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Matter, Indian conceptions of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F060-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

During the long and complex history of Indian philosophy, a number of divergent conceptions of matter have been developed and explored. These conceptions diverge both with respect to the ontological analysis of matter, and with respect to its specific structural characteristics. In terms of ontological conceptions of matter, the rival positions of materialism, idealism and substance-pluralism are all advanced by competing schools of thought. For example, pure materialism is espoused by the Cārvāka school, while absolute idealism is defended by Advaita Vedānta, and varying forms of pluralism are advocated by the Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools.

Regarding the structural characteristics of matter, the most interesting conceptions are advanced by the pluralistic philosophies. In particular, the Vaiśeṣika and Nyāya schools recognize five physical substances, four of which are held to possess atomic structure. According to this conception, matter is composed of imperceptibly small units or paramāṇus, which constitute the basic substrate in which perceptible qualities inhere. All macroscopic objects are transient composites of atoms, while the paramāṇus themselves are indivisible and indestructible. The atoms are held to be naturally at rest, and an external force is required to initiate motion.

In contrast, the Sāṅkhya and Yoga traditions espouse a metaphysical dualism of the two basic categories of matter and consciousness, where the continuity and dynamic transformations of matter are emphasized. All of the diverse phenomena of the physical world result from modifications of a single underlying source known as pradhāna or primal matter, which is said to be continuous, all pervading, indestructible and imperceptible. Pradhāna exists in a balanced and unmanifest state of pralaya until it is disturbed by the presence of consciousness. This disturbance leads to an imbalance between the internal constituents of pradhāna, and the resulting disequilibrium accounts for the evolutionary transformations of the physical world.

Citing this article:
Schweizer, Paul. Matter, Indian conceptions of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F060-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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