A Synopsis by Amrutha MK (Research Associate, NIAS) – on “Epistemology in Classical India”
Lecture given by Prof. Stephen Philips on 21 April 2021

Series Title: Sanskrit Language & its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity
Organised by: NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India
Email: niasconsciousnessprogramme@nias.res.in 

The thirteenth lecture for the series “Sanskrit Language and its Traditions: A Journey Through its History and Contemporaneity” was on the theory of knowledge, (pramāṇa-śāstra) of different schools in classical Indian philosophy. It was presented by Prof. Stephen Philips on 21st April 2021 and titled “Epistemology in Classical India”. Various darśanas and their perspectives on knowledge and justification were discussed in the lecture. The dominant schools in Indian epistemology had distinct views on knowledge sources (pramāṇa). Prof. Philips introduced major knowledge sources such as perception, inference, and testimony and showed how some of the epistemological views can be used to solve issues in contemporary epistemology. To mention, in the concluding part he showed how yogyatā (semantic fittingness) can be used to solve the Gettier problem in analytic epistemology.
Prof. Philips started the talk with a distinction between intrinsic (svataḥ) and extrinsic certification (parataḥ prāmāṇya). He presented the views of different schools of philosophy on epistemology starting with Mīmāṃsā which claimed, “certification is not required, knowledge is self-certifying (svataḥ prāmāṇya)”. With the support of an argument that consciousness being self-illuminating (svaprakāśa), Vedāntic school agreed to self-certification. On the other hand, Nyāya disagreed and argued that certification required further cognition which was elaborated in the presentation through the arguments of Gangeśa. Nyāya supported the view that there is “apperception” (anuvyavasāya) in “certification knowledge” and said that this is “a second-order cognition that takes another cognition as an object without itself being self-aware”. Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta attacked this argument and pointed out that this generates infinite regress, which was followed by Vātsyāyana’s counter-argument. In nyāya investigations, knowledge sources were “self-consciously employed” and were complimented by “suppositional reasoning”. He commented that “the prominent view in Nyāya is that of “cognitive defeasibility”. On the first level, unreflective knowledge or “animal knowledge” (pramā) is automatic and “we get it whether we need it or not” whereas the second-order kind of knowledge is not automatic.
Prof. Philips talked about pramāṇas that were accepted by various schools and said that the perception as the only source of knowledge was accepted by Cārvāka, whereas Vaiśeṣika and Yogācāra Buddhism accepted perception and inference but not testimony. Nyāya accepted four of them i.e., perception, inference, analogy, and testimony. Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta added, “reasoning to the best explanation” and “absence” along with the others. He presented some views on skepticism as endorsed by different schools. Arguing that “knowledge and certification knowledge” presupposes truth, he elaborated on the Nyāya view, tadvati tad-prakāraka. He pointed out that all the theories have a theory of “non-knowledge” (apramā) too.
To elaborate on various pramāṇas he began with perception and discussed some questions such as, “are the objects of perception internal to consciousness or external?”, “How is an illusion to be explained?”, and so on. Further, he presented some views on inference as a source of knowledge. Prof. Philips commented that the views on inference were shared among many classical schools. He said that there is inference for oneself (svārtha anumāna) and inference for another (parārtha anumāna). With some examples, he showed that svārtha anumāna can happen anytime and it is like a “sense-certainty”. Parārtha anumāna was widely used in philosophy when there was a need to show the truth to others, but it is “parasitic” as it was based on inference for oneself. Reflection (parāmarśa) is a mental process of putting together the premises to arrive at a conclusion. Incidentally, he pointed out that “reflection” was not a good translation for parāmarśa. He also gave a glimpse into the debate for truth (vāda) and showed how various schools outlined the terms for good debates.
Prof. Philips pointed out that testimonial knowledge was defined as a true statement of a trustworthy expert or a “reliable expert” (āpta). Vātsyāyana said that āpta is “a person who not only knows the truth but who wants to communicate it without deception” and even foreigners and barbarians (mleccha) could be considered as āpta. He elaborated on testimonial knowledge from Navya Nyāya perspective that focused on the nature of a sentence and statement. “The testimonial knowledge is a matter of comprehending a statement or transmitting sentence” and the necessary conditions identified for transmitting sentence are grammatical expectancy (ākāṅkṣā), semantic fittingness (yogyatā), and proper presentation (āsatti). He said that yogyatā might “trigger a metaphorical understanding” but it can solve the Gettier problem or the epistemic lock-in analytic epistemology. He also talked about “defeaters and defeater-defeaters” (bādhaka) which included pseudo-provers, undercutters, futile rejoinders, and clinchers. He said that defeaters were used in tarka. In addition, he mentioned some forms of suppositional reasoning (tarka) as showed by Udayana. Among them, he stated that upādhi is an additional condition and a corrector. He said that one of the pseudo provers (hetv- ābhāsa), namely, counter inference, emphasized the social dimension in epistemology and knowledge acquisition by inference. The session was followed by a question and answer session.
Lecture Synopsis Author: Amrutha MK, Team NIAS CSP

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