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Testimony in Indian philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F084-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 06, 2020, from

Article Summary

A prominent topic in Indian epistemology is śābdapramāṇa, knowledge derived from linguistic utterance or testimony. The classical material is extensive and varied, initially concerned with providing grounds for accepting the wisdom of śruti or ‘the heard word’, that is, the canonical scriptures. The Buddhists, however, saw no need for śābdajñāna (information gained through words) as an independent source of knowledge, because any utterance (including the Buddha’s) that has not been tested in one’s own experience cannot be relied upon; and in any case, the operation of such knowledge can be accounted for in terms of inference and perception.

The Nyāya, following the Mīmāṃsā, developed sophisticated analyses and a spirited defence of the viability and autonomy of testimony. The problem is recast thus: is śābdapramāṇa linguistic knowledge eo ipso, or does verbal understanding amount to knowledge only when certain specifiable conditions, in addition to the generating conditions, are satisfied? The more usual answer is that where the speaker is reliable and sincere, and there is no evidence to the contrary, the generating semantic and phenomenological conditions suffice to deliver valid knowledge. If doubt arises, then other resources can be utilized for checking the truth or falsity of the understanding, or the reliability of the author (or nonpersonal source), and for overcoming the defects.

Citing this article:
Bilimoria, Purushottama. Testimony in Indian philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F084-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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