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Negative facts in classical Indian philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Like their European counterparts, the philosophers of classical India were interested in the problem of negative facts. A negative fact may be thought of, at the outset at least, as a state of affairs that corresponds to a negative statement, such as ‘Mr Smith is not in this room.’ The question that perplexed the philosophers of India was: How does someone, say Ms Jones, know that Mr Smith is not in the room? There are essentially four possible metaphysical positions to account for what it is that Ms Jones knows when, after entering a room, she comes to know that her friend is not present there. Each of the positions has been adopted and defended by certain classical Indian philosophers. On the one hand, some take the absence of the friend from the room as a brute, negative fact. Of these, some hold knowledge of this fact to be perceptual, while others hold it to be inferential. On the other hand, some hold that the absence of the friend from the room has no real ontic status at all, and believe that what there really is in the situation is just the sum of all the things present in the office. These latter philosophers hold that knowledge of one’s friend’s absence is just knowledge of what is present, though some believe the knowledge results from perception, while others believe it to result from inference. These four positions were maintained by, respectively, the Nyāya philosopher Jayanta, the Mīmāṃsā philosophers Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and Prabhākara, and the Buddhist Dharmakīrti.

Citing this article:
Gillon, Brendan S.. Negative facts in classical Indian philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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