Anumana in Indian Philosophy

by Sangita Chakravarty | 2016 | 48,195 words

This page relates ‘Epistemology in Indian Philosophy’ of the study on the concept of Anumana (inference) in the Vedic schools of Indian Philosophy. Anumana usually represents the most authentic means of valid knowledge. This paper discusses the traditional philosophical systems such as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta.

(C). Epistemology in Indian Philosophy

Most of the philosophical schools deal with mainly three important aspects, viz., epistemology, ontology or metaphysics and ethics. Here, epistemology means the theory of knowledge. Metaphysics means the science of reality. Ethics means the morality, i.e., the practice of moral duty. The word ‘epistemology’ is derived from ‘episteme’ which means knowledge and ‘logos’ which means theory or science. It inquires into the nature and the origin of knowledge. That is why ‘epistemology’ deals with the science or the theory of knowledge. As such, epistemology is the theory which inquires into the nature, conditions, factors, the limits and the origin of knowledge. The combination of the two branches, i.e., metaphysics and epistemology, leads to attainment of the highest knowledge. In order to make a study and to generalize the development of knowledge–the transformation from non-knowledge to knowledge—is called ‘epistemology’.

Importance of Epistemology in Indian Philosophy:

Epistemology has got special importance in Indian Philosophy and therefore it is considered as an integral part. Dr. Ward maintains that the systematic reflection concerning knowledge and which fakes knowledge itself as the object of science is what is called epistemology.[1] In course of the development of Indian philosophical systems, interest in epistemology increased and it began to claim a large share in the philosophical discussions of almost every school as suffering is considered as the main problem of Indian Philosophy. The root cause of human suffering is ignorance. Therefore, from the means and processes of true knowledge man can get a painless and enjoyable life. Thus, philosophy and epistemology can be said to be inter-related.

Epistemology is the theory of knowing and the fundamental basis and the ground work of metaphysics. It precedes metaphysics.[2] Epistemology becomes closely linked up with metaphysics or ontology and both of them again get merged with ethics. Knowledge and moral perfection are regarded as necessary to each other in almost all systems of Indian thought.

Indian epistemology mainly deals with four topics, viz., the nature of pramāṇa, the nature of pramā, the nature of pramātā, and the nature of prameya.

  1. The pramāṇa: the chief instrument or means of knowing or the source of valid knowledge.
  2. The pramā or pramiti: the valid knowledge of the object.[3]
  3. The pramātā: the knower, the cogniser of valid knowledge.
  4. The prameya: the knowable, the object to be known.

Indian epistemology has come to be involved with these four basic factors with the help of which different schools of Indian philosophy try to determine the methods of arriving at the conclusions. In Indian epistemology, generally the two terms viz., jñāna and pramā are used in the sense of knowledge. Jñāna means all kinds of knowledge–true or false, while pramā means only valid knowledge. The word pramā is used only in the sense of true knowledge (yathārthajñāna)[4] which is distinct from false knowledge (ayathārthajñāna). When reality reveals false knowledge then it is called apramā. On the other hand, while the word jñāna is used to denote knowledge from the psychological standpoint which helps in cognition of an object, the word pramā means true knowledge in the logical sense which is able to recognize an object with its real nature and character. Knowledge in its strict sense implies a true belief that carries with it an assurance of its truth. Knowledge or cognition is defined as apprehension.

The word pramā is derived from the root with a prefix pra and tāp which means valid knowledge. All philosophers adopted different attitude in their own way to analyse valid knowledge (pramā) and the means of attaining it. In all knowledge, there are three constituents, viz., the knower (pramātā or jñātā), the known (prameya or jñeya) and the process of knowing (jñānaprakriyā). The knower and the process of knowing are inseparable. But the known is not inseparable. The known is object to the knower, i.e., the subject.

The theory of valid knowledge or pramāṇa goes by the name of epistemology in Indian philosophy. The term pramāṇa signifies both the means of knowledge and means of proof. In Indian philosophical system, the first systematic treatment of the means of knowledge (pramāṇa) is to be found in Gautama’s Nyāyasūtra. For a long time the old practice of the Naiyāyikas who were commentators on the Nyāyasūtra, had been treating epistemology as a part of metaphysics until the time of Bhāsarvajña (about 950 A.D.) who included only the study of the means of knowledge in his for a few years in India, epistemology came to be regarded as an important and indispensible part of philosophic discipline. Different systems of Indian philosophy have adopted different attitude towards the theory of knowledge. According to the Naiyāyikas knowledge is the manifestation of object. It deals with the objects of knowledge (prameya). Gautama, the founder of Nyāya philosophy, refers to knowledge with that of buddhi and contends that the terms upalabdhi and jñāna are its synonyms.[5] According to Annambhaṭṭa, buddhi is knowledge and is that quality which is the ground (hetu) of all linguistic usage (sarvavyavahāraḥ).[6] In the view of Keśavamiśra, cognition is that which manifests objects.[7]

In the Sāṃkhya-Yoga system, knowledge is a mode of buddhi. In their view, Puruṣa or self is immutable and conscious. Puruṣa is neither a knower, nor a doer, nor an enjoyer. It is the pure light of consciousness. Knowledge is a substantial transformation of the unconscious buddhi and the conscious Puruṣa by itself is absolutely inactive, but due to a beginning less confusion or indiscrimination (aviveka) which results in the intelligizing of buddhi and activizing of Puruṣa, the phenomenon of cognition arises as a hybrid.

The Prābhākara school of Mīmāṃsā philosophy is an advocate of triputisaṁvit[8] , according to which the knower, the known and the knowledge co-exist in every act of cognition. Prabhākara regards knowledge as self luminous. It manifests itself and needs nothing else for its manifestation.[9] Knowledge reveals itself as well as the knowledge. It also simultaneously reveals its subjects and its objects. In every cognition there are three factors, viz., the cogniser (pramātā), the object (prameya) and the cognition (pramiti) itself. In all knowledge, the self is known directly through the instrumentality and the contact of mind. But there is not always a direct knowledge of the object. According to Prabhākara, knowledge is the nature of light or illumination. Again, Kumārila admits the independent existence of external objects. According to him, knowledge reveals the object but cannot reveal itself. In his view, knowledge is not directly known, but is inferred from the knowness (jñātā) of the object produced by knowledge.

According to the Vedānta system, knowledge is the very stuff of the self. There is no difference between the knowledge and the self. Consciousness is the very stuff which constitutes existence. Existence is consciousness; consciousness is existence; there is absolutely no difference between the two.[10] Self is knowledge and as such Śaṃkara rejects the distinction between the substance and attribute. Substance and its quality are identical as fire and its heat are. In this way, there is no difference between the self and the knowledge.

Footnotes and references:


Vide Prasad, Jwala., History of Indian Epistemology, p. 3


prameyasiddhiḥ pramāṇāddhi. Sāṃkhyakārikā, 4


pramāṇam pramātā prameyam pramitiriti caturvargenaiva vyavahāraḥ parisamāpyate. Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā on Nyāyasūtra, i. 1. 1


tadvati tatprakārako’nubhavo yathārthaḥ saiva prametyucyate. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 19


buddhiḥ upalabdhir jñānamityanarthāntaram. Nyāyasūtra, 1. 1. 5
Cf: buddhir upalabdhir jñānam pratyaya iti paryāyaḥ. Praśastapāda Bhāṣya, p. 410


sarvavyavahāra heturguṇam buddhirjñānam. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 19


arthaprakāśo vā buddhiḥ. Tarkabhāṣā, p. 218


sarvavijñānahetutthā mitau mātari ca pramā. Prakaraṇapañcikā, 5. 6


Ṛjuvimalā, p. 79


sattaiva bodhaḥ bodha eva sattā, nānayoḥ parasparavyavṛttirasti. Śāṃkara Bhāṣya (on Brahmasūtra), 3. 2. 21

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