Anumana in Indian Philosophy

by Sangita Chakravarty | 2016 | 48,195 words

This page relates ‘Definition of Anumana (in Mimamsa-Vedanta 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). Definition of Anumāna (in Mīmāṃsā-Vedānta Philosophy)

In the Mīmāṃsā system of Indian philosophy, Jaimini admits three pramāṇas, viz., perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna) and testimony (śabda). Again, Prabhākara admits two more pramāṇas, viz., comparison (upamāna) and implication or presumption (arthāpatti) as the sources of valid knowledge. Kumārila Bhaṭṭa further adds non-apprehension (anupalabdhi) as the means of valid knowledge. Prabhākara rejects negation as an independent category and non-apprehension as the means of knowing it. In this way, the Mīmāṃsā system of Indian philosophy accepts six sources of valid knowledge.

It has already been stated that anumāna is accepted as a valid source of knowledge. In the Mīmāṃsā system, Śabara’s definition of anumāna is contained in—anumānam jñātasambandhasya….buddhiḥ. This is the basis of both Kumārila and Prabhākara’s theory of inference (anumāna). According to him, when a certain fixed relation has been known to subsist between two things so that if we perceive any one of these things we have an idea of the other thing, this latter cognition is called anumāna. [1] Anumāna as a source of valid knowledge is the source of our knowing through the medium of a sign or mark that a thing has a certain character. In it, we arrive at the knowledge of an object through the medium of two acts of knowledge or propositions. Kumārila follows Śabara and explains the relation as invariable concomitance of a sign or reason with a predicate, the former being pervaded by the latter and being the indicator of the latter, which is indicated.[2] The cognition of the permanent relation between two things helps in the inferential cognition by affording to the agent the idea of the other member when one member is cognized. When the observer perceives a certain thing and remembers the permanent relation that it has been known to bear to another thing, the recalled idea of the relation presents to the mind the apprehension of the other member of the relation and the name given to this apprehension is inference (anumāna)[3] . In Śabara’s definition of anumāna, the compound jñātasambandhasya is interpreted by Kumārila in four alternative ways. According to Prabhākara, the word jñātasambandhasya qualifies the word ekadeśa in the compound word ekadeśadarśanāt, meaning ‘one whose invariable concomitance with another is known’.[4] The various interpretations of the compound do not make much difference in the definition of anumāna. Kumārila and Prabhākara have both explained the word asannikṛṣṭe in different ways. According to Kumārila, the word asannikṛṣṭe refers to two things, viz., (1) that the object of anumāna should not be known beforehand through a stronger source of knowledge as possessing the character contrary to what is sought to be proved by inference (anumāna) and (2) that it should not be known beforehand as possessing a character contrary to what is sought to be proved.[5] On the other hand, Prabhākara explains it as meaning that the object of anumāna should not be one that is a remembered.[6] What Prabhākara emphasizes thus is that inference (anumāna) is apprehension rather than remembrance or memory. Śālikanātha Miśra, however, interprets the word asannikṛṣṭe to imply that the object of inference (anumāna) should not be contradicted by a stronger means of valid knowledge. It is apparent that all these are forced interpretations. Therefore, Śālikanātha uses the word abādhite in place of asannikṛṣṭe as used by Śabara. [7]

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa gives four alternative explanations of the compound jñātasambandhasya in the definition of anumāna. Firstly, it may be explained as referring to the person who knows well the relationship. It means the invariable concomitance between two things, e.g., ‘smoke’ and ‘fire’. It is known to all that smoke is always accompanied by fire. When the person later on sees smoke rising upwards from a hill he immediately becomes aware of the presence of fire on the hill, having remembered the constant relationship between smoke and fire. This cognition of fire on the part of the person is inference (anumāna). It is not perception, because though the smoke on the hill is perceived, the fire is not perceived.

Secondly, the compound may be explained as referring to the substratum (ekadeśin) where the relationship of smoke and fire is apprehended. There are certain places where smoke and fire are seen together. The common place where smoke and fire both are seen together is the hearth. The word ‘hearth’ means the floor or surround of a fireplace. The hearth is one of the substrata of smoke and fire. The hill where smoke is observed now and fire is also inferred is another substratum. This latter substratum is known as pakṣa or the minor term of anumāna. The hearth and other places where smoke and fire were actually observed in the past are called sapakṣa that speaks of instances which resemble the pakṣa in having smoke and fire together. The pakṣa and the sapakṣa both are ekadeśins and smoke and fire both are ekadeśas. The former being the container, the latter is the contained. The ekadeśin which is referred to in the compound is one where the smoke-fire relationship is known and hence it cannot but be a sapakṣa ekadeśin, i.e., a known instance.

Thirdly, the word jñātasambandhasya may mean simply a known relationship and the word ekadeśa will then mean a member of this relationship. When it is said that smoke is always accompanied by fire, it is the statement of a known relationship and smoke and fire are the two members or terms of this relationship. According to this explanation, anumāna is the cognition of the second member. For example- ‘smoke’. When the constant relationship between two terms is already known then an inference (anumāna) is possible. There are so many relationships between things, but their mere existence cannot serve to be a ground of inference (anumāna).

Fourthly, the word may be explained as referring to both the liṅga and the liṅgin taken together whose relationship is known.[8] The liṅga means that which indicates the presence of another thing and the lingī is that whose presence is indicated by the liṅga. For example -smoke always indicates the presence of fire. Here, smoke is the indicator or sign and fire is the thing indicated by smoke. Smoke and fire both are parts (ekadeśas) of a logical whole.

There is a difference of opinion regarding the character of the relation upon which the inference is based. According to Prabhākara’s view, this relation must be one, unfailing, ever true and permanent such as that which subsists between the cause and its effect, between the whole and its parts, between the substance and its qualities inhering in the same substance and so on. It may be noted that it is the smoke that bears the relation to the fire and not vice versa. The Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas also accept this view.

Regarding the means of knowledge by which we attain the valid knowledge of the permanent or unfailing character of the relation, Śālikanātha Miśra maintains that this can not be known by means of perception which operates only with regard to the things in the present and in contact with the sense organs. It cannot be known by anumāna or postulation also as both of these in their turn depend on their relationship which thus involves a ‘regressus ad infinitum’ (anavasthā).[9] According to the Mīmāṃsā, when two terms are known to have an invariable relation and subsequently only one of them is apprehended, the other too is inferred. This is the nature of anumāna. This definition does not omit anything essential nor does it add anything inessential and at the same time it is perfectly intelligible.

Śālikanātha Miśra states that all the relations of contact or of other kinds between fire and smoke are perceived by the sense-organs, the relations being apprehended as qualifications pertaining to the things (fire and smoke) which also are perceived by themselves.[10] The particular time and space also are perceived as mere qualifying adjuncts of the things. In this way the fire and the smoke are perceived as qualified by a certain qualifying relation and by specifications of time and place. The next step in the process is the recognition of the fact that while in some cases fire is found to be concomitant with smoke, there are instances where it is not so, and this gives rise to the conviction that the relation of fire with smoke is not constant, but qualified by specifications of time and place. On the other hand, for example, it is never found apart from fire and this brings in the conviction that smoke is always invariably concomitant with fire, the relation of smoke with fire being thus recognized as constant.[11]

Footnotes and references:


anumānam jñātasambandhasyaikadeśadarśanād ekadeśāntare sannikṛṣṭe’rthe buddhiḥ. Śabara Bhāṣya on 1. 1. 5


sambandho vyāptiristatra liṅgadharmasya liṅgīnā vyāpyasya gamakatvaṃ ca vyāpakam gamyam isỵ̣ ate. Ślokavārttika, Anumāna,4


jñātaḥ sambandhaniyamo yasya tasyaikadeśasya darśanādekadeśāntare’sannikṛṣṭe’rthe yā buddhiḥ, sānumānamityarthaḥ. Prakaraṇapañcikā, p. 196


Ibid., p. 197


tādrūpyena gṛhītatvam tadviparyayato’pi vā. Ślokavārttika, Anumāna,56


kiṃ tarhyasannikṛṣṭa iti? smaraṇābhimānaśūnya ityarthaḥ. Bṛhatī, p. 103


jñātasambandhaniyamasyaikadeśasya darśanāt …… ekadeśāntare buddhiranumānamabādhite. Prakaraṇapañcikā, Sl. 1, p. 196


karmadhārayapakṣo vā sambandhini ekadeśatā. Ślokavārttika, Anumāna, 2


kiṃ punaḥ sambandhaniyamāvagame pramāṇam? na tāvat pratyaksạm, tasya sannihitadeśavartamānakālavastuviṣayatvaniyamāt…nāpyanumānena…anavasthāprasaṅ gāt... arthāpattirapi na pramāṇam. Prakaraṇapañcikā, pp. 202,203


atrocyate …agnidhūmādīnām …svatantrabhūtam dravyam prakāśate. Ibid., p. 204


dhūmasya tu kadācidapyagnisaṃyogarahitayasyāvagamo nāsti. Ibid.

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