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Knowledge, Indian views of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F047-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Classical Indian epistemology centres on a complex of terms for knowledge, knower and the known or knowable, including pramāṇa, ‘means to knowledge’ or ‘source of knowledge’. Views about perception, inference, testimony and a few additional candidate sources are the topics of core proposals of competing epistemological theories. Certain types of scepticism are also addressed, but explaining how it is possible that we know anything has been less central than other issues. Debates about knowledge – and doubt as well – are often caught up in larger war plans concerning the nature of awareness.

The various classical schools typically bring views about awareness with them to the epistemological arena, but a neutral, common touchstone for and important constraint on all pramāṇa theorizing is what is called speech behaviour, vyavahāra, reflecting, it is presumed, bits of everyday knowledge. Verbalizations of perception, for example, ‘That is a pot’, of inference, for example, ‘There is fire on yonder mountain’ (made on the basis of the sight of smoke and an understanding of the general rule that wherever there is smoke, there is fire), of information acquired through testimony, and so on, are the givens for which a successful theory has to account.

Principal candidate sources proposed in addition to perception and inference are testimony, analogy, circumstantial implication and negative perception. Mystical experience as a pramāṇa for spiritual matters is viewed as a variety of perception by its advocates, and scripture as a variety of testimony. With stock examples of bits of knowledge agreed upon, disagreement typically centres on what the source is for a particular example and whether admission of any source in addition to perception and inference is ever required. Or, in some cases, a stock example is slightly modified, better to align with a stance taken on a putatively additional pramāṇa.

With regard to what the sources make known, some argue that each pramāṇa works within a range of possibilities unique to itself, with no overlap. Thus what is known by perception cannot be known by inference. Others dispute such contentions, although at least a few such restrictions on individual knowledge sources are usually recognized. Buddhists and some others appear to be motivated to deny pramāṇa status to testimony because appeal to testimony is used to justify what they see as objectionable religious theses. Similarly, the Cārvāka materialist denies inference, apparently out of fear of its power to prove the existence of spiritual entities such as God or the soul.

The Buddhist Nāgārjuna and others challenge the pramāṇa programmes proffered by epistemologists of all stripes, and provoke what may be called meta-epistemological responses that bring out connections between pramāṇa proposals and a logic of presumption. In particular, the Nyāya response to Nāgārjuna and company is by any light an admirable effort of philosophy.

Citing this article:
Phillips, Stephen H.. Knowledge, Indian views of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F047-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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