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NYĀYA . Nyāya is an orthodox, classical Indian school of logic and epistemology established in the second century ce with the writing of the Nyāyasūtras by Gautama (Akapāda Gautama). It is described as concerned with the science of argumentation (ānvīkśiki) and as the measure of all other sciences (pramāaśāstra). Unlike modern Western logic, which is mainly formal and is complemented by an epistemology that presupposes the separateness of the study of epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics and religion, Nyāya defines its method as one of considering the science of argumentation as an instrument for the knowledge of reality that must lead to the attainment of the Highest Goodnamely freedom from suffering. The very first aphorism of the Nyāyasūtras thus defines its purpose and content in the following manner:

It is the knowledge of the real essence of the following sixteen categories that leads to the attainment of the Highest Good: 1. the means of right cognition, 2. the objects of right cognition, 3. doubt, 4. motive, 5. example, 6. theory, 7. factors of inference, 8. cogitation/decision, 9. demonstrated truth, 10. discussion 11. disputation, 12. wrangling, 13. fallacious reasons, 14. casuistry, 15. futile rejoinders and 16. clinchers. (Gautama, Nyāyasūtras, tr. Ganganatha Jha, 1939, p. 3)

Nyāya is traditionally paired with the Vaiśeika school, because the two focus respectively on the subject and object of knowledge, with the former therefore being more dominantly epistemological and the latter ontological in nature.

Modern scholarship on Nyāya can largely be divided into two camps. The first provides an apologetic for its metaphysical orientation and prefers to emphasize the technical detail of logic in an attempt to relocate Nyāya within a positivist framework. The historian of Indian philosophy S. N. Dasgupta and more recently Bimal Krishna Matilal belong to this category. The second approach is represented by those like Dharmendra Nath Shastri, Jitendranath Mohanty, and Karl Potter, who argue that the relation to metaphysics is not "added on" but intrinsic to the discourse of Nyāya. This difference in approach has not, however, affected the selection of topics or emphases among authors from either group, as the focus in both cases remains mainly on exegesis with occasional critical analysis. A sustained, conscious, and systematic consideration of Nyāya's method, which consists in the non-dualism of fact and value and theory and practice, pre-supposing a belief in the unity of epistemology (science), ethics, and metaphysics (or religion), has yet to be made. This is one of the major difficulties that hinders understanding of the exact nature of the orientation and development of thought within Nyāya, both internally and in relation to Buddhism and the Mīmāsā school and, more significantly, modern Western analytic thought.

Though empiricist and realist in orientation, Nyāya's definition and theory of perception and the object thereof reveals a consistent and systematic attempt to establish the conditions for the possibility of a nondualist science. Nyāya lists four instruments of cognitionperception, inference, analogy, and testimony. Perception is basic and necessary for the other three, and execution, that is, successful effort or action in acquiring or rejecting the object of cognition, is either the consequence of true cognition or its very nature. The object of cognition cannot be known merely through the perception of qualities such as shape, size, color, and weight; rather, it is truly known only when it is also possible to classify it as soul or not-soul, as that which is to be acquired or rejected in light of its being a source of pleasure or pain, in the quest for freedom. To this a caveat is of course added, pointing out that ultimately all pleasure and sources of pleasure are sources of pain from which one must attain detachment. Perception is defined as that cognition that arises from the contact of sense organ and object, which is not designated or expressed in speech, without error, and determinate. This definition includes within its range both sensation and direct experience of the "nameless" One (yogic perception).

Vātsāyana's early-fifth-century commentary on the Nyāyasūtras points out that "contact" with the mind and soul are not mentioned in perception's definition only because they are not unique to this instrument of cognition and are necessary to the other instruments as well. In fact it is the soul that makes it possible to see the object as pain or pleasure or as a source of the same. Finally, the scientific treatise is described as that which deals with the means of destroying pain. The cognizer is one who is stimulated to act in and through his or her calling, personal and professional, by the desire to reject pain and acquire pleasure, with the ultimate aim of renouncing all activity. Thus the co-ordinates of theory and practice, and of fact and value, establish true knowledge.

Nyāya argues that proof of the truth of unseen things spoken of in the Upaniads is established by the truth and efficacy of scientific treatises on things seen. The example then is of great importance in Nyāya. It is defined as that which can be directly perceived by both ordinary people and expert or trained investigators and is an essential factor both in establishing the truth of one's position and in disproving that of the opponent. Neither inference nor testimony can stand without the proof of such an example.

Nyāya's main disagreement over the nature of reality is with Buddhist idealism. The period from the fifth to eleventh centuries ce was one of great creative engagement between the two schools. The assumption of the reality of the external world comprising indivisible atomic reals is central to Nyāya. Knowledge of the true nature of an object enables one to attain detachment from it and overcome suffering in this world. Buddhists, on the other hand, characterize reality itself as suffering. Suffering arises from believing the external world to be real and permanent. In fact the reality and permanence of the external world is merely an illusion created when the mind projects unity and continuity onto the causal chain of momentary conceptions (vikalpa) that arise and are destroyed in succession, with each moment being the cause of the proceeding one. A realization of the momentariness of existence dissolves the object of desire, as it were, and suffering is overcome. Thus everything that the Naiyāyika (practitioner of Nyāya) depends onthe object, knowledge of the object, and proof through example and traditionis untenable in Buddhism, which presupposes knowledge of the external world's impermanence, the path shown by the buddha or gurū, and membership of the congregation to overcome this impermanence, rather than the authority of Scripture.

Though an orthodox school, Nyāya presupposes a critical attitude even with respect to the Vedas. This becomes evident in its disagreement with Mīmāsā on the issue of prāmāya (the criterion of truth). Nyāya holds that the criterion of the truth of a statement rests in factors external to the statement itself, whereas for Mīmāsā the criterion of truth is intrinsic to the statement, which can only be falsified by external factors. The real issue here is the possibility of having a single theory of truth that will cover both Vedic and ordinary statements without on the one hand laying the truth of Scripture open to faithless doubt and on the other hand making Scripture so rigid that it becomes unavailable to usage and custom. Thus Nyāya advocates the use of paratahaprāmāya (extrinsic criterion of truth) but articulates clear criteria to identify and establish one who is witness to the truth (āpta). Mīmāsā advocates svatahaprāmāya (intrinsic criterion of truth) but broadens the limits of interpretation through a theory of meaning that holds that the word does not refer to the individual/particular but to the universal (jāti). Contemporary analyses have, however, confined themselves to a narrow interpretation of prāmāya, and some, like Mohanty, go further and argue that the problem relates to empirical (vyavahārika) statements only.

Among the orthodox schools, the Nyāya tradition has perhaps been most alive with original commentaries written by Udyoktara (635 ce) and Vācaspati Miśra (840 ce) and treatises by Jayanta Bhatta (880 ce) and Udayana (984 ce). Around 1200 ce, the Navya-Nyāya, or new school of Nyāya, began with the Tattvacintāmai of Gan̑geśa (Gan̑geśa Upadhyaya). This new school is considered by most to represent a move away from metaphysics. There are difficulties with such a characterization, however, because despite a shift in emphasis toward epistemological issues, there is no philosophical attempt to reject metaphysics. Conversely, one could argue that Navya Nyāya responded to arguments that tended to dichotomize metaphysics and epistemology. For instance, Gadhādhara (fl. c. 1650) defines objecthood as a relation constituted by the very nature of its termsthe self /subject of cognition and the object. Thus, he argues against the view that objecthood is an independent entity and also against the view that it is determined by the nature of the object alone and the view that it is determined by the nature of the cognition/cognizing self. In doing so Gadhādhara is arguing for a definition of objecthood that establishes it as a sign of the relation between the object and the self and not as determined by one or the other. Knowledge of this sign can reveal as much about the self as about the object to which it refers.

Nyāya's presuppositions about the necessary relation between the knowledge of objects and the attainment of freedom, about the unity of ideal and ordinary languages, and about the importance of the example present a structure and method of analytic philosophy at odds with the modern positivist tradition. With Gadhādara's formulation of the issue of objecthood one is further compelled toward the position that Nyāya lays the foundation for a science of semiotics that includes within the purview of a single theory of logic, language, and epistemology, the study of sign, symptom, and symbol.

See Also

Indian Philosophies; Vaiśeika.


Gadhādhara. Theory of Objectivity [Viśayatāvāda]. Translated and annotated by Sibajiban Bhattacharya. Delhi, 1990. A technically competent translation, with detailed exegesis and discussion by the translator.

Gan̑geśa. Theory of Truth [Prāmāya (jñāpti) vāda]. Translated and annotated by Jitendranath Mohanty. Santiniketan, India, 1966. Contains a long and lucid introduction to issues concerning the Nyāya-Mīmāsā debates.

Gautama. Nyāyasūtras. Translated by Ganganatha Jha. Pune, India, 1939.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna. Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge. Oxford, 1986.

Shastri, Dharmendra Nath. The Philosophy of Nyāya-Vaiśeika and Its Conflict with the Buddhist Dignāga School: Critique of Indian Realism. Delhi, 1964.

Anuradha Veeravalli (2005)

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NYĀYA Nyāya philosophy is also called pramāna shāstra, or the science of correct knowledge. The objective of the Nyāya is ānvīkshikī, or critical inquiry. Its beginnings go back to the Vedic period, but its first systematic elucidation is Akshapāda Gotama's Nyāya Sūtra, dated to the third century b.c. This text consists of five books. After an overview, the text begins with the nature of doubt and the means of proof. Next it considers the nature of self, body, senses and their objects, cognition and mind.

The Nyāya system supposes that we are so constituted as to seek truth. Our minds are not empty slates; the very constitution of the mind provides some knowledge of the nature of the world. The four pramānas through which correct knowledge is acquired are: pratyaksha, or direct perception; anumāna, or inference; upamāna, or analogy; and shabda, or verbal testimony.

Gotama mentions that four factors are involved in direct perception: the senses (indriyas), their objects (artha), the contact of the senses and the objects (sannikarsha), and the cognition produced by this contact ( jnāna). Manas, or mind, mediates between the self and the senses. When the manas is in contact with one sensory organ, it cannot be so with another. It is therefore said to be atomic in dimension. It is because of the nature of the mind that our experiences are essentially linear, although quick succession of impressions may give the appearance of simultaneity.

Dharmakīrti, a later Nyāya philosopher, recognizes four kinds of perception: sense perception, mental perception, self-consciousness, and yogic perception. Self-consciousness is a perception of the self through its states of pleasure and pain. In yogic perception, one is able to comprehend the universe in fullness and harmony.

Anumāna (inference) is knowledge from the perceived about the unperceived. The element to be inferred may be the cause or the effect of the element perceived, or the two may be the joint effects of something else.

The Nyāya syllogism is expressed in five parts: (1) pratijnā, or the proposition: the house is on fire; (2) hetu, or the reason: smoke; (3) udāharana, the example: fire is accompanied by smoke, as in the kitchen; (4) upanaya, the application: as in the kitchen, so too in the house; (5) nigamana, the conclusion: therefore, the house is on fire. This recognizes that the inference derives from the knowledge of the universal relation (vyāpti) and its application to the specific case ( pakshadharmatā). There can be no inference unless there is expectation (ākānkshā) about the hypothesis, which is expressed in terms of the proposition.

The Nyāya attacks the Buddhist idea that no knowledge is certain by pointing out that this statement itself contradicts the claim by its certainty. Whether cognitions apply to reality must be checked by determining if they lead to successful action. Pramā, or valid knowledge, leads to successful action, unlike erroneous knowledge (viparyāya).

In the twelfth century, the Navya-Nyāya system was founded by Gangesha Upadhyaya. It developed a highly technical language to formulate and solve problems in logic and epistemology.

Subhash Kak


Matilal, B. K. Nyāya-Vaisesika. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977.

Vidyābhusan, Satisa Chandra. History of Indian Logic. Kolkata: Calcutta University, 1921.

Vidyābhusana, Satisa Chandra. The Nyāya Sūtras of Gotama. Revised and edited by Nandalal Sinha. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990.

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Nyāya (Skt., argumentation, that by which the mind is led to a conclusion). Logical proof or demonstration, the third (in addition to śruti and smṛti) means of religious knowledge in Hinduism. More particularly, Nyāya is one of the six philosophical systems (darśana) of Hinduism, based on logical argument and analysis. It is therefore also known as Hetuvidyā (the knowledge of causes), Vādavidyā (the knowledge of ways of demonstration), Pramāṇaśastra (discipline of logic and epistemology), etc. Its founder is held to be Gautama (known also as Gotama and Akṣapāda) to whom is attributed the major work of the school, Nyāya-Sūtra (c.3rd cent. BCE). Nyāya extends and develops Vaiśeṣika (producing the form Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika), which is classed as samānatantra, a similar philosophy. Both accept that life is burdensome and full of pain and suffering, and that the true goal is liberation (mokṣa) which can only be gained through right understanding—hence the stress on valid argument and demonstration. The purpose remains unequivocally religious: logic serves to lead to truth and thus to mokṣa, since the major impediment is avidyā (ignorance). In the 12th cent., Nyāya was developed further into Navya-nyāya (New Logic), especially in the 14th-cent. Tattvacintāmaṇi of Gaṅgeśa. He reinforced the means of valid cognition (pramāṇa), resting on the four means of ascertaining truth: (i) pratyakṣa, sense perception; (ii) anumāna, inference, from cause to effect, from effect to cause and from common characteristics; (iii) upamāna, analogy; (iv) śabda, verbal testimony from a reliable authority.