Jaina philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 23, 2019, from

2. Epistemology and logic

Epistemology and logic are closely linked in the Indian tradition because logical issues are largely associated with problems related to inference which, in turn, is regarded as a means or instrument of knowledge. The occupation with abstract, logical ideas related to inference was the favourite topic of the Nyāya school, particularly in its Navya-Nyāya form, which flourished between about the thirteenth and the seventeenth century. Jaina logic adopts much of the Nyāya language and method (see Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika §6).

The history of Indian logic can be traced back at least to pre-Christian works on Indian medicine in which physicians are advised to know about a long list of categories, epistemological and logical, when participating in public debates. In the commentary literature to the basic philosophical treatises, especially after the third century ad, epistemology takes a prominent position, each school presenting its own theory of knowledge after criticizing other views. Jainism made its own unique contribution to this mainstream development by also occupying itself with the basic epistemological issues, namely, with those concerning the nature of knowledge, how knowledge is derived, and in what way knowledge can be said to be reliable. These issues feature in the Indian context in the form of the consistent attention paid to what exactly constitutes cognition, the means of cognition, and the validity of cognition. The problems dealt with in epistemology broadly served two functions. They represented an attempt to provide the basis for an intelligible discourse on matters of common, everyday experience and, albeit indirectly, to distinguish this area of discourse from what constitutes the knowledge of ultimate reality. Thus Indian epistemology entails an implicit metaphysical concern when it is employed in the context not only of the knowledge of one’s intrinsic nature but also of reality as such.

Knowledge for the Jainas takes place in the soul, which, without the limiting factor of karma, is omniscient. Human beings have partial knowledge – the object of knowledge is known partially and the means of knowledge do not operate to their full capacity. The Jainas have an intricate theory of knowledge concerning the fundamental principles (tattva), and the first systematic presentation of it was given by Umāsvāti (see §4) in the first chapter of his Tattvārthasūtra (fourth or fifth century). The following is a summary of his theory; the bracketed numbers are the relevant aphorisms. The knowledge of the basic Jaina truths is said to be obtained through means or instruments of knowledge (pramāṇa) which can yield a comprehensive knowledge of an object, and through particular standpoints which yield a partial knowledge (naya; 6) (see Manifoldness, Jaina theory of). The first type of knowledge is of five kinds: sensory knowledge, scriptural knowledge, clairvoyance, telepathy and omniscience (9–10), among which again the first two are described as being indirect means of knowledge (parokṣa), with the others furnishing direct knowledge (pratyakṣa; 11–12), by which it is meant that the object is known directly by the soul (not, for example, as with inferring fire through the cognition of smoke). Jainism is unique in the Indian tradition in regarding sensory perception as an indirect means of knowledge, because it does not take place directly through the soul, although some notable Jaina thinkers (such as Akalaṅka and Māṇikyanandin) are exceptions.

Synonyms for sensory knowledge are remembrance, recognition, ‘induction’ and ‘deduction’, all caused by the senses and the mind (13–14). Scriptural knowledge, which is based on sensory knowledge, is of two, several or twelve kinds (20), depending on which scriptural works are taken as authoritative. The range of sensory and scriptural knowledge extends to all the six substances (soul and the five non-sentient substances), but not in all their modes (26). Clairvoyance is possessed by divine and infernal beings, and can be obtained by human beings and animals through a destruction and/or subsidence of the karma which hinders it (21–2). Its scope is all entities that have form (27). Telepathy is of two kinds, which are distinguished on the basis of purity and infallibility (23–4). Its scope is infinitely greater than that of clairvoyance (28). The scope of omniscience, on the other hand, extends to all substances in all their modes simultaneously (29). Sensory knowledge, scriptural knowledge and clairvoyance are explicitly referred to as means of knowledge that may also be erroneous (31).

The basic division of knowledge into the direct and indirect types is generally retained by all Jaina thinkers, though with differences in the way in which they are further classified. For example, Akalaṅka (c. eighth century) regarded sensory knowledge as a direct means of knowledge, and Māṇikyanandin (c. ninth century) evolved a much more complex system with several more subvarieties. When a description of inference as a means of knowledge is given, the occasion is used to discuss logical issues in detail. Jaina logic applies the Nyāya language within its own metaphysical presuppositions. Some of the basic features of Indian logic which the Jainas also adopt involve: (1) the use of inference in the accepted standard form, to convince others of the validity of an argument, clearly distinguishing the three basic terms of the major, the middle and the minor; (2) an example or instance, which can also be in a negative form, based on the invariable concomitance of or inseparable connection between the middle term of an argument and all cases in which the major term obtains; and (3) a concern with types of fallacies based not only on pervasion but also on the relation of the different terms with each other and the locus in which they apply (see Inference, Indian theories of).

With his Nyāyāvatāra (The Descent of Logic), Siddhasena Divākara (c. fifth century) is perhaps the first Jaina thinker who deals with these and other issues in Jaina logic. A few selected examples will show how Jainism imbibed the logic of the Nyāya school, the structure of which it applied to prove its own arguments and to show errors in the arguments of others. The classical example for an understanding of the abstract ideas expressed here is that of smoke and fire, the basic elements of which, as they feature in a five-step inferential argument, are: (1) the theory – the hill (minor term) possesses fire (major term); (2) the cause or reason – because of smoke (middle term); (3) the example based on invariable concomitance – wherever there is smoke there is fire (as in a kitchen); (4) the application of the theory – similarly the mountain has smoke; and (5) the conclusion – therefore it is the same, that is, has fire.

A statement expressive of the reason (i.e., the mark or the middle term, called hetu) which is inseparably connected with that which is to be proved (i.e., the major term, called sādhya) having been composed of the minor term (called pakṣa, signifying a side or place), etc., is called an inference for the sake of others (parārthānumāna).

(Nyāyāvatāra, stanza 13; trans. S.C. Vidyabhusan)

Where the inseparable connection of the major term (sādhya) and the middle term (sādhana or hetu) is shown by homogeneousness (sādharmya), the example is called a homogeneous one, on account of the connection (between those terms) being recollected.

(stanza 18)

The reason (i.e., the middle term called hetu) has been defined as that which cannot exist except in connection with the major term (sādhya); the fallacy of the reason (hetvābhāsa) arises from nonconception, doubt or misconception about it (the middle term).

(stanza 22)

The Indians did not develop a system for presenting their abstract ideas symbolically; natural language (pre-eminently Sanskrit), used in such a technical way that only the specialist can decipher the arguments, served the function. However, there have been several successful contemporary attempts to translate Indian logic into the terminology of modern Western logic (Ingalls 1951; Matilal 1968, 1971; Staal 1960).

Citing this article:
Soni, Jayandra. Epistemology and logic. Jaina philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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