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

Dr. Sarukkai characterizes the role Indian Logic can play in understanding the nature of Science-

” In recent times, there have been many claims about the relationship of modern science with ancient Indian traditions. In this context, we can identify two broad claims: one is that ancient Indian civilisation was a scientific and technological society, as manifested in their advanced theories in mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, chemistry, linguistics and so on. This is a claim that can be verified since there has been substantial documentation on this subject. It is indeed true that Indian society had developed techniques, methodologies and results in fields such as medicine, astronomy, mathematics, linguistics and metallurgy, and these developments were much more advanced than in other civilisations in those times.”

(Page 72)

” The second claim is that some concepts in modern science, particularly in quantum theory and cosmology, are described by and anticipated in ancient Indian thought. This is not only a contentious claim but also one that is untenable or even undesirable. Modern science, particularly quantum theory, is a discourse which is unique in many respects and to claim that some elements of it are actually what the ancient Indian thinkers were talking about is to mistake the nature of both Indian philosophy and modern science.”

” However, to understand the nature of science, that is, to answer the question ‘What is science?’ we need to look at the structure of science, the relation between theory and the empirical, and so on. It is here that Indian philosophy, and particularly Indian logic, is relevant. While there are good reasons to critique the attempt to find contemporary ideas of modern science in ancient thought, it is nevertheless the case that contemporary philosophy of science can learn much from Indian philosophical traditions. One can fruitfully explore the possibility of drawing upon Indian philosophical traditions, particularly its rationalistic ones, to understand the nature and foundations of science. This is what philosophy of science, as a discipline, has accomplished by developing upon ancient and modern Western philosophical traditions. It is surprising that philosophy of science, in its long history, has ignored potential contributions from non-Western philosophies. It will be useful to explore whether Indian rational philosophies have anything to contribute to philosophy of science (and not to science per se). Since philosophy of science offers the best tools to understand the nature of science, it is conceivable that Indian philosophy will in principle be useful in our attempt to understand the nature of science.”

(Page 73)

” One reason to explain this complete denial of other philosophical traditions in mainstream philosophy of science is due to the belief that modern science is a product of Western civilisation and hence any analysis of it is best done by the philosophical traditions of the same civilisation. This is the originary issue for philosophy of science. This particular point of view is further strengthened by the common observation that natural science grew out of philosophy. However, this observation emphasises common origins of particular kinds of intellectual activities while ignoring the reasons as to why science broke away from traditional philosophy. In the history of modern science, there have been more attempts to show that the distinctive nature of scientific character was radically different from philosophy than attempts to show that they were similar. This is a potential paradox for philosophy of science: it insists on using philosophical insights from traditions whose rejection in the first place catalysed modern science.”

(Page 77)

” Moreover, if conceptual and methodological spaces are concerned, there is much in common between Indian rationalist traditions and the philosophical foundations of modern science.”

(Page 78)

Dr. Sarukkai explains how that if Western philosophy can be used to philosophize about Science, so can Indian philosophy-

” The common origin argument for using Western philosophy can also be easily extended to the use of Indian philosophy for the simple reason that science uses and deals with concepts and processes that share a common space with Indian philosophical traditions also. Ideas such as inference, reasoning, knowledge, causality and so on are philosophical themes within Indian traditions as well as in science, and so in principle there is a shared space which allows the first step of philosophising. Furthermore, there are philosophical traditions within the Indian systems which are far closer to certain Western philosophical traditions in comparison with other Western traditions. For example, we could argue that Nyaya is more closer to logical and realist schools of Western philosophy compared to certain idealist and phenomenological traditions in Western thought.”

(Page 79)

” Is there a particular philosophy that is best suited for understanding science? I do not think one can identify any particular tradition or a particular set of ideas as best representing the philosophy of science. Different ideas and different traditions develop more complex and nuanced ways of understanding scientific activity. Can there be a philosophy intrinsic to science? It will be very surprising if there is a particular philosophical tradition that best voices science. Realism would be the closest doctrine that one might choose for this role but the complexities of scientific realism actually raises more questions for philosophical debates on realism. Pragmatism is another tradition that is again strongly reflective of scientific practice but pragmatism in philosophy is a much larger system of thought.”

” Given all these reasons, it seems reasonable to believe that the role of philosophy in science is to reflect upon scientific ideas and practice with the help of certain philosophical tools. Therefore, it seems only reasonable that tools from Indian philosophical traditions should in principle be as important as tools from other Western traditions. After all, not only did the Indians engage actively in scientific and technological issues but they also had a flourishing practice of mathematics and astronomy. Moreover, as described earlier, Indian philosophy was deeply engaged in the development of disciplines such as logic, epistemology and philosophy of language.”

” I think we can reasonably hold the position that certain aspects of Indian philosophy are not only relevant to a foundationalist description of science but that they also share something in common with scientific methodology. There are many pointers to this and in what follows I will only briefly indicate these reasons. We can begin with the nature of doubt and its relation to science. In Western philosophical tradition, as well as in science, doubt is an important theme. Descartes inaugurated the move towards certain knowledge by beginning with doubt and thus formulated a methodology of doubt. Indian philosophical systems also begin with a priority to the nature of doubt. There is a great deal to be doubted: our perceptions, reasoning, evidence, inferences and so on. For the Indian logicians, exemplified by the Nyaya school, doubt is the beginning of inquiry. The purpose of inquiry is to resolve a doubt and reach a state of certainty. The Ny?ya formulation of doubt is rich in many ways. Doubts are framed in an interrogative form, which in modern terms can be seen as belonging to the ‘alternative’ type of questions. Doubts are classified into different kinds. Doubt and its resolution are an integral part of the rich tradition of debate in Indian philosophy. The steps to eradicate doubt as part of debate embody a rational strategy, which includes the use of empirical observation, some fundamental principles as also the well-known nyaya five-step process, usually referred to as nyaya ‘syllogism’.”

(Page 80)
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