Nyāya Sūtras

The Nyāya Sūtras is an ancient Indian text on of philosophy composed by Akṣapāda Gautama (also Gotama; c. 2nd century BC)


The sutras contain five chapters, each with two sections. The core of the text dates to roughly the 2nd century BC, although there are significant later interpolations.

Gotama is sometimes given the honorific titles "Akṣapāda" (probably in the sense "having his eyes fixed in abstraction on his feet") and "Dīrghatapas" ("performing long penance"). He is also sometimes accorded the religious titles "Rishi" or "Maharshi".

In the Nyāya Sutras Gotama developed and extended the Vaiśeṣika epistemological and metaphysical system through 528 aphorisms. Later commentaries expanded, expounded, and critically discussed Gotama's work, the first being by Vātsyāyana (c.450–500 CE), followed by the Nyāyavārttika of Uddyotakāra (c. 6th–7th century), Vācaspati Miśra's Tātparyatīkā (9th century), Udayana's Tātparyapariśuddhi (10th century), and Jayanta's Nyāyamañjarī (10th century).

Sixteen Means of knowledge

The ultimate purpose of the Nyaya Sutras is the attainment of moksha (liberation), attained by knowledge of the sixteen categories, which are:

  1. pramana — means of valid knowledge;
  2. prameya — objects of valid knowledge;
  3. samshaya — doubt;
  4. prayojana — purpose;
  5. drstanta - example;
  6. siddhanta — conclusion;
  7. avayava — the constituents of a syllogism;
  8. tarka — argumentation;
  9. nirnaya — ascertainment;
  10. vada — debate;
  11. jalpa — disputations;
  12. vitanda — destructive criticism;
  13. hetvabhasa — fallacy;
  14. chala — quibble;
  15. jāti — refutations; and
  16. nigrahasthana — points of the opponent's defeat.

According to the Nyaya Sutras, there are four means of attaining valid knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and verbal testimony. The sutraultimates implicitly develop a theory of causation. Cause and effect should be homogeneous in nature, and yet the effect is a new beginning and was not already contained in the cause. The Buddhist thesis that all things are negative in nature (inasmuch as a thing's nature is constituted by its differences from others) is rejected, as is the view that all things are eternal or that all things are noneternal. Both these latter views are untrue to experience. Thus, the resulting metaphysics admits two kinds of entities: eternal and noneternal. The whole is a new entity over and above the parts that constitute it. Also, the idea that God is the material cause of the universe is rejected. God is viewed as the efficient cause, and human deeds produce their results under the control and cooperation of God.

Five-part syllogism

The Nyaya Sutra supports a five-part syllogism, widely followed in the Indian tradition:

  1. This hill is fiery (pratijna: a statement of that which is to be proved).
  2. Because it is smoky (hetu: statement of reason).
  3. Whatever is smoky is fiery, as is a kitchen (udaharana: statement of a general rule supported by an example).
  4. So is this hill (upanaya: application of the rule of this case).
  5. Therefore this hill is fiery (nigamana: drawing the conclusion).

The characteristic feature of the Nyaya syllogism is its insistence on the example, which suggests that the Nyaya logician wanted to be assured not only of formal validity but also of material truth. Five kinds of fallacious hetu ("middle") are distinguished: savyabhicara (the inconclusive), which leads to more conclusions than one; the viruddha (contradictory), which opposes that which is to be established; the prakaranasama (controversial), which provokes the very question that it is meant to settle; the sadhyasama (counterquestioned), which itself is unproved; and the kalatita (mistimed), which is adduced "when the time in which it might hold good does not apply".




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