Sunday, 22 April 2012

Elements of Materialism in the Nyaya and Vaisesika Philosophy

V. Brodov

Elements of Materialism in the Nyaya Philosophy

The Nyaya (Sanskr. "rule", "substantiation", "method", "logical inference", "introduction to a subject", "deduction", "logic in general") is a philosophical system or school that took shape ap­proximately at the end of the 1st century C. E. Go­tama (c. 3rd century B. C.) is regarded as the originator of the Nyaya philosophy. His Nyaya-sutra is basically a materialist work.

The Nyayiks mostly studied questions in episte­mology, or "the science of reasoning" (tarka­vidya)1 Their basic proposition is that the material world (nature) exists objectively, and the existence of the external objects does not depend on the source of knowledge. The objects and phe­nomena of nature are cognised by man through the five senses. Everything that is inaccessible to sense perception has no real existence. Therefore Brahma (God) does not exist either.

V Brodov
The sense perception of objects is regarded as the touchstone of the reliability (or truth) of our knowledge. Vatsyayana (4th century C. E.), a commentator of the Nyaya-sutra, wrote that trustworthy knowledge was obtained from the coming in touch or contact (sannikarsha or sambandha) of the sense organs (indriya) and their object. This knowledge is called pratyaksa jnyana (sensory knowledge).

According to the Nyayiks, thinking capable of leading man to attainment of the truth, or "cog­nition in agreement with reality", is only possible in the presence of four elements: the subject of cognition (pramatri), the object of cognition (prameya), trustworthy knowledge (pramiti), and syllogism (pramana) as the means of cognition.

Nyayiks were mainly concerned with working out the instruments of cognition (the pramanas). Their teaching is therefore often termed Pramanashastra, or the science of the pramanas. Four kinds of pramanas were recognised in all: perception (pratyaksa), inference (anumana), comparison (upamana), and verbal testimony (sabda).

It is not our task here to consider the Nyaya philosophy in detail. We would merely like to point out that the Nyayiks' sensualism was ma­terialist in nature.

Endeavouring to bring out the similarity of the ideas of the Nyaya and the Charvakas, Ram Mohan Roy in his History of Indian Philosophy cites the historical legend to the effect that the first forms of this philosophy (Nyaya.- V. E.) was moulded by the hand of Brhaspati, so that men still speak of the cognitive ability (buddhi) of Brhaspati.

Later, in the early Middle Ages, when Hinduism replaced the religion of Brahmanism and the attacks of the orthodox religion on materialism intensified, the Nyaya philosophy was penetrated by preachers of idealism and theistic attitudes (Va­caspati, Udayana, Vardhamana, and others). Va­rious attempts were made to achieve a "logical proof of the existence of God", to spread the belief in the existence of the individual soul as a substantial being, etc. At the same time, Vat­syayana, Uddyotakara, and Visvanatha continued to defend the atheist line of Gotama.

It should be noted that the works of modern bourgeois scholars refer mostly to the medieval Nyaya -or, to be more precise, its theistic and idealist additions. The situation is much the same with the Vaisesika philosophical system.

Elements of Spontaneous Materialism and Dialectics in the Vaisesika

It is generally accepted in historical and phi­losophical literature that Kanada (c. 3rd century B. C.) was the founder of the Vaisesika school and the author of the Vaisesika-sutra. The final redaction of the sutras dates from some time not later than the 1st century C. E.

Studies by Soviet Indologists have shown clearly that there is a distinct materialist tendency in the religious idealist system of the Vaisesika, a rational kernel under the idealist integument of the system, as it were. That is not accidental, for out of all the systems of Indian philosophy the Vaisesika philosophy was most closely connected with the natural-scientific views of ancient Indians.

The Vaisesikas proceed from the view that two worlds, the sensual and the suprasensual, exist objectively. They consider the supersensual world from dualist positions, and the sensual world, from those of materialism.

We shall restrict ourselves to a short exposition of the Vaisesika atomistic theory.

According to the Vaisesika-sutra, the development of the sensual world is based on atoms existing in space; they are countless in number; they are also eternal. All that is consists of four basic elements: earth, water, light, and air. Accordingly, the atoms of which the elements consist are di­vided into four kinds: the atoms of the earth, the atoms of water, the atoms of light, and the atoms of air. Akasha (ether) has no atomic structure; it fills empty space between the atoms.

Atoms are impermeable, being indivisible. Their. indivisibility is illustrated by the following example. Assume that we have separated the fibers of a cloth; we shall then obtain yarn. Proceeding· in this way, we shall obtain cotton from the yarn, which may be divided into infinitely small par­ticles. Finally, we come to a situation where these small particles of cotton can no longer be divided. These infinitely small indivisible particles are called atoms, and their combinations make up the world.

Comparing the atomistIc theories of Democritus and Kanada, we find considerable discrepancies between them. According to Democritus, atoms are indivisible, immutable, qualitatively homoge­neous, and distinguished from one another only by their quantitative properties - form, size, order, and position. This was the basis for the deterministic theory of the universe, which insists that every event is the result of necessity, and there are no accidental objects or phenomena in the world.

Epicurus, who continued the line of Democritus, gave the atoms the property of having weight, postulating also that the atoms had not only vertical but also "swerve" motion or deviation from the straight line. Thus necessity was complemented with accident; the motion of atoms was recognised to be free.

According to Kanada's theory, each atom is qualitatively different from all others, possessing visesa, that is, unique specificity, of which there are as many varieties as there are atoms themselves.

According to Democritus, atoms are in eternal and continuous motion, whereas Kanada considers atoms to be immutable, inert, and devoid of inner motion. The motion of atoms, that is, their combination, separation and mechanical shifting, is due to external causes - the action of an external object. That is the "visual" cause. Apart from the visual (tangible or perceptible) cause, Kanada also postulates the existence of an invisible (adrishta) cause regarded as the ultimate cause of all atoms. The force of adrishta is natural, not divine.

Thus the Vaisesika atomistic theory should be described as a materialist one. Vaisesikas recognised the materiality of the world, regarding man's reasoning (consciousness or mind) as the product of material atoms.
  1. The Nyayiks were the creators of Indian formal logic. The story is current that during Alexander the Great's campaign in India Brahman priests described the entire system of the Nyaya logic to the Greek philosopher Callisthenes, who was in Alexander's army and later passed on this system to Aristotle. This logic was said to form the foundation of Aristotle's logical theory. This view gained wide currency at one time in Oriental countries. Modem scholars, however, reject it. Jawaharlal Nehru writes: "In fact Nyaya means logic or the science of right reasoning. It is similar in many ways to Aristotle's syllogisms, though there are also fundamental differences between the two. The principles underlying Nyaya logic were accepted by all other systems [of Indian philosophy.- V. B.) and, as a kind of mental discipline, Nyaya has been taught throughout the ancient and medieval periods and up to to-day in India's schools and universities ... " (Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1961, pp. 190-191 ).
(Source: Indian Philosophy in Modern Times - Part-1, Chapter 1; page 93-98)

Title: Indian Philosophy In Modern Times

Author: V Brodov
Translated from the Russian by: Sergei Syrovatkin
Publisher: Progress Publishers, 1984
Length: 366 pages


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