Hindu and Indian logic and reasoning


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Vaada: discussion; a kind of debate between two parties -- the exponent and the opponent -- on a particular subject. Each party tries to establish its own position and to refute that of the other, arguing against any theory propounded by the other. Both, however, are trying to arrive at the truth by applying the methods of reasoning and logic. This is an effective and efficient way to reach valid knowledge if both parties are honest and free from prejudices.
Vaada, Jalpa and Vitandaa
A Very Short Introduction to the Three Types of Kathaa

The second chapter of the first book of the Nyaaya Sutras discusses the various kinds of kathaa or dialogue as well as the different types of argumentation that can arise during them. I present a partial summary of the contents of that chapter below.

Vaada (discussion) is that kind of dialogue in which a thesis (paksha) and an anti-thesis (prati-paksha) regarding the same subject are advanced by opposing sides. Each side seeks to support their position and defeat that of their opponent by means of taking recourse to proofs (pramaana) and syllogistic reasoning (avayavaa). The overall purpose of Vaada for both parties is to discover the truth – whether they ‘win’ or ‘lose’ the argument is of little to no importance. For this reason, Vaada is traditionally associated with the quality of sattva or purity.

By ‘proofs’, something very specific is meant, and this is directly related to how syllogistic reasoning is to be employed. The system of Nyaaya recognizes four primary means of acquiring right knowledge, also referred to as ‘proof’ or ‘pramaanas’. These are:

1. Perception: This is that knowledge which arises from the contact of a power of perception (indriya) with its object (artha). The qualifications of a perception are:

  • (a) It must be determinate.
    (b) It must not be prefigured by linguistic constructs imposed by the mind.
    (c) It must not be based on an illusion or deception of any kind.
2. Inference: This is that knowledge gained of a thing through reasoning based on a prior perception. The kinds of inference are:

  • (a) From cause to effect: We see dark clouds and infer that there will be rain.
    (b) From effect to cause: We see a swollen river and infer that there was rain.
    (c) From concomitance: We see smoke and infer that there is also fire.
3. Comparison: This is that knowledge gained of a thing through its similarity or dissimilarity to a thing previously known.

4. Verbal Testimony: This is that knowledge gained through the declaration of a reliable person. It can refer to two types of thing:

  • (a) To that which is seen, i.e. that which can be directly verified through personal observation.
    (b) To that which is unseen, i.e. that which cannot be directly verified through personal observation.
Nyaaya also accepts the existence of other means of acquiring right knowledge, but sees them as being included under the four above-mentioned categories. These four, however, have been chosen for their role in how the syllogism is formed.

The logically correct syllogism consists of five members (avayavaa). They are:

1. Proposition: This is the statement of that which is to be proven. In traditional discussions, the proposition is typically one derived from a scriptural statement of which the meaning is not clear and which is to be clarified through dialogue with the learned. For this reason, it is aligned with Verbal Testimony.

2. Reason: This is the grounds upon which the Proposition is based, usually formulated as a general rule. The Reason is directly connected with Inference.

3. Example: This is a familiar instance which demonstrates the reliability of the Reason and which (usually) anyone can verify for themselves. The Example, therefore, is based upon Perception.

4. Application: This is the demonstration of the way in which the Reason pertains to the case in the Proposition. The Application is the result of Comparison.

5. Conclusion: This is the restatement of the Proposition in light of the Reason, Example and Application. It is the summary of the entire syllogism, and is therefore connected to all the means of acquiring right knowledge.

Example 1:

Proposition: There is fire on the hill.
Reason: For there is smoke coming from the hill, and wherever there is smoke, there is fire.
Example: That wherever there is smoke, there is fire can be seen in the case of a kitchen.
Application: Now, just as in the case of a kitchen, there is smoke coming from the hill.
Conclusion: Therefore, there is fire on the hill.

Example 2:

Proposition: Sound is non-eternal.
Reason: For sound is produced, and whatever is produced is non-eternal.
Example: That whatever is produced is non-eternal can be seen in the case of a pot.
Application: Now, just as in the case of a pot, sound is something which is produced.
Conclusion: Therefore, sound is non-eternal.

Jalpa (wrangling) is that kind of dialogue in which one or both of the parties involved is primarily interested in victory rather than establishing the truth. For this reason, it is traditionally associated with the quality of rajas or passion. It is similar to Vaada in that both sides are advancing a thesis which is supported by proof and syllogistic reasoning. In Jalpa, however, one or both of the opponents resorts to the use of less-than-honourable tactics to defeat the argument of the opposition. These are:

1. Quibbling: This is intentionally misinterpreting something the other party has said. It has three primary forms:

  • (a) Verbal Quibble: To take a word or phrase as indicating something that the speaker clearly did not intend but which he technically did not exclude.
    (b) Generalising Quibble: To argue against a general rule based on a rare or freak exception.
    (c) Figurative Quibble: To take something the speaker said literally when it was intended figuratively or metaphorically and vice versa.
2. Futile Rejoinder: This is to oppose an argument which is clearly formally correct on the grounds that its Reason does not warrant the Conclusion due to some extraneous or exaggerated defect.

Vitandaa (cavil) is that kind of dialogue in which the only interest of one of the parties involved is to attack and defame the other. For this reason, it is traditionally associated with the quality of tamas or ignorance. It is formally similar to Jalpa, except one side, rather than setting up and defending an anti-thesis, simply resorts to attacking the thesis of his opponent by any means available, honourable or dishonourable.
The Nyaaya Sutras

The Nyaaya Sutras are said to have been composed by Gotama (also sometimes referred to as Akshapaada or Gautama Akshapaada) sometime around 550 B.C.E., and is one of the Shad Darshana or Six Branches of Vedic Philosophy (the others being Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa a.k.a. Vedanta). Although it has been greatly overshadowed by the presently popular schools of Yoga and Vedanta, scholars understand that Nyaaya is the foundation of all the other Darshanas, for it expounds the means whereby one may determine the truth in regards to any particular subject matter. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find many references to Nyaaya principles in all the other Darshana Sutras, and many of the arguments put forth in those Sutras rely upon Nyaaya-style reasoning. Thus, for example, when we read in the Brahma Sutras (Vedanta) short, almost cryptic phrases like: "On account of uniformity of teaching" (I:10), we can only correctly understand it if we have a solid background knowledge in the techniques of Nyaaya, for the statement is actually a condensed part of a syllogism, namely, a Reason (as described above). It is my personal opinion that if people spent more time on Nyaaya as a preparation, then the time later spent on Scriptural Study, Yoga and Meditation would be much more fruitful.
Guys and gals, Krishna advices us to be sattvic . So let us indulge in the sattvic vaada , as a means of argumentation and discussion, and keep away from the rajasic jalpa and the tamasic Vitandaa, as is taught by Vedic philosophy and the Nyaaya Sutras.
Vasishta to Prince Rama.

Yoga Vasishta Ramayan (II-18) says:
Though human in origin, an exposition of truth is to be accepted; otherwise even what is regarded as divine revelation is to be rejected. Even a young boy's words are to be accepted if they are words of wisdom; else reject it like straw even if uttered by Brahma the creator."


Sri Sankara, the famous Advaita philosopher, makes this point in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita 18.66:

" ...... The appeal to the infallibility of the Vedic injunction is misconceived. The infallibility in question refers only to the unseen force or apurva, and is admissable only in regard to matters not confined to the sphere of direct perceptions etc. ..... Even a hundred statements of sruti to the effect that fire is cold and non-luminous won't prove valid. If it does make
such a statement, its import will have to be interpreted differently. Otherwise , validity won't attach to it. Nothing in conflict with the means of valid cognition or with its own statement may be imputed to sruti."


Vacaspati Misra, the author of Vamati, says, "Even one thousand scriptural statements cannot transform a jar into a piece of cloth".


We must take up the study of the superconscious state just as any other science. On reason we must have to lay our foundation, we must follow reason as far as it leads, and when reason fails, reason itself will show us the way to the highest plane. When you hear a man say, “I am inspired” , and then talk irrationally, reject it. Why? Because these three states-instinct, reason, and superconsciousness , or the unconscious, conscious, and superconscious states-belong to one and the same mind. There are not three minds in one man, but one state of it develops into the others. Instinct develops into reason, and reason into the transcendental consciousness; therefore, not one of the states contradicts the others. Real inspiration never contradicts reason, but fulfils it. Just as you find the great prophets saying, “ I come not to destroy but to fulfil” , so inspiration always comes to fulfil reason, and is in harmony with it.
---Swami Vivekananda

Is religion to justify itself by the discoveries of reason, through which every other concrete science justifies itself? Are the same methods of investigation which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of Religion ? In my opinion, this must be so, and I am also of opinion that the sooner it is done the better. If a religion is destroyed by such investigations, it was then all the time useless, unworthy superstition; and the sooner it goes the better. I am thoroughly convinced that its destruction would be the best thing that could happen. All that is dross will be taken off, no doubt, but the essential parts of religion will emerge triumphant out of this investigation. Not only will it be made scientific, as scientific, at least, as any of the conclusions of physics or chemistry, but will have greater strength, because physics or chemistry has no internal mandate to vouch for its truth, which religion has.
-----Swami Vivekananda


Believe nothing, merely because you have been told it, or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for your teacher. But whatever after due consideration and analysis you find to be conducive to the good , the benefit, the welfare of all beings, that doctrine , believe and cling to and take it as your guide.

- Buddha
Of the disputants and debaters, I am Vaada ( logic and reasoning) .

---Krishna ( Bhagavad Gita).
Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth cannot be sacrificed for anything.

--Swami Vivekananda