The validity of Anumana (inference) in Nyaya system

by Babu C. D | 2018 | 44,340 words

This thesis is called: The validity of Anumana (inference) in Nyaya system. It tries to establish the validity of Anumana through citing its application either consciously or unconsciously in every sphere of human life. Anumana in Nyaya system is the knowledge of any object not by direct observation but by means of the knowledge of a liṅga or sign ...

Chapter 5 - The Validity of Anumana (Introduction)

Knowledge in Indian Philosophy is referred to jnana and prama. Goutama defines it as “Buddhih upalabdhirjnanamityanarthantaram.”[1] It is the apprehension of object. Knowledge may be valid (yathartha) or invalid (ayathartha). jnana envelops all kinds of knowledge both true and false; whereas prama is used in the sense of true knowledge or Yatharthajnana. It is knowledge that is able to recognize an object with its real nature and character. In Indian philosophy, valid knowledge is called prama and the source of valid knowledge is called pramana. “Pramayah karanam pramanam.”[2] That means the uncommon cause or karana of valid knowledge or prama is called pramana. The way in which the valid knowledge can be obtained is called pramana. Validity of the knowledge has been a contentious matter in Indian philosophy and all philosophers took efforts in their own way to analyse and explain valid knowledge. While for Naiyayikas validity of knowledge is the objectivity or faithfulness of knowledge, it is non-contradictness for Advaita school of Uttaramimamsa; non contradictness and definiteness for Vaisheshikas; definiteness for jainas and certainty (undoubtedness) for Sankhya-yoga. Validity of knowledge therefore is a firm or assured cognition of objects which does not stand in need of confirmation by other cognitions. There are different methods to obtain valid and true knowledge. The four major means for acquiring knowledge are perception (pratyaksha) inference (anumana) comparison (upamana) and Verbal testimony (shabda).

Among the above four sources of valid knowledge, perception and inference are considered important means of knowledge in Indian philosophy. Perception is gained through contact of sense organs (indriya) with the objects (artha) and it forms the base for all kinds of knowledge. Other sources of knowledge i.e., inference, comparison and verbal testimony are not possible without having reference to perception.

Anumana consists in making an assertion about an object on the strength of the knowledge of the probans which is invariably connected with it. The word anumana literally means the cognition which follows from other knowledge. Here the prefix ‘anu’ means ‘after’ and ‘mana’ means ‘knowledge’. The knowledge of invariable concomitance (vyapti) is the key for having inferential knowledge. Therefore vyapti is “yatra dhumastatragniitis acaryaniyamahvyaptih”[3]

Perception has a separate existence understanding about a previous object whereas inference depends on the previous knowledge. It means that the knowledge of an object does not depend on the knowledge of other object. While perception can reveal those objects that are within the range of sense organs, inference is able to provide knowledge of objects which are beyond the sense organs.[4]

All schools of Indian philosophy reiterate perception as the fundamental base for all kinds of knowledge; inference as source of valid knowledge is accepted by all except the Carvakas. Though they do not consider it as a valid source, they do not deny the existence of inference as such. They hold that inference is not a special source of valid knowledge. Rather it is knowledge of probability.[5] According to them (Carvakas) inference by virtue of having the capacity of producing the knowledge of probability cannot produce definite valid knowledge. However, philosophers from all other schools of thought refute Carvaka’s standpoint citing that inference has prominent utility in the day to day life of society.

The significance of inference is more explicit in relation to unknown facts. In such cases, conclusions are arrived at through logical inference. Inference is utilized by young and old in everyday life either consciously or unconsciously. The Naiyayikas are of the opinion that even a child has the capacity to infer. A child understands or gains knowledge about the primary relation of a term with its meaning first from the verbatim usage of the elders. In such cases the child, even without knowing the inferential process infers and arrive at conclusions. Even the illiterate persons are guided by inference. The inherent capacity for inferring in a child can be observed in the following context. On overhearing the conversation of two persons regarding the bringing of a cow and witnessing the act of bringing and taking back on another request, the boy standing beside, grasps the meaning of each word uttered, as a child sucks milk from mothers breast.[6]

Thereafter the person comes to infer the state or condition of being produced by the knowledge of the feasibility of which the bringing of a cow has become qualificand in respect of the inclination with the help of the argument in syllogistic way; ‘that inclination to bring a cow is produced by the knowledge of the feasibility of which the inclination to the same has become qualificand, as it has got the generic property existing in inclination as in the case of inclination. The inclination to a particular action becomes qualificand to the knowledge of the feasibility by one’s effort.

Inclination of any nature presupposes knowledge of feasibility. And the child goes forward with the syllogistic argument in the form; the knowledge of the feasibility of which the bringing a cow has become qualificand has an uncommon cause, as it is an effort having effortless in it as in the case of a jar. Any type of effect has got its special cause and hence, the effect in the form of bringing a cow needs some special cause. From this inference, the child learns that the knowledge of the verbal usages of the elder persons is the uncommon cause of the knowledge mentioned above. The inferential knowledge gained in the above process is completely through an unaware or unintentional process and procedure.[7]

Human beings in the present society rationalize everything and do not trust or believe statements or versions blindly, instead trust statement which is grounded properly. People in general demand convincing proof or reason for any statement if it is to be believed or trusted. Groundless statements are ignored by others which itself confine to a form of inference.[8]

Inference plays a significant role in day-to-day life since most of the dealings wholly or partially depended on inferential knowledge. Inferences at times act as instrument to guess other’s thoughts.[9]

Inferences occur even without any special awareness. Seeing a mango in red it is inferred as ripened. Similarly, when a muddy current river is observed one can infer, it rained cats and dogs. All these occur in a natural manner. Same is the case with many mental states like pleasure, pain, happiness etc., which can be inferred from the facial expressions and gestures. Further, the dress and accent of the people help a lot to infer their native place. In all these cases, the inference is what acting the means of knowledge being unnoticed. Inference therefore is a part and parcel of the life’s means to acquire knowledge.[10]

The existence of self which is beyond the reach of sense organs is proved through inference. Logicians use inference to prove the existence of atman as a locus of the attributes like desire, aversion, effort etc.[11] In other words, the state of being atmatva is inferred as the avachedaka of this inherent causeness of pleasure, pain etc. However, though a person is aware of his being happy, he does not realize the real enjoyer or self. Also he is not aware of the fact that the self is beyond all these. It deems further argument like the following. One cannot find a result from any device unless there is someone to operate it. Similarly, the sense organs which have their own objects of observance work like the instruments of real knowledge, Atman or soul. [12]

No Philosopher except Carvaka could succeed in keeping his mind at rest, from the attacks of inquiries especially regarding the invisible objects like atman, God etc. The syllogistic argument posted to prove the existence of Atman in the body of others is as follows, ‘the body of Devadatta’ is endowed with atman since it is inclined to a condition of moving like a chariot.

It will not be a lie if it is said that today if most of the wise men believe in God or in a supreme power, it is because of the incessant inquiries done by the Orthodox schools, especially Nyaya-Vaisheshikas who had a privilege owing to having a discursive knowledge. They argue: A plate, jar, mug, chair, etc., are made by a man. Similarly, the earth (kshiti) sprouts, (ankura) etc. must have a creator. A person with limited power or knowledge cannot create this universe and hence he must be the Almighty. Thus God is inferred as the cause or agent of the universe.[13]

Similarly, the cosmos is originated from the combination of atoms. Such blending does not happen naturally or automatically by their innate character. Hence, there should be the presence of some conscious being, who is called God.[14]

Big planets and other such heavy things do not fall down without being supported by some unknown power, as a bird flying in the sky without falling.[15] The power is termed as God. Destruction of world also presupposes the existence of an effort just like an agent in the case of a jar. This effort is in the form of God.[16]

The Vedas are introduced by a being who does not entangle with the worldly affairs;who is not an individual, as the Vedas are having a property of their own as Vedatva. That which is not of this type would not be of this type as in the case of a piece of literature.[17] The unafflicted Purusha is God. The Vedas are introduced by Purusha as they possess sentences as in the case of the Mahabharata. This Purusha is god. In all these, inferential methods are used to prove the existence of God.

Again, the invisible objects like atom, ether, time etc. are proved by inference. Naiyayikas explain the origin of the whole universe as the combination of atoms. This would have been futile, had not the existence of atom was proved through inference. The syllogistic argument in this regard are: If the whole of an object is assumed as having endless series of parts, there would arise the contingency of equality in respect of size between a mountain and a mustard seed. If the whole has some parts, the parts also will have some other parts in which there would be other parts and so on. In this way, there would arise infinite regress (anavastha). As there is no definite size, there would arise the contingency of equality in dimension between very big and small objects. In the case of non-eternal, a positive effect may be produced, even when there is the absence of inherent cause. If the limit taken as non-eternal, it must be considered as an effect which remains in it through the relation of inherence (samavaya). As there are no parts in it, it can be said that it is a positive effect having no parts. As a positive effect devoid of parts is not possible, it would be taken as an eternal object.[18]

As the gradation of the medium dimension has a limit in akasha etc., the gradation of the atomic dimension must have a limit somewhere. Where there is limit is an atom.[19] It cannot be said that the limit of atomic dimension is a triad. A triad’s possessing parts can be established with the help of the syllogistic argument in the form; ‘a triad’ possesses its parts, as it is a substance perceptible like a jar. One of the parts of a triad is called atom.[20] In the same way akasha is inferred as the locus of sound.[21] The existence of kala (time) is inferred from its general causality regarding the objects that are produced from its being the locus of this universe,[22] and from its being an uncommon cause of knowledge of paratva (priority) and aparatva (posteriority).[23]

Footnotes and references:


Nyayasutra 1-1-15.


V.N Jha, Tarkasamgraha, English Translation with notes, p.63.


Justification of Inference, p.3


Justification of Inference, p.3


Sarma ed., Namprakarana, prose portion on verse no-20, p.116


Justification of Inference, p.6


- Baudhadrsanu, Sarvadarshana Samgraha.


‐ Ibid.,


Raghunath Ghosh. Dr., The Justification of Inference, Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, Delhi: Varanasi, Sept. 1990. p.7.


-Nyayasutra, 1-1-10.

Tarkasamgraha with English Notes, p.30




Kiranavali on Sidhanta muktavali, Edited by Krishnuballava Acarya, p.16


Dinnakari on Siddharta Muktavali Verse no1,1, p.20





Siddhanta Muktavali, Verse No.1, p.29.









Tarkasamgrah, p.190


- Tarkasamgrah, p.178.


- Siddhanta Muktavli, verse. 45.



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