Anumana in Indian Philosophy

by Sangita Chakravarty | 2016 | 48,195 words

This page relates ‘Anumana (inference) in Advaita-Vedanta’ 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.

Like the Mīmāṃsā system, the Advaita Vedānta also accepts six pramāṇas. They are—

  1. perception (pratyakṣa),
  2. inference (anumāna),
  3. assimilative reasoning (upamāna),
  4. scripture (śruti),
  5. presumption (arthāpatti), and
  6. non-apprehension (anupalabdhi).

The only systematic approach to anumāna can be traced in the Vedāntaparibhāṣā and its commentaries in which to be found such points on which the Advaitins differ from the Naiyāyikas, while we find a kind of an implied agreement between the Advaitins and the Naiyāyikas on some other points. In order to discuss the Advaita view about anumāna, it is important to state in full the general Nyāya views and the deviations of the Advaitins from them.

According to Vedānta, anumāna is made by our motion of concomitance which means vyāptijñāna between two things, acting through specific past impressions.[1] Anumāna is the instrument of inferential knowledge. It is produced by the knowledge of invariable concomitance purely in its character as the knowledge of invariable concomitance. Between the things to be inferred (sādhya) and the reason or ground from which we infer (hetu), the latter is the subordinate concomitant. For example, in the sentence, “The hill has fire, because it has smoke.”

Here, fire is the thing to be inferred, the hill is the subject or thing in which it is inferred (pakṣa) and smoke is the reason (hetu). We gather from experience that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. It is because we have on previous occasions seen fire and smoke together by which we are able to justify the conclusion that there must be fire in a place where smoke is observed. It is only a generalized form of saying that there must be fire in a place because there is smoke in that place. If the statement that there is smoke in a certain place and hence there must be fire in that place is not convincing, the position will not be improved by simply putting it in a general manner.

The instrument of inferential knowledge is the knowledge of invariable concomitance. The latent impression of that knowledge is the immediate operation (vyāpāra).[2] But the consideration (parāmarśa) which is the third cognition of the sign, i.e., liṅga (that from which something is inferred) or reason as being present in the thing where something is inferred (pakṣa) is not an instrument of inferential knowledge. It cannot be proved that it is a cause of inferential knowledge, the question of its being an instrument which is an extraordinary cause of that, is easily set aside.

It must be clear why anumāna has no application to super-sensuous matters such as the relation between God and the world. We only see the world, but no one has seen God who is the creator of this universe. Because of the lack of such perceptual support we cannot assert that God is the cause of the world. We have no right to assume that the universe is an effect. At the time of creation, no one has been presented. On account of the absence of direct perceptual knowledge it is inferred that there must be a cause of this universe and that cause must be God who falls to the ground. It is for this reason that Śaṃkara observes that Vedāntasūtra i.i. 2. janmādyasya yataḥ must not be interpreted as a piece of inference (anumāna).[3]

It cannot be argued that since inferential knowledge is produced by latent impression it comes under recollection. There is no inference without a middle term and where the inference relates to empirical matters, the middle ground is supplied by perception and where it is concerned with trans-empirical matters the middle term is desired from śruti. In the commentary on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, Śaṃkara writes in the introduction–“when the existence of the self has been known from śruti and from certain empirical grounds cited by it, the Mīmāṃsakas and the Tārkikas, who follow in its footsteps, fancy that these Vedic grounds of inference such as the ego-consciousness are the product of their own minds and declare that the self is knowable through perception and inference.”[4] It means that inference must be supported either by perception or by śruti which is also another kind of immediate experience.

It is known to all of us that all Indian thinkers who believe in anumāna hold that there can be no anumāna without vyāpti. But they are not unanimous regarding its formal definition, its function and the means of ascertaining it. In the Vedānta system of Indian philosophy, the Vedāntaparibhāṣā defines vyāpti as the co-existence of the major term with the middle term in all the locus in which the middle term may exist.[5] It is apprehended by the observation of concomitance when no violation of the latter has been noticed. In the anumāna, “the hill is fiery, because it has smoke and wherever there is smoke, there is fire,” the last proposition, “wherever there is smoke, there is fire” expresses the concept of vyāpti. Etymologically the word vyāpti means pervasion. That is why, fire is called vyāpaka (pervader) and smoke is called vyāpya (pervaded). The two terms are not equal in extension. Hence, the relation between the vyāpaka and vyāpya cannot be reversed. This is called viṣamavyāpti. Again, such a case like “wherever there is smoke, there is fire” fed by wet fuel, there is samavyāpti between the two terms. Therefore, they can easily interchange their positions.

The Advaitins hold that a universal proposition can be based on the determination of any invariable unconditional universal relation. According to the Śikhāmaṇi, a commentary on Vedāntaparibhāṣā, the relation of vyāpti is not necessary to a relation of cause and effect. If it had been so, then we could have had a universal proposition such as ‘wherever there is a pot, there is the potter’s stick’. The stick is admitted to be a cause of the pot. On the other hand, a genuine universal proposition, e.g.,‘wherever there is earthness, there is thingness’ could not have been established. There is no causal relation present between earth and thing.[6] In the Vedāntaparibhāṣā, it is said that between two phenomena, vyāpti is known. It is known when the fire co-exists with smoke and at the same time it is never known not to accompany smoke.[7] There is no vyāpti between fire and smoke. Because though smoke is found accompanied with fire, i.e., in a kitchen it is not found to accompany fire, i.e., in a red hot iron ball.

According to Vedānta, only one example is sufficient to establish the vyāpti relation and it does not need many instances. If one finds appearance of silver in nacre, one can infer on its basis that all things besides Brahman are mere appearance. Hence Vedānta admits only concomitance in presence. It does not admit other types of concomitance as admitted by Nyāya philosophy. The Advaitins hold that the knowledge of vyāpti is the instrumental cause of inference.[8] The Naiyāyikas also hold the same view. But they are not same as regards to the exact function of vyāpti.

According to the Advaitins, if one knows the vyāpti, e.g., “smoke is accompanied by fire”, as soon as he afterwards sees smoke on the mountain the impression of this previously acquired knowledge of vyāpti is revived, which at once yields the knowledge. “The mountain is fiery.” The function of the knowledge of vyāpti is, therefore, the creation of this impression (saṃskāra) through the revival of which inference takes place. According to the Naiyāyikas there are five steps necessary for the conclusion.[9] But the Advaitins hold that there are only three steps necessary for the conclusion. Regarding the fourth step of the Naiyāyikas, the Advaitins have said that it is not universal and essential, though it may be sometimes present when the vyāpti is explicitly recollected.[10] Again regarding the fifth step, the Advaitins opine that it is altogether redundant. The Advaitins say that on seeing smoke on the mountain, the impression of our past knowledge that every case of smoke is a case of fire is revived, and we at once come to the conclusion that the mountain is fiery. We have not even to wait for this revival to mature into an explicit judgment of vyāpti. [11] The Advaitins hold that the older Naiyāyikas who consider the synthesis, i.e., tritīya liṅgaparāmarśa to be a function (vyāpāra) of the knowledge of vyāpti, which in its turn is instrumental to inference, and the more recent Naiyāyikas, who consider it to be itself directly instrumental to inference, are equally mistaken, for there is no reason at all for thinking that it is an essential precondition of inference.[12]

As the Indian logicians hold, inference for one’s own self (svārthānumāna) and inference for others (parārthānumāna) are the two kinds of inference which are markedly different from each other.

According to the Naiyāyikas, the second kind of inference i.e., inference used for demonstrating a truth, employs the following five steps for arriving at a truth:

  1. Pratijñā- statement of the proposition to be proved; e.g., “the mountain is fiery”.
  2. Hetus tatement of the reason; e.g., ‘because it has smoke’.
  3. Udāharaṇas tatement of the universal proposition along with an instance; e.g., ‘wherever there is smoke there is fire, as in the hearth.’
  4. Upanaya- statement of the presence of the mark in the case in question;e.g.,‘there is smoke on the mountain’.
  5. Nigamana- conclusion proved; e.g., ‘therefore, the mountain is fiery’.

But the Advaitins do not agree with the Naiyāyikas regarding their five steps as the valid order of reasoning. They argue that these five steps are unnecessary even for demonstrating a truth to other persons. In their opinion, either the first three or the last three steps will sufficient for demonstrating a truth.[13] Since it is possible to exhibit the invariable concomitance (vyāpti) and the presence of the reason in the subject (pakṣa) by three component parts only, two additional component parts are useless.[14] Either of the two groups, i.e., the first three steps or the last three, has a major and a minor premise and hence can be a valid order of reasoning for arriving at the truth. However, this notion of reasoning is not acceptable in the stereotyped western syllogism that always places the conclusion last. But in the concept of anumāna, it is not compulsory that the conclusion will follow the premises; the conclusion can be presented first to the mind and then the premises are required to be found to justify it. This order of reasoning advocated by the Advaitins, may have the premises first and the conclusion last, or the conclusion first and the premises last. In that case, it would be illogical to call the proposition proved a conclusion.

Now, it can be asserted that there cannot be a conclusion until and unless the premises are offered; it just remains a proposition to be proved. It can be called a probandum as the Indian logicians called it a pratijñā. Significantly, this important truth established by the Advaitins and other Indian logicians is hardly realized and recognised by the western logicians. Again, it must be mentioned that the udāharaṇa which is the characteristic cornerstone of the Indian syllogism is preserved irrespective of whether the first three steps or the last three are taken. Thus, the Indian syllogism becomes separated from the formal and deductive syllogism of Aristotle as well as the material and inductive syllogism of Mill, and comes to be called a “formal -material deductive-inductive” process of reasoning as Dr. Seal has remarked.[15]

Indian logicians have discussed two chief principles of classification of anumāna. Of these two, the first division of anumāna is known as inference for one’s own self (svārthānumāna) and the second is known as the inference for convincing others (parārthānumāna).[16]

On the other hand, the most important classification which is recognized by the Naiyāyikas, consists in dividing anumāna into three different kinds, viz.,

  1. kevalānvayi,
  2. kevalavyatireki and
  3. anvayavyatireki.

The principle involved here is the nature of the major term (sādhya). Of these three kinds of anumāna, the major term whereof allows only anvaya, i.e., observation of agreement only in presence is called kevalānvayi. Secondly, the exclusive major term whereof allows only vyatireka, i.e., observation of agreement only in absence is called kevalavyatireki. Thirdly, the major term whereof allows both anvaya and vyatireka, i.e., observation of agreement both in presence and in absence as tests of the validity of the major premise is called anvayavyatireki. This is the Nyāya classification of anumāna.

But the Advaitins do not accept this classification of anumāna. Vedānta is not anxious to establish any material validity for the anumāna, but only subjective and formal validity. There is single perception of concomitance of one thing with another when no contradictory instance is known. The method of agreement in presence is the only form of concomitance (anvayavyāpti) that the Vedānta allows. Therefore, the Vedānta discards all the other kinds of anumāna that Nyāya supported. The Advaitins hold that anumāna is logically of one kind which is based on universal affirmative propositions. According to them, anumāna is only of one form, viz., affirmative (anvayi)[17] but not purely affirmative (kevalānvayi). According to their view, every attribute is the counterpositive of the absolute non-existence abiding in Brahman. Since Brahman is absolutely devoid of attributes, there is always the absence of all attributes in it and every attribute is a counterpositive of that non-existence. The Advaitins say that the kevalānvayi anumāna is based on a wrong metaphysical presupposition. There can be no term which is all pervasive.

As to the kevalavyatireki anumāna, the Advaitins say that an anumāna is by conception a process of reasoning based on an invariable concomitance between the middle and the major term.[18] For the knowledge of invariable concomitance subsisting between the absence of the thing to be inferred and that of the reason, the former leading to the latter is of no use for deducing the thing to be inferred from the reason. Then how can even a person who is unaware of the affirmative invariable concomitance of smoke etc. have inferential knowledge through his knowledge of negative invariable concomitance? Therefore, an argument based on an invariable concomitance between the absence of the major term and the absence of the middle term cannot be called an anumāna, though it may be quite a valid piece of knowledge. It should be called by a separate name, viz., arthāpatti.

The rejection of the mixed type anvayavyatireki anumāna follows directly from the principle on which kevalavyatireki anumāna is rejected. That is why the Advaitins accept only one type of anumāna, i.e., anvayi which is based on an affirmative universal major which is established through the method of agreement in presence coupled with non-observation of any exception. This is also distinguished from the kevalānvayi anumāna.

In the Vedānta system, it is to be pointed that the author of Sikhāmaṇi, Rāmakṛṣṇa differs from the other Advaitins on this point. According to Rāmakṛṣṇa, by accepting the Nyāya theory of a vyatireki anumāna, the Advaitin must give up his own theory of arthāpatti as a method of knowledge which is distinct from anumāna. Though the knowledge obtained through arthāpatti can be obtained through anumāna also, yet it does not follow that it is always so known. The existence of an object known through perception can also be known through anumāna. But it neither shows that perception is inherent in anumāna, nor does it show that the existence of the object is actually known through anumāna. Again, Rāmakṛṣṇa says that the vyatireki anumāna is only an anvaya-vyāpti which can lead to an anumāna. It can be said that the knowledge of vyatireka, i.e., negative universal (major) yields an affirmative universal, and through that leads to an anumāna. Thus according to Rāmakṛṣṇa, the Advaitins can accept the Nyāya classification of anumāna with their own theory of arthāpatti.

The orthodox commentators of the Vedāntaparibhāṣā argue that the evidence of self-consciousness does not prove that one can infer any conclusion from a vyatireki universal. Therefore, there is no ground for accepting vyatireki anumāna. The Advaitins do not object to the inclusion of kevalānvayi within anumāna but do so in the case of kevalavyatireki anumāna. According to their views, no anumāna can take place with a universal which states a relation term and that of the middle term. There can be no such anumāna as a vyatireki. The Advaitins insist that an anumāna is a process in which one can infer the presence of the major term through a middle term and have to start, therefore, from the knowledge of an invariable concomitance between the middle and the major and not of that between the absence of the major and the absence of the middle.

In Indian philosophical system, we find no classification of anumāna according to figures and moods. It would appear that the Advaitins who insist that the major premise must always express universal concomitance between the middle and the major term, and that the middle term must be present in the minor, virtually hold that both premises should be a proposition. Therefore, the Advaitins reduce all inferential reasonings to the first mood, of the first figure,.i.e., Barbara.[19]

Before concluding up our account of anumāna it would be pertinent to touch on yet another important topic which is commonly discussed by Indian logicians. This topic is known as pakṣatā. Pakṣatā is described as that which is the characteristic of the pakṣa of an anumāna. This is the quality of being a pakṣa. Therefore, it is called pakṣatā.

In the Vedānta system, the Vedāntaparibhāṣā does not discuss about pakṣatā. But the Advaita-siddhi, and following it the Siddhi-vyākhyā discuss it while establishing inferentially the falsity of the world. According to Advaita-siddhi, pakṣatā is either a doubt that the major characterizes the minor, or the absence of evidence showing the presence of the major in the minor.[20] The Advaita-siddhi gives another alternative definition of pakṣatā. It is the condition of being the object of some dispute (vipratipatti-viṣayatva).[21] The second alternative definition speaks volume of the case of a parārthānumāna where the settlement of a disputed point remains the object of an inference (anumāna).

The summery of all the definitions given by the Advaita-siddhi is that anumāna must have as its initiating condition either doubt, or at least want of knowledge, about the thing to be inferred. The Advaita view of pakṣatā is superior to the Nyāya view of pakṣatā. Another important topic of anumāna is fallacy or hetvābhāsa which is discussed broadly in the Nyāya and almost all the systems of India philosophy. But the Advaitins are not found to have discussed about fallacies. According to the Vedānta system, inference (anumāna) proves the unreality of the universe which is other than Brahman. [22] For instance, all that other than Brahman; whatever is such (other than Brahman) is like this (unreal), as silver in a nacre. It cannot be argued that the example cited is unfounded, because it has already been proved. Nor is the reason offered without any corroborative argument, for in order to prove the unreality of silver in a nacre, of a snake in a rope, etc. It is the fact of their being other than Brahman that is the corroborative argument, because this is simpler.

Unreality consists in something being the counterpositive of the absolute nonexistence that abides in whatever is supposed to be its substratum. The term ‘supposed to be’ is used to guard against the futility of the definition on account of the absence of any true substratum of the thing which is unreal. Again, the word ‘whatever’ is used for precluding a different thing from the one in question.

So, it has been said,

“the unreality of all things whatsoever consists in their being counterpositives of the absolute non-existence that abides in what is supposed to be their substratum.”[23]

The proof of a thing’s unreality is an inference (anumāna) like the following:

“The cloth is a counterpositive of the absolute non-existence abiding in these threads, because it is a cloth; as is the case with any other cloth.”

So, it has been said, things, i.e., a ‘cloth’ that has parts are counterpositives of the non-existence abiding in those parts, viz., ‘threads,’ because they have parts; as in the case with other things that have parts. With regard to quality of action, generic attribute (jāti) etc (also), the same kind of inference (anumāna) holds good. For example, this colour of the cloth is a counterpositive of the absolute non-existence abiding in the cloth, because it is a colour; as in the case with other colours. Similarly other qualities as also generic attributes etc. are to be taken as counterpositives of the absolute non-existence abiding in those threads.

It cannot be said that if a jar etc. were unreal, it would contradict the perception, “the jar is existent.” The existence of the substratum of the jar, viz., Brahman is the object of this perception. The reality of a jar etc. is unfounded. How can Brahman, which is colourless, be an object of any other cognition? The fact of Brahman’s being a substance is unfounded. A substance is that which is the substratum of qualities and which is an inherent cause. But Brahman which is devoid of qualities cannot be the substratum of qualities. It cannot be an inherent cause, because inherence is unfounded. Again, Brahman is admitted to be a substance, and still there is no contradiction in its being an object of any other cognition like time, which is colourless.

It can be concluded that there are three kinds of existence, viz., absolute (pāramārthikam), conventional (vyavahārikam) and illusory (prātibhāṣikam). The absolute existence (pāramārthikam sattvam) belongs to Brahman. The conventional existence (vyavahārikam sattvam) belongs to the ether etc. And the illusory existence (prātibhāṣikam sattvam) belongs to silver in a nacre etc. Thus, the perception, “the jar is existent” is valid, as it treats of conventional existence. In this alternative, the negation of a jar etc. in Brahman is not a negation of those things as they are but only as absolute reality. Again, in this alternative we should understand that in the definition of unreality the absolute non-existence is to be so qualified as to convey the additional idea and the counterpositiveness relating to which is characterised by absoluteness.

Hence, the inference (anumāna) about the unreality of the universe is valid.

Footnotes and references:


anumitikaraṇamanumānam anumitiśca vyāptijñānatvena vyāptijñānajanyā, Vedāntaparibhāṣā, p. 68


anumitikaraṇañca vyāptijñānam tat saṃskāro’vāntara vyāpāra, Ibid., p. 69


tasmājjanmādisūtram nānumānopanyāsārtham. Vedāntasūtra, i.i. 2


āgamena tvātmāstitve avagate veda pradarśitalaukikaliṅgaviśesaiśca tadanusāriṇo mīmāṃsakās tārkikāśca ahampratyayaliṅgāni ca vaidikānyeva svamati prabhāvāniti kalpayanto vadanti pratyakṣaścānumeyasya ātmeti. Śaṃkara’s bhāṣya on Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad


vyāptiścaśeṣasādhanāśrayāśritasādhya sāmānādhikaranỵ̣ arūpā. Vedāntaparibhāṣā, pp. 72,198


Sikhāmạni on Vedāntaparibhāṣā, p. 199, as quoted in Dutta, D. M., The Six Ways of Knowing, p. 174


sā ca vyabhicārajñāne sati sahacāra darśanena gṛhyate. Vedāntaparibhāṣā, p. 72


Ibid., pp. 188,189


nanu mahānasādau dhūmādijñānam prathamam, pakṣe tato dvītiyam…tritīyaliṅgaparāmarśātmakam jñānamanumitikaraṇamiti vadanti naiyāyikāḥ. Ibid., p. 83


….vyāptismṛtisthale’pi tatsaṃskārasyaivānumitihetutvāt. Ibid.,p. 84


….na tu madhye vyāpti smaraṇaṃ…gauravāt mānābhāvāccha. Ibid., p. 196


Vide Dutta, D. M., The Six Ways of Knowing, p. 179


avayavāśca traya eva pratijñāhetudāharaṇarūpāḥ udāharaṇopanayanigamana rūpā vā. Vedāntaparibhāṣā, p. 95


na tu pañcāvayavarūpāḥ…..avayavāstrayenaiva vyāptipakṣadharmatāyorūpadarśanasambhavenādhikāvayavādvayasya vyarthatvāt. Ibid.


Vide Datta,D.M., The Six Ways of Knowing, p. 220


svārthaṃ svavivādagocarārthasādhakam parārthantu paravivādaviṣayārthasādhakam. Vedāntaparibhāṣā, p. 95


taccānumānamanvayirūpamekameva, na tu kevalānvayi. Ibid., p. 87


nāpyanumānasya vyatirekīrūpatvam, sādhyābhāve sādhanabhāvanirūpitavyāpti jñānasya sādhanena sādhyānumitāvānupayogāt. Ibid., p. 88


Vide Datta, D.M., The Six Ways of Knowing, pp. 191, 192


sādhya sandehāvattvam, sādhyagocara pramāṇābhāvavattvam vā. Advaitasiddhi, 29, as quoted in Datta, D.M., The Six Ways of Knowing, p. 194


Ibid., pp. 30,35


evamanumāne nirūpite tasmād brahmabhinnanikhilaprapañcasya mithyātvasiddhiḥ. Vedāntaparibhāṣā, p. 76


Citsukhī, Ch. I, verse 7, p. 39

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