Part of a Series of Excerpts from Prof. Sundar Sarukkai’s Book, ‘What is Science?’

Dr. Sarukkai offers an introduction to Indian Logic-

” It is commonly believed that logic is unique to the Greeks and, through this, to the Western civilization. At the same time, many philosophers in the West believed that the Indian philosophical traditions were primarily about religion, mysticism and spirituality. These thinkers, including some of the most important ones in Western philosophy such as Locke, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger, argued that Indian philosophical systems were inherently not concerned with reason, rationality or even knowledge. As is to be expected, the views of these influential thinkers dominated the interpretation of Indian philosophy for a long time. Since logic is an exemplar of reason and knowledge, and particularly of scientific knowledge, a denial of this capability to Indians and other non-westerners effectively removed the possibility of science in these cultures.”

(Page 68)

” However, most of these views on logic in India and elsewhere are completely mistaken. Logic has a long tradition in India. From the earliest times, logic was an essential part of learning. From sixth or seventh century BC onwards, Anviksiki – the science of inquiry – is used as the term for logic. Logic here is understood as a study of inferences and in general was about the nature of reason. Thus, it was also referred to as Hetu-sastra, tarka-vidya and so on. The name of Nyayasastra for anviksiki suggests its character as the ‘science of true reasoning’.”

” Logic in India has its roots in the art of debate. The Greeks too had a similar approach to debate and its various forms. The idea of philosophy itself arises from consideration of what kinds of debates are possible and desirable. All the Indian schools of philosophy, from the Carvakas to Naiyayikas (those belonging to the Nyaya school), had their own formulation of the rules of debate. It should not therefore surprise us that in the fourth century BC, Kautilya in his masterpiece Arthasastra described logic as the ‘lamp of all sciences, the resource of all actions and the permanent shelter of all virtues’ (Vidyabhusana 1920).”

” The detailed study of logic begins with the early Nyaya school. Logic was discussed not just in philosophical texts but also in texts such as the Mahabharata. Sages, including the famous storyteller, Narada, were often described as being experts in logical thinking, that is, experts in demonstrating an argument and arguing for conclusions. The first compiled work on the Nyaya school is Nyayasatra. The text is a collection of various aphorisms and may have been the work of more than one author. While parts of the text are derived from much earlier, the text as such can be dated in the second AD.”

(Page 69)

” What are the valid means towards knowledge? This is the first and foremost question among all Indian schools. Each school has a position on such means towards knowledge. The materialist school (Carvakas) claimed that there is only one proper means towards attaining knowledge and that is perception. The Buddhists claimed that there are two means: perception and inference. Nyaya accepts four such means: perception, inference, analogy and testimony.”

(Page 70)

” Indian logic is primarily a study of these problems about inferences. While granting that inferences are a valid means towards knowledge, we should also be aware that there many types of mistakes possible in making an inference. All schools of Indian thought, including the so-called spiritual traditions, engage with this problem of valid inference.”

” The Buddhists reformulated inference as a complex theory of valid signs. If we look upon smoke as a sign that there is fire then inferences, in general, reduce to finding when a sign indicates the presence of something else. Dignaga was the first to formulate the three conditions that a sign must obey in order to know that it is a valid sign. First, the sign must indeed have occurred; second, there must be similar examples where the sign and signified occur (like the example of kitchen in the case of smoke-fire); and third, there must be no dissimilar cases (if smoke occurs over water which is contrary to fire then obviously smoke is not invariably related to fire).”

” The involvement of the Indian philosophers with the empirical world can be understood by looking at how these traditions operated. The study of debate is one of the important contributions of the Indian philosophical schools. The emphasis given to debates arises out of the belief that beliefs must be argued for and not claimed on authority alone. Indian philosophy grew out of debates between different schools as well as between camps in each tradition. This process had its impact on the way the texts were written. The common mode of writing a philosophical text was as follows: first the opponent’s position was described and then the various claims of this position was refuted through rigorous arguments. This importance given to the empirical world in Indian thought is further attested in the way mathematics was understood in the Indian context. In contrast to an ideal understanding of mathematics in the Greek tradition, mathematics in India was seen to be intrinsically related to the world, both in terms of meaning as well as in its origins.”

(Page 71)

” An entirely new approach to logic is found in the Jaina tradition. The Jainas developed a multi-valued logic. Standard logic is two-valued, as captured in the claim that an assertion is either true or false. For example, A is either dead or alive. A cannot be both dead and alive. The Jainas developed a logic which is seven-valued. It includes the possibilities of true, false and maybe, and combinations of these three values. Interest in Jaina logic in recent times is largely because of the interest in formulating multi-valued logics in modern logic. The Jaina view is also a standpoint-view. What it suggests is that absolute true and false are not possible. Every statement is true or false or maybe true or false only from a particular standpoint. From another standpoint perhaps the same statement can take a different value. The fact that such a logical structure was developed much before modern logic understood the importance of multi-valued logic once again illustrates the amount of deep thinking about logic and rationality in Indian traditions.”

(Page 72)
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