Anumana in Indian Philosophy

by Sangita Chakravarty | 2016 | 48,195 words

This page relates ‘Meaning of Anumana (in Nyaya-Vaisheshika 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.

(A). Meaning of Anumāna (in Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika Philosophy)

Like all other systems of Indian Philosophy, the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system also deals with the epistemology. Except the Cārvāka, all the systems of Indian philosophy hold that anumāna is a distinct means of knowledge. The Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika systems are allied. Both in the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika systems, delineation of anumāna is identical.

Anumāna is the second source of valid knowledge. It is the process of reasoning in the course of which from one’s invariable relation with other found previously, a new type of knowledge is deduced. Anumāna is a Sanskrit word which is used for two things; viz., anumiti (inferential cognition) and anumitikaraṇa (the instrument of inferential cognition). In this way, when the word stands for an abstraction and when it stands for the instrument, it implies a source of inferential cognition. Anumāna or inference literally means such knowledge as follows some other knowledge. The term anumāna consists of two parts, viz., anu and māna. Anu means after and māna means cognition or way of apprehension of object respectively. Thus, anumāna in a general sense means a kind of knowledge, which we get after some other knowledge, i.e., perception. It is a kind of reasoning where we pass from some perceived mark (liṅga) to something unperceived on the basis of the universal relation of invariable concomitance between the middle and the major terms. There is, however, a divergence of views with regard to the exact nature of anumāna. Let us see how the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system defines anumāna as a source of valid knowledge.

In the Nyāyasūtra, Gautama does not give any definition of anumāna. But he simply states that anumāna presupposes perception and it is of three kinds,[1] viz.,

  1. pūrvavat,
  2. śeṣavat and
  3. sāmānyatodṛṣṭa.

Vātsyāyana in his Nyāyabhāṣya remarks, “it is the knowledge of an object due to a previous knowledge of some sign.”[2] According to Jayanta, anumāna is the instrument of the knowledge of an unperceived probandum (sādhya) through the apprehension of a probans (sādhana) with five fold characteristics together with the recollection of the relation of invariable concomitance between the two.[3]

Uddyotakara opines that anumāna is the argument from sign as aided by remembrance.[4] He interprets the compound ‘tat pūrvakam’ in three ways, viz., (i) tāni-pūrvakam, in which case anumāna may presuppose all the pramāṇas; (ii) tat-pūrvakam implying that it presupposes perception only; and (iii) te-pūrvakam, meaning that it presupposes perceptions, i.e., perception of the invariable relation between liṅga and liṅgīn and (b) perception of liṅga in the present case.[5]

Some of the later logicians followed this above view. Bhāsarvajña, in his Nyāyasāra, defines anumāna as the means of knowing a thing beyond the range of the senses through its inseparable connection with another thing, which lies within their range. According to Gaṅgeśa, the founder of the Navya -N aiyāyika, anumāna is the knowledge produced by the knowledge of a reason pervaded by a predicate existing in the subject.[6]

The Vaiśeṣika system of Indian philosophy accepts two pramāṇas, viz., perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna). Kaṇāda, the founder of the Vaiśeṣika system, holds that anumāna is the knowledge of probandum derived from the knowledge of the probans. According to this system, anumāna is the knowledge which is derived from the mark from which the existence of the probandum (sādhya) is inferred as its effect, or cause or conjunct, or antagonist or inherent. The mark is the means of inference, which is based upon the relation of causality, conjunction, opposition and inherence. The causal relation between the probans and the probandum is shown by the members of an inference (anumāna).[7] Kaṇāda is aware of invariable concomitance (vyāpti) of the probans with the probandum and its necessity for inference (anumāna). He calls it prasiddhi which is a general principle of universal relation.[8] A faulty reason (apadeśa) is not pervaded by the probandum (aprasiddhi). Praśastapāda, in his Padārthadharmasaṃgraha, defines anumāna as the knowledge which results from the apprehension of a sign (liṅga).[9] Annambhaṭṭa, in his Tarkasaṃgraha, defines anumāna as the peculiar cause of inferential knowledge (anumitikaraṇaṃ anumānam).

Here, anumiti means inferential cognition resulting from parāmarśa. [10] Again, anumitikaraṇa means an instrument of inferential cognition. For example, ‘where smoke is perceived, the fire is inferred, as in the hill’. But anumāna takes place only when the universal relation between smoke and fire is already known. This relation is called vyāpti. [11] Viśvanātha distinguishes between anumāna and anumiti. The former stands for the process of anumāna and the later stands for the result of process. He defines anumiti as the knowledge derived from parāmarśa. [12] According to Annambhaṭṭa, the term parāmarśa means the knowledge of liṅga residing in pakṣa, e.g., ‘the hill has smoke’, qualified by the knowledge of vyāpti, e.g., ‘wherever there is smoke there is fire’.[13] Viśvanātha alternatively defines anumāna as the knowledge of something derived through the instrumentality of the knowledge of vyāpti. [14] But this definition is incomplete, because it does not make an explicit statement of the apprehension of liṅga which is as essential as the knowledge of vyāpti. According to Dharmakīrti, anumāna is the cognition of the inferable from the sign having a three fold character.[15]

The three characteristics of a sign are–

  1. its presence in the pakṣa.
  2. its presence in the sapakṣa.
  3. its absence from the vipakṣa.

Like the definition of Jayanta, this definition of anumāna enumerates the conditions of validity rather than stating the essential nature of inference (anumāna). There is no mention of vyāpti in Dharmakīrti’s definition of anumāna.

The most notable contribution of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system is its the theory of inference or anumāna. It is the mediate knowledge of an object derived through the medium of the knowledge of a mark by virtue of the relation of invariable concomitance between them.

The constituents of Anumāna:

From the above definitions of anumāna it follows that there cannot be less than three terms and three propositions in it. Anumāna is the mental process of passing from one or more propositions to another proposition, which is justified by them. An anumāna has atleast three propositions, viz., major premise, minor premise and the conclusion. The conclusion is justified on the strength of the two premises. The justification of an anumāna is possible only with the three terms. The three terms of an anumāna are–the liṅga, which corresponds respectively to the middle, the sādhya, which corresponds the major and the pakṣa which corresponds the minor term of syllogism.

(i) The Liṅga (the middle term):

The word liṅga is also called hetu, sādhana and and then in relation to the sādhya or the major term. The liṅga (reason) is that which causes a thing to be known by the strength of invariable concomitance (vyāpti).[16]

For example–

The hill is fiery.
Because it is smoky.

Here, ‘smoke’ is the mark or sign. From the presence of ‘smoke’ in the hill as qualified by the knowledge that wherever there is smoke there is fire, we proceed to infer the presence of fire in the hill. This is called anumāna. So, the liṅga is really the ground of anumāna.

(ii) The Sādhya (the major term):

The sādhya (major term) is the inferable character of the pakṣa or the minor term and corresponds roughly to the major term of the syllogism. It is the object of anumāna i.e., invariable character of the pakṣa or the minor term. The sādhya is that which we want to know or prove by means of any inference (anumāna). It is also called as vyāpaka, liṅgīn and niyāmaka. It pervades the hetu.

For example–

The hill has fire.
Because it has smoke.
Here, ‘fire’ is the sādhya or major term.

(iii) The Pakṣa (the minor term):

The pakṣa is the subject under consideration in the course of the inferential reasoning; or pakṣa is the subject in which the predicate or inferable object is doubted.[17] It is the substratum processing of the liṅga and sādhya. The pakṣa is the subject in which the existence of character or a predicate is sought to be proved.[18] In relation to the pakṣa or minor term in any anumāna, a similar instance (sapakṣa) is one in which an inferable character or predicate is certainly known to exist. A dissimilar instance (vipakṣa) is one from which a predicate is certainly known to be absent.[19] In the example given above, ‘the hill’ is the pakṣa or minor term.

While the pakṣa is the subject of anumāna, the sādhya is the object of anumāna. It is that which we want to know or prove by means of any inference (anumāna). The sādhya is that character of the pakṣa or minor term, which is not perceived by us, but indicated by some sign present in it. The middle term is the reason as to why we relate the major to the minor term. The presence of the middle term in the minor term is called pakṣadharmatā. The knowledge of pakṣadharmatā as qualified by vyāpti is called parāmarśa. [20]

There are five characteristics of the middle term (liṅga), viz.,

  1. pakṣadharmatā,
  2. sapakṣasattva,
  3. vipakṣāsattva,
  4. abādhitaviṣayatva and
  5. asatpratipakṣattva. [21]

Keśavamiśra in his Tarkabhāṣā also have discussed about these five characteristics of the middle term.[22]

(i) Pakṣadharmatā: Firstly, the middle term (hetu) must be found to be present in the subject (pakṣa), i.e. the hetu must be a characteristic of the minor term, e.g., ‘smoke must be present in the hill.’

(ii) Sapakṣasattva: Secondly, it means that the major term (sādhya) must be present in all the instances in which the middle term (hetu) is present, e.g., ‘smoke must be present in the kitchen where fire exists.’

(iii) Vipakṣāsattva: Thirdly, it means the non-existence of the middle term (hetu) in negative instances heterogeneous from the proven. In other words, it means the non-existence in dissimilar instances in which the predicate does not exist. For example, - ‘smoke must be absent in the lake in which fire does not exist.’

(iv) Abādhitaviṣayattva: Fourthly, it means that the middle term (hetu) must not relate or be incompatible with the minor term, e.g., ‘it must not prove the coolness of fire.’

(v) Asatpratipakṣattva: Lastly, it means the absence of counteracting forces. This means that there should be nothing else present in the minor term (pakṣa) alongwith the middle term (hetu), which is invariably connected with the absence of the thing whose presence we are going to establish.

All these five characteristics are necessary for a valid reason (hetu). A reason (hetu) with these characteristics is probative of the predicate.

In the Vaiśeṣika system, it is stated that anumāna is based upon real universal relation. Praśastapāda opines that the mark (liṅga) is inseparably related to the probandum (sādhya) in all times and places, which leads to the inference (anumāna) of it. He does not use the terms pakṣa, sapakṣa and vipakṣa. He uses anumeya in the sense of the subject of anumāna. [23]

Footnotes and references:


atha tatpūrvakam tribidhamanumānam pūrvavat śeṣavat sāmānyatodṛṣṭam ca. Nyāyasūtra, i. 1. 5


mitena liṅgena liṅgīno’rthasya paścānmānamanumānam. Vātsyāyana Bhāṣya on Nyāyasūtra, i. 1. 3


pañca lakṣaṇakālliṅgād gṛhītānniyate smṛteḥ parokṣe liṅgīni jñānamanumānam. Nyāyamañjarī, I–101


smṛtyanugṛhīto liṅgaparāmarśo’numānam. Nyāyavārttika, 1. 1. 5


Nyāyavārttika, 1. 1. 5, Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā, 1. 1. 5


vyāptiviśiṣṭa pakṣadharmatājñānajanyam jñānamanumitiḥ. Tattvacintāmaṇi, p. 2


asyedaṃ kāryaṃ kāraṇaṃ saṃyogī virodhī samavāyi ceti laiṅgikam. asyedaṃ kāryakāraṇa sambandhāścavayavād bhavati. heturapadeśo liṅgam pramāṇam kāraṇam. Vaiśeṣikasūtra, ix. 2. 1, 2. 4


prasiddhipūrvakatvādapadeśasya. Vaiśeṣikasūtra, iii. 1. 14


liṅgadarśanāt sañjāyamānam laiṅgikam. Padārthadharmasaṃgraha, p. 200


parāmarśajanyam jñānamanumitiḥ. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 26


yatra yatra dhūmastatra tatrāgniriti sāhacaryaniyamo vyāptiḥ. Ibid.


Siddhāntamuktāvalī, p. 238


vyāptiviśiṣṭa pakṣadharmatājñānam, Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 34


vyāptijñānakaraṇakam jñānam, Siddhāntamuktāvalī, p. 238


trirūpālliṅgād yadanumeye jñānam tadanumānam. Nyāyabindu, 2. 3


vyāptibalenārthagamakam liṅgam. Tarkabhāṣā, p. 7


saṃdigdhasādhyavān pakṣah. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 32
Cf: nānupalabdhe na nirṇite’rthe nyāyaḥ pravartate kintu saṃśayite. Nyāyabhāṣya, i. 1. 1


siṣādhayisita dharma viśiṣṭo dharma pakṣaḥ. Nyāyamañjarī, p. 110


niścitasādhyavān sapakṣaḥ; niścitasādhyabhāvavān vipakṣaḥ. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 44


vyāpyasya parvatādivṛttitvam pakṣadharmatā vyāptiviśiṣṭa pakṣadharmatājñānam parāmarśaḥ. Tarkasaṃgraha, p. 26


pakṣadharmatvam sapakṣadharmatvam vipakṣādvyavṛttirabādhitaviṣayatvaṃ asatpratipakṣatvam ceti. Nyāyamañjarī, p. 110, Nyāyasūtravṛtti, 1. 2. 4


tāni pañcarūpāṇi pakṣadharmatvam sapakṣe sattvam vipakṣādvyavṛttiḥ abādhitaviṣayattvam asatpratipakṣattvam ceti. Tarkabhāṣā, 48


yadanumeyena sambaddham prasiddham ca tadanvite / tadabhāve ca nāstyeva talliṅgam anumāpakam // Praśastapāda Bhāṣya, p. 200

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