such power, being non-sensible, has to be manifested by some other means of knowledge. If, again, validity is supposed to be produced by the causes of knowledge, then the dictum of the self-manifestation of validity would have to he given up. Uncontradicted behaviour also cannot be regarded as a definition of validity, for in that case even memory has to be regarded as valid by itself. It cannot also be defined as merely knowledge as such, for knowledge, not being able to turn back on itself to apprehend its own validity, would have to depend on something else, and that would imply the affirmation of validity through extraneous reference (paratali-prāmāṇya).

Again in those cases where the cause of error is known, the cognition, though known as erroneous, irresistibly manifests itself to us (e.g. the movement of the sun). The assumption that all knowledge is associated with its validity is inapplicable to such eases. If, again, it is held that, whenever a later cognition rejects the former, we have a clear case as to how the invalidity of the previous cognition is demolished by the valid knowledge of a later moment; it may be urged that, when the generic knowledge of an object is replaced by a cognition of details, we have a case when one cognition replaces another, though it does not involve any criticism of the former knowledge.

In the Bhātta view, where it is supposed that when the object attains its specific cognized character its knowledge as an internal operation is inferred, both validity and invalidity ought to depend upon the objects. If, however, it is urged that the notion of validity shows itself in the faultless character of the instruments and condition of cognition, that would also imply the notion of validity as of extraneous origin. In the Prābhākara view, where knowledge is supposed to reveal the knower, the object and knowledge in one sweep, we have a much better case in so far that here knowledge has not to depend on anything extraneous. In this case self-invalidity may apply only to memory which has to depend on previous perception. To this the Nyāya objection is that since memory is also knowledge, and since all knowledge is self-revealing, the Prāb-hākaras ought consistently to admit the self-validity of memory.

Meghanādāri holds that all these objections against the selfvalidity of knowledge are invalid; for if the knowledge of the validity of any cognition has to depend on other pramāṇas, then there is an infinite regress. If, however, an attempt is made to avoid the regress by admitting the self-validity of any later pramāṇa, then it virtually amounts to the admission of self-validity (anavasthā-parihārāya kasyacit svatastvā-ṅgīkāre ca na parataḥ-prāmāṇyam). It may be urged that we are not necessarily prompted to action by a consciousness of validity, but through the probability of the same which is sought to be tested (ajñātatayā jñātatayai’va) by our efforts in the direction of the object. But in such a supposition there is no meaning in the attempt of our opponents in favour of the doctrine of the validity of cognition through extraneous means (parataḥ-prāmāṇya), for such a supposition is based on the view that our efforts are produced without a previous determination of the validity of cognition.

When we see that a person, having perceived an object, makes an effort towards it, our natural conclusion is that he has, as the basis of the effort, a knowledge of the validity of his perception, for without it there can be no effort. It is hopeless to contend that there is validity of cognition in such cases without the knowledge of validity, for validity of knowledge always means the consciousness of such validity. The fact is that what constitutes a pramāṇa constitutes also its validity. It is wrong to think that validity appertains to anything else outside the cognition in question. When we see fire, its validity as a burning object is grasped with the very notion of fire and does not wait for the comprehension of any supersensible power or burning capacity of fire. The comprehension of fire as a burning object involves the knowledge of its association with its burning capacity. The knowledge of the burning capacity by itself cannot induce any action on our part, for we are always led to act by the comprehension of objects and not by their capacities. It is, therefore, wrong to separate the capacity from the object and speak of it as the cause of our effort. So the cognition of a pramāṇa involves with it its validity. Thus validity cannot be dissociated from the cognition of the object[1].

Further, validity cannot be defined as uncontradictedness, for if that test is to be applied to every knowledge it would lead to infinite regress. If, however, the knowledge of the validity of any cognition has to depend upon the knowledge of the defectlessness or correctness of the means and conditions of cognition, then, since validity of such knowledge has to depend upon another knowledge for the correctness of the means and condition, and that upon another, there is obviously an infinite regress. Since knowledge normally corresponds to the object, ordinarily there should not be any fear of any error arising from the defects of the causes and conditions of such knowledge; it is only in specific cases that such doubts may arise leading to special inquiries about the correctness or incorrectness of the means and conditions of knowledge. If there is an inquiry as to the validity of every knowledge, we should be landed in scepticism. Thus, validity means the manifestation of any form of content not awaiting the confirmation by other means of knowledge (pramāṇā-ntarā - ṇapekṣayōL rthā-vacchinnattvam), and such a conviction of validity is manifested along with the cognition itself. Memory, however, depends upon a prior cognition, and as such the conviction of its validity depends upon the validity of a prior knowledge, and hence it cannot be regarded as self-valid.

Rāmānujācārya, the teacher and maternal uncle of Veṅkaṭanātha, anticipates the objection that if self-validity of cognition is to be admitted, then no doubt could arise with reference to any cognition[2]. The reply of Rāmānujācārya is that all cognitions are associated with a general conviction of their self-validity, but that does not prevent the rise of doubt in a certain specific direction. Selfvalidity in this view means that all cognitions produce by themselves a general conviction regarding their validity, though it does not rule out misapprehension in a specific direction[3].

Footnotes and references:


Rāmānujācārya, the maternal uncle of Veṅkaṭanātha, anticipates an objection that perceptual cognition reveals only the content (vastu). The revelation of such a content does not also involve the knowing relation which must necessarily be of a very varied nature, for a knowledge may refer to a content in infinitely diverse relation. The revelation of the mere content, therefore, without the specific knowing relation, does not involve the judgmental form, though the truth of this content may be ascertained at a later moment when it is reduced to a judgmental form as “I know it.” There is no possibility of the affirmation of any validity at the moment of the revelation of the content. In reply to this, Rāmānujācārya says that the revelation of a content necessarily implies all its knowing relations in a general manner; and therefore, by the mode of its revelation at any particular moment, the mode of its specific knowing relation at any particular moment is grasped along with the content. Thus, since the revelation of the content implies the specific knowing relation, all cognitions may be regarded as implicitly judgmental, and there cannot be any objection to the selfvalidity of such knowledge.

If the content and knowledge were regarded as entirely distinct, as they must be, and if the knowing relation were not given implicitly along with the content, then all knowledge would be contentless, and as such any future attempt to relate them would be impossible. Nyāya-kuliśa (MS.).


sāmānyasya svato-graheṇā’bhyāsa-daśo-tpanna-jñāne tat-saṃśayo na syāt.
(A.S. B), p. 184.


Nyāya-kuliśa, p. 27 (MS.).

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