Nyaya (Sanskrit meaning "rational argument") is one of the six orthodox (astika) schools of Hindu philosophy that focuses on logic. Based on texts known as the Nyaya Sutras, written by Aksapada Gautama (ca. sixth century B.C.E.), this school made a very significant contribution to the study of logic and epistemology in Indian thought. In particular, it was renowned for its rigor of philosophical discourse, and the majority of the other Indian schools adopted its logical methodology, whether orthodox or heterodox.
Nyaya's most important contribution to Hindu thought is its elucidation of the pramanas (tools of epistemology). Its followers believe that obtaining valid knowledge is the only way to obtain release from suffering. They therefore took great pains to identify valid sources of knowledge and to distinguish these from mere false opinions. They argued that there are exactly four sources of knowledge: perception, inference, comparison and testimony. However, knowledge obtained through each of these sources can still be either valid or invalid. As a result, Nyaya scholars again went to great pains to identify, in each case, what it took to make knowledge valid—in the process creating a number of explanatory schemes. In this sense, Nyaya is probably the closest Indian equivalent to contemporary analytic philosophy.
The beginning of Nyaya can be traced back to the writings of Aksapada Gautama (ca. sixth century B.C.E.) who wrote the Nyaya Sutras. Gautama founded the Nyaya school, which was closely affiliated to the Vaisheshika (atomism) school of Hindu philosophy. While Nyaya centered around logic and epistemology, Vaisesika was primarily a metaphysical system of thought that classifies all beings into seven categories, and postulated that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms. The exact periods of the origin of Vaisesika have not been established; it is thought to be more ancient than Nyāya, and may have preceded, but was at least contemporary with, Buddhism and Jainism. The founder of Vaisesika is considered to be Kanāda, author of the Vaishesika Sutra, written sometime after 300 B.C.E..
The Naiyanikas (the Nyaya scholars) accepted four means of obtaining knowledge (pramana)—Perception, Inference, Comparison, and Verbal Testimony or Word. Each of these instruments of knowledge is elucidated below:
1) Perception, called PratyakŞha, occupies the foremost position in the Nyaya epistemology. Perception is defined by sense-object contact and can be of two types:
2) Inference, called Anumana, is also accepted by Nyaya as a valid means of knowledge. The methodology of inference involves a combination of induction and deduction by moving from particular to particular via generality. It has five steps, as in the example shown:
In Nyaya terminology for this example, the hill would be called as paksha (minor term), the fire is called as sadhya (major term), the smoke is called as hetu, and the relationship between the smoke and the fire is called as vyapti (middle term). Hetu further has five characteristics:
The Nyaya school classified inference into several types: inference for oneself (Svarthanumana), inference for others (Parathanumana), Purvavat (inferring an unperceived effect from a perceived cause), Sheshavat (inferring an unperceived cause from a perceived effect), and Samanyatodrishta (when inference is not based on causation but on uniformity of co-existence). A detailed analysis of error is also given, explaining when anumana could be false. The Nyaya theory of error is similar to that of Kumarila's Viparita-khyati (see Mimamsa). The Nyayayikas also believe that error is due to a wrong synthesis of the presented and the represented objects. The represented object is confused with the presented one. The word 'anyatha' means 'elsewise' and 'elsewhere' and both these meanings are brought out in error. The presented object is perceived elsewise and the represented object exists elsewhere. They further maintain that knowledge is not intrinsically valid but becomes so on account of extraneous conditions (paratah pramana during both validity and invalidity).
3) Comparison, called Upamana, is the knowledge of the relationship between a word and the object denoted by the word. It is produced by the knowledge of resemblance or similarity, given some pre-description of the new object beforehand.
4) Word, or Shabda is also accepted as a pramana. It can be of two types, Vaidika (Vedic), which are the words of the four sacred Vedas, and are described as truth, and Laukika, or words and writings of trustworthy human beings.
Early Naiyanikas wrote very little about God (Ishvara). However, the ascendancy of Buddhist doctrine in India provoked the Hindu Naiyanikas to enter into philosophical disputes with Buddhists. The Naiyanikas tried to prove the existence of God through logic, and they gave the following nine proofs for the existence of God, which are enumerated in Udayana's Nyaya Kusumanjali:
Not only have the Naiyanikas given proofs for the existence of God, but they have also given an argument that such a God can only be one. In the Nyaya Kusumanjali, this is discussed against the proposition of the Mimamsa school that there were many demigods (Devas) and sages (rishis) in the beginning, who wrote the Vedas and created the world. Nyaya says that:
[if they assume such] omniscient beings, those endowed with the various superhuman faculties of assuming infinitesimal size, etc., and capable of creating everything, then we reply that the law of parsimony bids us assume only one such, namely Him, the adorable Lord. There can be no confidence in a non-eternal and non omniscient being, and hence it follows that according to the system which rejects God, the tradition of the Veda is simultaneously overthrown; there is no other way open.
In other words, Nyaya says that the polytheist would have to give elaborate proofs for the existence and origin of his several celestial spirits, none of which would be logical. So it is much more logical to assume only One, eternal and omniscient God.
Nyaya's most important contribution to Hindu thought is its elucidation of the pramanas (tools of epistemology). It developed a system of logic that, subsequently, was adopted by the majority of the other Indian schools, orthodox or not. Nyaya differs from Aristotelian logic in that it is more than logic in its own right. Its followers believed that obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to obtain release from suffering. They therefore took great pains to identify valid sources of knowledge and to distinguish these from mere false opinions.
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