Indian and Tibetan philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F086-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

1. Hindu philosophy

The philosophical schools associated with what we now call Hinduism all had in common respect for the authority of the Veda (‘Knowledge’), scriptures accepted as a revealed body of wisdom, cosmological information and codes of societal obligations. The textual schools that systematized disciplines derived from the Veda were the Mīmāṃsā, the Nyāya, the Vaiśeṣika, the Sāṅkhya and the various Vedānta schools (see Mīmāṃsā; Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika; Sāṅkhya; Vedānta). Concerned as all these schools were with correct interpretation of the Veda, it is natural that questions of language were of paramount importance in Indian philosophy (see Language, Indian theories of; Meaning, Indian theories of). These involved detailed investigation into how subjects are to be defined and how texts are to be interpreted (see Definition, Indian concepts of; Interpretation, Indian theories of).

Closely related to questions of language were questions of knowledge in general and its sources (see Epistemology, Indian schools of; Knowledge, Indian views of). The two most important sources of knowledge that Indian philosophers discussed were sensation and inference, the theory of inference being important to the development of logic in India (see Sense perception, Indian views of; Inference, Indian theories of). Another topic about which Indian thinkers had much to say was the problem of how absences are known (see Negative facts in classical Indian philosophy). Because of the importance of scriptures and religious teachers, epistemologists in India discussed the issue of the authority of texts and the question of the reliability of information conveyed through human language (see Testimony in Indian philosophy). The questions associated with epistemology are in Indian philosophy often closely connected with questions of human psychology (see Awareness in Indian thought; Error and illusion, Indian conceptions of).

Most schools of Indian philosophy offered not only an epistemology but also an ontology (see Ontology in Indian philosophy). Many posited a personal creator god or an impersonal godhead (see God, Indian conceptions of; Brahman; Monism, Indian). Just how particular things come into being through creative agency or through impersonal natural laws was a matter of considerable debate (see Causation, Indian theories of; Cosmology and cosmogony, Indian theories of). Indian thinkers also debated the precise nature of matter, the ontological status of universals, and how potentials become actualities (see Matter, Indian conceptions of; Universals, Indian theories of; Potentiality, Indian theories of).

In addition to epistemology and metaphysics, a third area that Indian systematic philosophers nearly always commented upon were issues concerning the nature of the human being (see Self, Indian theories of; Mind, Indian philosophy of). This included thoughts on a variety of ethical questions and the rewards for living an ethical life (see Duty and virtue, Indian conceptions of; Karma and rebirth, Indian conceptions of; Fatalism, Indian; Heaven, Indian conceptions of). While most thinkers dealt with individual ethics, some also gave attention to the question of collective behaviour and policy (see Political philosophy, Indian).

The Hindu tradition produced a number of important individual philosophers. Among the earliest extant philosophers from India are the political theorist Kauṭilya (fourth century bc) and the grammarian and philosopher of language Patañjali (second century bc). The legendary founder of the Nyāya school, Akṣapāda Gautama, is traditionally regarded as the author of a set of aphorisms that modern scholars believe were composed in the second or third century. These aphorisms present the basic ontological categories and epistemological principles that were followed not only by the Nyāya school but by many others as well. The philosopher of language Bhartṛhari (fifth century) developed the intriguing idea that the basic stuff of which all the universe is made is an intelligence in the form of a readiness to use language. Vātsyāyana (fifth century) and Uddyotakara (sixth century) were both commentators on Gautama. The Vedānta systematist Śaṅkara (eighth century) wrote that realizing the underlying unity of all things in the form of Brahman could set one free. The aesthetician Abhinavagupta (tenth–eleventh century) made the education of the emotions through the cultivation of aesthetic sensitivity the basis of liberation from the turmoil of life. Udayana (eleventh century) of the Nyāya school developed important arguments for the existence of God. Rāmānuja (eleventh–twelfth century) and Madhva (thirteenth century), both Vedāntins, offered systems that became serious rivals to Śaṅkara’s monism. The work of the logician Gaṅgeśa (fourteenth century), who revised the classical system of logic and epistemology, became the foundation for an important new school of thought, Navya-Nyāya (‘New Nyāya’). Mādhava (fourteenth century) and Vallabhācārya (fifteenth–sixteenth century) made important contributions to Vedāntin philosophy. Gadādhara (seventeenth century) continued making advances in logical theory by building on the work of Gaṅgeśa. Also important in the sixteenth century were several thinkers who commented upon the religious thinker Caitanya (see GauḌĪya VaiṢṆavism). Finally, there were several thinkers and movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a period during which Indian intellectuals struggled to reconcile traditional Indian ways of thinking with European and especially British influences (see Aurobindo Ghose; Gandhi, M.K.; Radhakrishnan, S.; Tagore, R.; Arya Samaj; Brahmo Samaj; Ramakrishna Movement).

Citing this article:
Hayes, Richard P.. Hindu philosophy. Indian and Tibetan philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F086-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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