A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 4

Indian Pluralism

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1949 | 186,278 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of svatah-pramanya (self-validity of knowledge): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “a general review of the philosophy of madhva”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 3 - Svataḥ-prāmāṇya (self-validity of knowledge)

In the system of Madhva the doctrine of self-validity (svataḥ-prāmāṇya) means the consideration of any knowledge as valid by the intuitive agent (sākṣī) which experiences that knowledge without being hindered by any defects or any other sources of obstruction[1]. The sākṣī is an intelligent and conscious perceiver which can intuitively perceive space and distance, and when the distance is such as to create a suspicion that its defect may have affected the nature of perception, the intelligent intuitive agent suspends its judgment for fear of error, and we have then what is called doubt (saṃsaya)[2]. Vyāsa Yati, in his Tarka-tāṇḍava, expresses the idea in the language of the commentator of the Tattva-nirṇaya by saying that it is the sākṣī that is capable of comprehending both the knowledge and its validity, and even when obstmcted it still retains its power, but does not exercise it[3]. When there is an illusion of validity (prāmāṇya-bhrama), the sākṣī remains inactive and the manas, being affected by its passions of attachment, etc., makes a mis-perception, and the result is an illusory perception. The operation of the sākṣī comprehending the validity of its knowledge is only possible when there is no obstruction through which its operation may be interfered with by the illusory perceptions of manas. Thus, though there may be doubts and illusions, yet it is impossible that the sākṣī, experiencing knowledge, should not at the same time observe its validity also, in all its normal operations when there are no defects; otherwise there would be no certainty anywhere. So the disturbing influence, wherever that may be, affects the natural power (sahaja śakti) of the sākṣī, and the doubts and illusory perceptions are created in that case by the manas. But, wherever there are no distracting influences at work, the sākṣī comprehends knowledge and also its validity[4].

The problem of self-validity of knowledge in Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta has already been briefly discussed in the first volume of the present work[5]. A distinction is made between the way in which the notion that any knowledge is valid arises in us or is cognized by us (svataḥ-prāmāṇya-jñapti) and we become aware of the validity of our awareness, and the way in which such validity arises by itself from considerations of the nature of objective grounds (svataḥ-prāmāṇyotpatti). The former relates to the subjective and spontaneous intuitive belief that our perceptions or inferences are true; the latter relates to the theory which objectively upholds the view that the conditions which have given rise to knowledge also by its very production certify its truth. The word prāmāṇya in svataḥ-prāmāṇya is used in the sense of pramātva or true certainty.

According to the difference of epistemological position the nature of the subjective apperception of the validity of our knowledge differs. Thus, the followers of Prabhākara regard knowledge as self-luminous, meaning thereby that any moment of the revelation of knowledge involves with it the revelation of the object and the subject of knowledge. Any form of awareness (jñāna-grāhaka), such as “I am aware of the jug,” would according to this view carry with it also the certainty that such awareness is also true, independent of anything else (jñāna-grāhakātiriktānapekṣatvam). The followers of Kumārila, however, regard knowledge (jñāna) as something transcendent and non-sensible (atīndriya) which can only be inferred by a mental state of cognition (jñātatā), such as “I am aware of the jug,” and on this view, since the mental state is the only thing cognized, knowledge is inferred from it and the validity attaching to it can be known only as a result of such inference. Since there is a particular form of awareness (jñātatā) there must be valid knowledge. The validity attaching to knowledge can only be apparent, when there is an inference; it is, therefore, dependent on an inference made by reason of the awareness (jñātatā) of the particular form (yāvat-svāśrayānumiti-grāhyatvam).

The analysis of the situation produced when we know an object as it appears consists on this view in this, that it distinguishes knowledge as a permanent unit which in association with the proper sense-contact, etc., produces the particular kinds of awareness involving specific and individual objectivity (viṣayatā or karmatā), such as “I know a jug.” In this view objectivity, being the product of knowledge, cannot be identified with knowledge. It should be noted that, objectivity (viṣayatā) remaining the same (e.g., “a jug on the ground” is not the same as “ground on the jug,” though the objectivity of the connected jug and ground is the same), there may be important differences in the nature of such objectivity through a difference of relations. In such cases the view held is that objectivity is different from knowledge; knowledge is the invariant (nitya) entity; objectivity remaining the same, a difference of relations (prakāratā) may give rise to a difference in the nature of awareness (jñātatā); each jñātatā or awareness means therefore each specific objectivity with its specific relations; it is only this jñātatā that is directly and immediately perceived. Knowledge is therefore a transcendent entity which cannot be intuited (atīndriya), but can only be inferred as a factor conditioning the awareness. The rise of an awareness gives rise to the notion of its validity and the validity of knowledge (jñāna) which has conditioned it[6]. The necessity of admitting a transcendent existence of jñāna, apart from the varying states of awareness, is due probably to the desire to provide a permanent subjective force, jñāna, which, remaining identical with itself, may ultimately determine all states of awareness. Another important Mīmāṃsā exponent, Murāri Miśra, thinks that the objective knowledge (e.g., knowledge of a jug) is followed by the subjective self-consciousness, associating the knowledge of the object with the self (anuvyavasāya), and it is this anuvyavasāya which determines the final form of knowledge resulting in the intuition of its own validity[7]. A general definition to cover all these three types of svataḥ-prāmāṇya of Prabhākara, Kumārila bhaṭṭa and Murāri Miśra is given by Gaṅgeśa in his Tattva-cintāmaṇi as follows: the validity of any knowledge (except in the case where a knowledge is known to be false, e.g., this knowledge of silver is false) is communicated by the entire system of collocations giving rise to that knowledge and by that alone[8].

Vyāsa-tīrtha, in discussing the value of this definition, points out several defects in its wording and criticizes it by saying that the condition imposed, that the knowledge should be communicated by the same system of collocating circumstances that produces the validity, is defective in defining the svataḥ-prāmāṇya position, since the condition is fulfilled even on the parataḥ-prāmāṇya theory; for there also the conditioning circumstances which communicate to us the validity of any knowledge are the same which make the rise of knowledge possible[9]. The definition of self-validity proposed by Vyāsa-tīrtha agrees with the second alternative definition given by Gaṅgeśa in his Tattva-cintāmaṇi: it dispenses with the necessity of admitting the collocating circumstances or conditions as producing knowledge; it defines self-validity of knowledge as that characteristic of it which is not grasped by any knowledge having for its object the matter of which the validity is grasped, i.e., the same knowledge which grasps an object does in the same act, without entering into any further mediate process, grasp its validity as well[10]. It will be seen that such a view is different from that of the Bhātta and Miśra views of self-validity; for on the Bhātta view selfvalidity is affirmed of knowledge which can be inferred only and not directly taken with a specific awareness (as “I know this jug”), and in the Miśra view self-validity is affirmed only as a result of anuvyavasāya, associating the cognition with the self (as “I know”)[11].

Vyāsa-tīrtha emphasizes the view that in the absence of faults and doubts (doṣa-śaṅkādinā anāskanditaḥ) the subjective realization of an objective fact carries validity with it. He points out that it is not correct to say that sense-contact with a larger surface of the object can be regarded as the cause why the knowledge so produced is considered as valid; for it is well known that in spite of such sense-contact there may be error, if there are the defects (doṣa) which render mal-observation possible. So it is better to hold that the validity of knowledge arises from the datum of knowledge (jñāna-sāmagrī) itself. Sense-contact is useful only when there are doubts and other obstructions in the production of knowledge; but it does not by itself produce validity of knowledge[12]. Even the absence of defects is not the cause of the validity of knowledge; for the absence of defects is only a negative factor, which is no doubt necessary, but is not by any means the constitutive element of the positive realization of self-validity, which proceeds immediately and directly from the datum of knowledge[13]. Even in spite of the presence of defects there might by chance be true knowledge[14]. All illusory knowledge, however, is due to the presence of defects (doṣa); for in that case the object of which a knowledge is produced is not before us, and there is no actual sense contact with it. So the followers of Madhva hold the theory of parataḥ-aprāmāṇya, which in their view means that all cases of invalid knowledge are due to sources (namely doṣas or defects) other than the datum of knowledge[15]. Vādirāja points out in this connection in his Yukti-mallikā that the absence of defect, being a qualifying characteristic of the datum of knowledge, cannot by itself be regarded as an independent cause of right knowledge. In most cases of perception under normal conditions we have right knowledge, and it is only in special circumstances that there comes doubt and the necessity of scrutiny is realized. If in every step of knowledge there were doubt regarding its validity, then there would be an infinite regress (anavasthā), and hence we could never feel the validity and certainty of any knowledge[16]. Vyāsa-tīrtha also emphasizes the infinite regress on any view like that of the Nyāya, where the validity of knowledge has to be determined by subsequent tests from without (paratastvā-numāna). He points out that the realization of the validity of our knowledge leads us to action (prāmāṇya-niścayasya pravartakatvam)[17]. But, if the validity of each knowledge has to be tested by another, we have naturally an infinite regress[18]. The selfconscious self (sākṣī), however, knows its states, its pleasures and pains directly and immediately, and there is no possibility of doubt in such cases of undoubted self-validity of knowledge.

Footnotes and references:


doṣādy-apratiruddhena jñāna-grāhaka-sākṣiṇā
svatastvaṃ jñānamānatvanirṇīti-niyamo hi naḥ.

I. 311.


yato dūratva-doṣeṇa sva-gṛhītena kuṇṭhitaḥ,
na niścinoti prāmāṇyaṃ tatra jñāna-grahe’pi sva ḍeśa-stha-viprakarśo hi dūratvaṃ
sa ca sākṣiṇāvagra hītuṃ śakyate yasmāḍ ākāśavyākṛto hyasau.
I. 313, 314.


sākṣyeṇa jñānaṃ tat-prāmāṇyaṃ ca viṣayīkartuṃ kṣamaḥ, kintu pratibaddho jñānamātraṃ gṛhītvā tat-prāmāṇya-grahaṇāya na kramate.
p. 7.

Rāghavendra-tīrtha, in commenting on this, writes:

prāmāṇyasya sahaja-śakti-viṣayatvaṃ pratibandha-sthale yogyatā asti.



manasā kvacid apramāyām api prāmāṇya-graheṇa sarvatra tenaiva prāmāṇya-grahaṇe asvarasa-prasaṅgena pramā-rūpeṣu gṛhīta-tat-tat-prāmāṇye asvarasya niyamena yathārthasya prāmāṇya-grāhakasya sākṣiṇo avaśyam apekṣitatvāt.
p. 50 (by Surottama-tīrtha on Yukti-mallikā).


A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I, pp. 268 n., 372-5, 484.


Bhāṭṭa-cintāmaṇi, by Gāgā bhaṭṭa, pp. 16-18. The inference, however, as Mathurānātha points out in his commentary on the Tattva-cintāmaṇi on prāmāṇya-vāda (p. 144), is not of the form, as

iyaṃ jñātatāghaṭatvavatighaṭatva-prakāraka-jñāna-janyā ghaṭatvavati ghaṭatva-prakāraka-jñātatātvāt,

but as ahaṃ jñānavān jñātatāvattvāt.


jñānasyātīndriyatayā pratyakṣā-saṃbhavenasva-janya-jñātatā-liṅgakānumiti-sāmagrī sva-niṣṭha-prāmāṇya-niścayitā iti Bhāṭṭāḥ; jñātatā ca jñāta iti pratīti-siddho jñāno(?)ajanya-viṣaya-samavetaḥ prākaṭyāparanāmā atirikta-padārthaviśeṣaḥ.
Mathurānātha on Pramāṇa-vāda-rahasya of the Tattva-cintāmaṇi, p. 126 (Asiatic Society’s edition).


p. 122.

The jñāna-grāhaka-sāmagrī is, however, different with the three Mīmāṃsā views, viz., self-luminous knowledge in the case of Prabhākara, inference in the case of Bhāṭas and self-consciousness as anuvyavasāya in the case of Murāri Miśra.


tatḥā ca yāvati prāmāṇyaviṣayikā sāmagrī tad-grāhyatvaṃ svatastvam ity uktaṃ syat; tathā ca etādṛśasvatastvasya paratastvapakṣayā sattvāt siddha-sādhanam.
p. 12.


taj-jñāna-viṣayaka-jñānājanya-jñāna-viṣayatvam eva svatastvam.
p. 15,
      and Tattva-cintāmaṇi, p. 122.


The above definition of svataḥ-prāmāṇya, agreed to by Vyāsa-tīrtha, has been given in the Tattva-cintāmaṇi as a definition in which there is a general agreement in the views of the three schools of Mīmāṃsā (mata-traya-sādhāraṇa); it involves a special interpretation of the word jñāna-viṣaya in taj-jñāna-viṣayaka as jñānānubandhi-viṣayatāśraya (see Mathurānātha’s commentary, p. 144).


Tarka-tāṇḍava, pp. 83-90.


doṣābhāvasyāpekṣitatve’ pi pramā-janana-śaktiḥ sahāyā.
p. 88.


uktaṃ hi Viṣṇu-tattva-nirṇaya-ṭikāyāṃ doṣābḥāvo’pi na prāmāṇya-kāraṇam,
yādṛccḥika-saṃvādādiṣu saty api doṣe pramā-jñānodayāt.
p. 89.


Ibid. p. 98. Also Viṣṇu-tattva-nirṇaya, p. 2.


Yukti-mallikā, śl. 343-70 and Bhāva-vilāsinī of Surottama-tīrtha on the same.


Tarka-tāṇḍava, pp. 41-6.


Ibid. pp. 46-50.

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