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Nyāya darśan – School of Logic

1. Introduction

Nyāya darśan denotes one of the six orthodox1 āstika2 philosophical systems of Indian thought. The philosophy aspires the individual to understand the purpose of life, Liberation (mukti), through the medium of correct knowledge, which would in-turn lead the individual to a ‘release, from the absolute deliverance of pain’3.

The initial exponent of the Nyāya philosophy is Mahāṛśi Akṣapāda Gautama, who had first propouned the philosophy, by authoring the Nyāya sutras. The date given by Satischandra Vidyabhushan suggests that the compilation of the Nyāya sutra was ‘inaugrated at about 550 B.C.

The Nyāya sutras form the epistemological, ontological and seteriological foundation for the philosophy. Due to the criticism that the Nyāya philosophy had faced from differemt āstika and non- āstika schools, later Nyāya philosophers had also contributed by authoring various treatise  as a response.  The three widely known responses in support of the Nyāya philosophy was the commentary by Mahāṛśi Vātsyāyana (450 A.D.) on the Nyāya sutras, Udayana in responses to the atheistic philosophy of Buddhism by authoring Nyāya Kusumanjali and also Tarka Saṁgraha of Aṇṇambhaṭṭa (1600 A.D.).

2. Nyāya sutras of Mahāṛśi Akṣapāda Gautama

The Nyāya sutras are divided into five books, each book then divided twice into two āḥnikas. It is believed that Mahāṛśi Akṣapāda Gautama finished the Nyāya sutras in ten lectures, corresponding to the 10 āḥnikas.

2.1 Summary of topics discussed in Nyāya sutras:

Book āḥnika 1 āḥnika 2
1. Definition of 16 catergories of knowledge which would lead to Liberation.

Discussion of the first 9 catergories.

Discussion of the last 7 catergories.
2. Examination of ‘doubt’, the four pramāṇas4, and refutation of objections against the four pramāṇas. Inclusion of ‘presumption’ as a pramāṇa.
3. Examination of soul, material body, senses, and their objects. Examination of buddhi, manas,
4. Examination of pravṛtti, doṣa, pretyabhāva, phala, dukḥ, apavarga. Investigation into the truth of the’whole’ and it’s ‘parts’ , atoms, meditation.
5. Discussion of the various kinds of futility (jāti) Discussion of various kinds of ‘occasion for rebukes’/unfit to be argues with.

2.2 Controversy

There has been much controversy in regard to the authenticity of the Nyāya sutras. Mahāmahopādhyāya Dr Satishchandra Vidyābhushan5 is very much reserved on the matter in regard to proclaiming that all five chapters of the Nyāya sutras were authored by Mahāṛśi Gautama. He suggests that the first chapter alone seems to be authored by Mahāṛśi Gautama and the remaining chapters ‘bear the mark of different hands and ages’.  He also believes that the latest additions may have been implemented by Mahāṛśi Vātsyāyana (450 A.D.) while writing his commentary on the Nyāya sutras!

3. Epistemology – The theory of Nyāya knowledge

The Nyāya philosophy accepts four forms of valid knowledge6, through these pramāṇas, nyāyaikas believe that ‘release, from the absolute deliverance of pain’7, will lead to Liberation.

3.1 Pramāṇas

A pramāṇa is a form of valid knowledge which cannot be flawed in any sense. Pramāṇas form the the basis of Nyāya philosophy. It is the direct means of knowing an object.

3.1.1 Pratyakṣa (perception)

Perception is that knowledge which arises from the contact of a sense with its object, and which is determinate*, unnameable** and non-erratic***. – N.S. 1.1.4.

*Determinate – this distinguishes perception from indeterminate knowledge; e.g. a man looking from a distance cannot ascertain whether this is smoke of dust.
**Unnameable – Signifies that the knowledge of a thing derived through perception has no connection with the name which the thing bears. E.g The cognition of colour is not possible if there is no visual organ.
***Non-erratic – In summer the sun’s rays contact with earthly heat appears to the eyes as water. The knowledge of water derived in this way is not pramāṇa perception.

It is interesting to note that Mahāṛśi Vātsyāyana also includes the mind into the ‘senses’ category but mentions that the mind is distinct in character. The grounds of his statement is ‘the senses are constituted by the elements, are restricted each to its own province and possess attributes. The mind, on the other hand, is not constituted by the elements, and is all extensive  and without attributes.’

3.1.2 anumāna (inference)

Inference is knowledge which is preceded by perception, and is of three kinds; priori*, posteriori** and commonly seen***. – N.S 1.1.5

* priori – prior knowledge of the effect from the perception of cause. E.g. One seeing dark cloud – infers – there will be rain
** posteriori – subsequent knowledge of the cause from the perception of effect. E.g. one sees river overflor – infers- there was rain.
*** commonly seen – E.g. Smoke on hill – infers- fire on hill.

In Nyāya philosophy, Nyāyaikas pay much attention to inference and the methodology of how inference takes place. Theory of Inference

Scenario: There is fire on the hill.

Pratijñā (The thing to be proved)     : There is fire on the hill.
Hetu (The reason)                     : Because there is smoke there
udāharaṇa (example)                   : Wherever there is smoke there is fire
upanayaḥ (reaffirmation)              : There is smoke on the hill
nigamana (conclusion)                 :  Therefore there is fire on the hill

pakśa (minor term)                                   : hill
sādhya (major term)                                      : fire
hetu (reason)                                            : smoke
vyāpti (middle term/relationship between sādhya and hetu): fire – smoke

3.1.3 upamāna(comparison)
Comparison is the knowledge of a thing through its similarity to another thing previously well known.
N.S. 1.1.6

Teacher: Have you seen a fox?
Student: No, Sir, how does it look?
Teacher: Have you seen a dog?
Student: Yes, Sir!
Teacher: Well it looks similar to a dog but the fox has a golden colour exterior, slightly smaller in build etc.

3.1.4 śabda (word/verbal testimony)
Word (verbal testimony) is the instructive assertion of a reliable person
N.S. 1.1.7
It is of two kinds; that which refers to matter which is seen* and that which refers to matter which is not seen**
N.S. 1.1.8
*Seen – a physician’s assertion that physical strength is gained by taking butter.
**Not Seen – a Guru’s assertion that one conquers heaven by performing horse-sacrifices.

Here the verbal testimony can be divided twice:
1. āpta puruṣa – A reliable and authoritive personality.
2. śastra – the written word e.g. Vedas. N.S 2.1.68

3.2 Theory of God
According to Nyāya, God is considered to be the operative cause of creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe. God does not create the world out of nothing or out of himself but rather out of the eternal atoms of space, time, mind, and soul. The creation of the universe refers to the ordering of these eternal entities, which are in coexistence with God, into a mortal world. Thus God, as the first operative cause of the universal forces, is the creator of the world. And God is also the preserver, as he causes the atoms to hold together and continue their existence in a particular order that maintains the physical universe. God is also called the destroyer of the universe, because he lets loose the forces of destruction when the energies of the mortal world require it. God is one, infinite, and eternal, and the universe of space and time, of mind and soul, does not limit him.

4. Ontology – the study of existence

Nyāya is very much a realist philosophy compared to other schools of thought. For the Nyāyaikas the world is a real existence, they believe this universe is made up of minute atoms which they name as aṇu, which are eternal8 and uncapable of dividing further9.

Our perception allows direct awareness of the physical reality, although we may not be aware of the ‘whole’ existence, we cannot deny the existence! E.g. due to someone being ignorant of the fact that gravity exists, it does not mean gravity is unreality.

We see physical objects compromising of wholes, parts and properties. An example is a computer, we can see and touch its (parts), we can appreciate the design of the computer e.g. colour (properties) but we do not smell it. In the same way the ‘whole’ is really a individual reality which is beyond the sum of parts/properties etc.

This world as we see it, according to the Nyāyaikas is a real phenomena, created by infinitesimal atoms. The philosophy groups the material creation into:

Soul, body, senses, objects of the senses, cognition (buddhi), mind (manas), activity, mental modifications, rebirth, feelings, suffering, and absolute freedom from all sufferings. – Nyāya Sutra 1.1.9

By the above, inference would suggest that the philosophy takes into account the five elements10 by default.

The above sutra mentions both seen and unseen attributes relating to this existence. In addition to the twelve attributes mentioned, it is interesting to note that the vaiśeṣika philosophy adds, substance, quality, action, generality, particularity etc to their list.11.

Mahāṛśi Gautama in the sutras states that although the world is real, he admits the reality of the individual soul, he distinctively mentions that the soul is different from the body and that liberation is enjoyed by he who obtains the valid knowledge of the external world, it’s relationship with the  mind and self.

4.1 Anyathākhyāti – The theory that false cognition is knowing [something] as otherwise

The Nyāya school holds that, when one sees a shell as silver then one has contact with a sat, real, piece of silver percieved at an earlier time and in an earlier place, for example in a shop, and then confuses them. The error is seeing a non-difference of the real silver  and the real shell, when in reality is is false.

This conclusion according to the Nyāya school comes from a super natural sense relation, which is fostered by a recollection of the previously percieved silver that existed elsewhere.

5. Seteriology – Nyāya Liberation

Nyāya recognised mukti to be complete ‘release, from the absolute deliverance of pain’12. Here the soul is completely released from all bondage and ends recognises his true nature with the material body. Nyāyaikas maintain that liberation of the soul would not be possible without totally giving up identity of the body.

The very first Nyāya sutra recognises 16 categories which need to be addressed, which would then lead to liberation.

1. Supreme Liberation is attained by the knowledge about the true nature of the sixteen categories, viz., means of right knowledge (evidence; the means to obtain factual knowledge), object of right knowledge (that which is to be ascertained by real knowledge), doubt (doubt about the point to be discussed), purpose  (a motive for discussing the point in question), familiar instance  (citing instances or examples), established tenet  (demonstrated conclusion of an argument), members [of a syllogism] (component parts of a logical argument or syllogism), confutation (persuasive reasoning), ascertainment (deduction, conclusion, or application of a conclusive argument), discussion (thesis, proposition, or argument), wrangling (striking disputation or reply to defeat the argument of the opposition), cavil (destructive criticism; idle carping at the assertions of another without attempting to prove the opposite side of the question), fallacy  (fallacy; the mere appearance of a reason), quibble (deceitful disputation; perverting the sense of the opposing party’s words), futility (logic based merely on false similarity or dissimilarity), and occasion for rebuke (a weak point in an argument or fault in a syllogism). – N.S. 1.1.1

Pain, birth, activity, faults [defects] and misapprehension

on the successive annihilation of these in the reverse order, there follows release. – N.S. 1.1.2

Now although Supreme Liberation is attained by the knowledge of the sixteen categories, the second sutra suggests the initial cause of bondage, misapprehension. It would be safe to assume that the anyathākhyāti theory of the Nyāyaikas would fall well into their system of thought as the initial link to bondage.


1 śad darśan – nyāya, vaiseṣika, mimaṁsa, vedānta, saṁkhya, yoga
2 Those which recognise an allegiance with the Vedas.
3 nyāya sutra 1.1.22
4 pramāṇa – forms of valid knowledge – pratyakṣa (perception), anumāna (inference), upamāna (comparison) & śabda (word/verbal testimony).
5 Mahāmahopādhyāya Dr Satishchandra Vidyābhushan – A modern scholar on Nyāya philosophy.
6 pramāṇa – forms of valid knowledge – pratyakṣa (perception), anumāna (inference), upamāna (comparison) & śabda (word/verbal testimony). Nyāya sutra 1.1.3
7 Nyāya sutra 1.1.22
8 Nyāya Sutra 2.2.34
9 Nyāya Sutra 4.2.18
10 Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Ether
11 During the development of the Nyāya philosophy and the commonalities it had shared with vaiśeṣika philosophy, it was quite common to see both philosophies supporting one another, or partnering ideas.
12 nyāya sutra 1.1.22

The copyright of the article Nyāya darśan – School of Logic is owned by the Jigyasa Team. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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About Makwana

A student of Sanatan Vedic Dharma


2 thoughts on “Nyāya darśan – School of Logic

  1. so much good and helpful -sagar

    Posted by sagar | February 21, 2013, 9:01 am
  2. Hello Team,

    Could you please elaborate on the different types of Vadas, like Chala vada, Vitanda vada, Vada, Samvada and so on.

    Posted by Shriram Bhandari | January 3, 2016, 7:43 am

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