Eastern epistemology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Jain Epistemology[edit]

Further information: Anekantavada, Syadvada and Jain philosophy

According to Jain epistemology, reality is multifaceted (anekanta, or 'non-one-sided'), such that no finite set of statements can capture the entire truth about the objects they describe.

The Jain list of pramanas (valid sources of knowledge) includes sense perception, valid testimony, extra-sensory perception, telepathy, and kevala, the state of omniscience of a perfected soul. Inference, which most other Indian epistemologies include, is interestingly absent from this list. However, discussion of the pramanas seem to indicate that inference is implied in the pramana that provides the premises for inference. That is, inference from things learned by the senses is itself knowledge gained from the senses; inference from knowledge gained by testimony is itself knowledge gained by testimony, etc. Later Jain thinkers would add inference as a separate category, along with memory and tarka or logical reasoning.

Since reality is multi-faceted, none of the pramanas gives absolute or perfect knowledge. Consequently, all knowledge is only tentative and provisional. This is expressed in Jain philosophy in the doctrine of naya, or partial predication (also known as the doctrine of perspectives or viewpoints). This insight generates a sevenfold classification of predications, which can be schematized as follows:

  1. Perhaps a is F (syat asti).
  2. Perhaps a is not-F (syat nasti).
  3. Perhaps a is both F and not-F (syat asti-nasti).
  4. Perhaps a is indescribable (syat avaktavyam).
  5. Perhaps a is indescribable and F (syat asti-avaktavyam).
  6. Perhaps a is indescribable and not-F (syat nasti-avaktavyam).
  7. Perhaps a is indescribable, and both F and not-F (syat asti-nasti-avaktavyam).

'Perhaps' here is used as a translation of syat which can also be translated as ‘from a perspective,’ or ‘somehow.’

Early Jain texts (e.g. Tattvartha Sutra) indicate that for any object and any predicate, all seven of these predications are true. Hence, for every object a and every predicate F, there is some circumstance in which, or perspective from which, it is correct to make claims of each of these forms. This view has been criticized (by Shankaracharya, among others) on the ground of inconsistency. While both a proposition and its negation may well be assertable, the conjunction, being a contradiction, cannot. This leads some commentators to understand the syat operator to mean ‘from a perspective.’ Since it may well be that from one perspective, a is F, and from another, a is not-F, then one and the same person can appreciate those facts and assert them both together. Given the multifaceted nature of the real, every object is in one way F, and in another way not-F.

One problem with this epistemology is that it seems to be self-defeating. If reality is multifaceted, the doctrines that underlie Jain epistemology are themselves equally tentative. The doctrine itself must then fall short of complete accuracy. Therefore, we should say, "Perhaps (or “from a perspective") reality is multifaceted." At the same time, "Perhaps reality is not multifaceted." Jain epistemology gains assertibility for its own doctrine, but at the cost of being unable to deny contradictory doctrines.

Hindu Epistemology[edit]

Pramana, forms one part of a tripuţi (trio) concerning pramā (the correct knowledge of any object arrived at by thorough reasoning, Sanskrit), namely,

Pramātā (< pramātŗ), the subject, the knower Pramāņa, the means of obtaining the knowledge Prameya, the object, the knowable

Buddhist Epistemology[edit]


Buddhist Epistemology first began to be systematized with the rise of various Abhidharma schools of thought, each with their own theoretical analyses of Buddhist philosophy. A unifying feature of these theories was that they sought to develop a systemic analysis of conscious experience into its mental and physical events - these phenomena were the basic building blocks of all experience and were termed dharmas.[1]

The Abhidharmas of the Theravāda school and the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika both propose that there is direct contact between perceptual consciousness and sense objects. This view has been compared to phenomenalist realism.[1] This account of perception is based on two processes: processes of the five sense doors and mind door processes. The sense door processes relate to direct sensory perception by the five sense faculties while mind-door processes deal with the mind that internalizes this information.

The theory put forth by the Sautrāntika school differs from this. The Sautrāntikas believed that consciousness does not have direct access to sense objects. This view has characterized as representationalism or 'indirect realism', because it sees perception as apprehending its objects indirectly, through mental representations of their objects.[1]


While the Abhidharma schools provided an analysis of perception, they did not provide detailed accounts of how we could discriminate between truthful and untruthful states of awareness. This was addressed by the Buddhist logico-epistemological tradition (Pramāṇavāda) which began with Dignāga (ca. 480–540) and Dharmakīrti (ca. 600–660).[2] The two most influential works of this tradition are Dignāga’s 'Collection on Valid Cognition' (Pramāṇasamuccaya) and Dharmakīrti’s 'Commentary on Valid Cognition' (Pramāṇavārttika).

Pramāṇavāda epistemology was based on two central points: that language and conceptual thought are identical and that direct perception provides access to the svalakṣaṇa, which is the specific attribute or characteristic of a thing, the 'simple data of experience'.[2] They also accepted only two forms of cognition as reliable: perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna).


  1. ^ a b c Ronkin, Noa, "Abhidharma", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/abhidharma/>
  2. ^ a b Coseru, Christian, "Mind in Indian Buddhist Philosophy", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/mind-indian-buddhism/>.