Category Archives: 3. Nyaya

The Nyaya Darsana

The Nyaya Darsana (or simply Nyaya) is one of the six orthodox Hindu schools of philosophy. It is highlighted as essentially being a school of logical thought, debate and reasoning. The word Nyaya itself may be translated as “right” or “justice” and therefore its practice, Nyaya-Sastra, translates as “the science of right judgement”. The school has a long history, with its first relevant text – the Nyaya-Sutras – purportedly composed by one Aksapada Gautama (or otherwise rendered Gotama) around 150CE (Vidyabhusana 1978:40-41).


Historical Overview:

Nyaya may be regarded as one of several schools of logic (Hindu and otherwise) that have flourished in and around the Indian subcontinent. Prior to the advent of Nyaya as a recognized branch of philosophy it was preceded by the Anviksiki (literally translated as philosophy) dating back as far as 1500BCE. This school bore a close resemblance to Nyaya as it was characterized by a rigorous study of the nature of the soul, and utilized similar technical principles such as tarka (reason), pramana (proof or evidences, and later means of cognition), and prameya (object of knowledge or cognition). So prominent was this system of philosophy that the Mahabharata records the exploits of the legendary Anviksiki practitioner Astavakra. This Anviksiki sage, on one occasion in his youth confounded a renowned sophist named Vandin, in a battle of wits that ended in Vandin’s death. Sometime during the 6th century BCE, the Anvisiki school divided into a school dedicated to pure philosophical speculation and a school dedicated to logic, which likely gave root to the Nyaya Darsana (Vidyabhusana 1978: 1,13-15).


The history and development of Nyaya as a self-contained school began roughly around 1CE. In this first century, the personality of Narada as a foremost expert in Nyaya-sastra becomes apparent as a character in the Mahabharata displaying expert deductive skills whose life intertwined with the likes of Krsna and the god Brahma. Although Narada was a legendary character there is speculation that he was also based on a real life practitioner of Nyaya-sastra (Naiyayika), to whom several aphorisms in Nyaya literature are attributed (Vidyabhusana 1978:40-44).


The formalisation of the school and its system of logic occurred as a result of the work of one Aksapada Gautama, who was the purported author of the Nyaya-Sutras. Significant mystery surrounds Aksapada as much of his persona is equated with far fetched myths involving the unusual title-name Aksapada derived from “aksa” meaning eye and “pada” meaning feet. One such myth details how Gautama, in a state of absent minded philosophical contemplation fell into a well, and upon his rescue was gifted with eyes in his feet to prevent further accidents due to his contemplative tendencies. It has also been speculated that Aksapada and Gautama may have been separate individuals that each contributed to the Nyaya philosophy [For a more detailed discussion of the identity of Gautama see Vidyabhusana (1975:i-xvi)]. Whatever the identity of the original author(s), the Nyaya-Sutras contain several quotations from Buddhist texts and references other Hindu philosophies which date to the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, which demonstrates that the work available today has been altered from its original form by these additions (Vidybhusana 1978: 46-50).


From the 4th century CE till the 13th century CE the practice of Nyaya-sastra became less popular as Buddhist and Jain forms of logic became more prominent and was in addition considered a heterodox philosophy generally (Vidyabhusana 1978: 152, 157). It was however during the 11th and 12th century CE that Nyaya Darsana became recognized as one of the six Saddarsana (orthodox schools or philosophies). This incorporation may have been due to the school actively supporting the authenticity and teachings of the Vedas. In addition this induction coincided with the recognition of the Naiyayikas as saivas or worshippers of Siva. These several factors likely contributed to the Nyaya school being adopted as an orthodox philosophy (Vidyabhusana 1978:152-156).


The latest significant contribution made to the Nyaya philosophy was the so called Navya-Nyaya or “New-Nyaya”. The philosopher Gangesvara Upadhyaya (or simply Gangesa) was purported to have composed the work called the Tattva-Cintamani. Ganesa, similar to the other contributors discussed, was himself mythologized as being gifted with a boon of logical reasoning by the goddess Kali due to a sacrificial offering. The Tattva-Cintamani was in use from the middle of the 15th century among Mithila Brahmans, and became popularized after the establishment of the Navadvipa University in 1503, which allowed its influence to spread throughout India. This text has been largely responsible for the adoption of the Navya-Nyaya variant of logic in pre-modern India (Vidyabhusana 1978:405-406).


The Classical Nyaya Logic System

The Nyaya-Sutras propose sixteen categories (padarthas) which are meant to represent all that can and does exist. These sixteen categories in order of discussion are instrument of cognition (pramana), object of cognition (prameya), doubt (samsaya), the objective (prayojana), familiar instance (drstanta), established tenet (siddhanta), member (avayava), disputation (tarka), ascertainment (nirnaya), discussion (vada), rejoinder (jalpa), cavil (vitanda), fallacy (hetvadhasa), quibble (chala), legitimate objection (jati) and deficiency (nigrahasthana) (Junankar 3). This extensive list has, however, been reduced by subsequent commentators on the Nyaya-Sutras to only include the first two categories, pramana and prameya. This is due to the following fourteen padarthas being included within the definition of pramana or prameya, as pramana pertains to the observer while prameya pertains to that which is observed. Therefore the investigation of pramana and prameya forms the foundation of the classical Nyaya Darsana. It is of note however that the Nyaya-Sutras ascribe equal importance and relevance to each of these sixteen categories (Junankar 11-12).



The concept of pramana as translated roughly means instrument or means of cognition and realization. According to the NyayaSutras the padartha, pramana may be further broken down to four forms of valid observation; perception, inference, verbal testimony and analogy (Junankar 12; Vidyabhusana 1975: 2-4). To these four pramana subcategories (or pramanas) four other methods of pramana are suggested; historical tradition, inclusion, implication and absence. These additional pramanas are however dismissed as being included within the scope of the first four (Junankar 38-44). The pramana of perception (pratyaksa) is considered foremost of the four pramanas. It is defined by the Naiyayikas as a sensory cognition of an object that is not itself flawed. This pramana within the framework of classical Nyaya requires an interface or contact between the self and sensory input. Furthermore, the self or atman must make contact with the mind and the senses with the object in order for perception to take effect. This system substantiates a clearly materialistic nature to the philosophy that places personal witness above other forms of cognition (Junankar 47-51). These are based on the use of the five senses (touch, hearing, sight, sound and taste) to apprehend the object in question. However, it also substantiates the existence of and a difference between self (atman) and mind (manas), the self as a transcendent feature of consciousness beyond the mind which in turn produces cognitions from the sense-object contact (Junankar 55-68).


Inference, the second pramana, can be summarized as the act of re-measuring a perception. This is derived from the Sanskrit word anumana, which is comprised of anu meaning “after” and mana meaning “measuring”(Junankar 117). Analogy (upamana) or comparison comes next in the series and “is the knowledge of a thing through its similarity to another thing previously well known”(quoted from the Nyaya-Sutra,Vidyabhusana 1975:3). Lastly, verbal testimony (from sabda meaning sound) which is defined as “the instructive assertion of a reliable person”(quoted from the Nyaya-Sutra, Vidyabhusana 1975: 4) , which according to the Nyaya-Sutra is someone with authority to communicate with regard to the object in question.



Of the two simplified pardarthas there remains prameya, the object of cognition. The prameyas listed in the Nyaya-Sutras are the soul or self (atman), body (sarira), sense organ(indriya), objects of sense (artha), intellect or apprehension (buddhi), mind (manas), activity (pravrtti), fault or defect (dosa), transmigration (pretyabhava), fruit or result (phala),pain (duhkha), and release (apavarga) (Junankar 4; Vidyabhusana 1975: 5-7). Of these prameyas the self (atman) and release from pain (apavarga), are of special importance. According to the Naiyayikas the self is the first prameya perceived, and the perception of the self leads to the perception and cognition of the other prameyas. Release or apavarga is in fact the ultimate goal of the Nyaya-Darsana, and is characterized by a release of the self from pain and pleasure in the attainment of bliss (ksema) through tattvajnana or true knowledge of the nature of things. It must be noted that apavarga differs rhetorically from that of liberation or moksa, yet both are correlated with renunciation and have the same semantic meaning in this context. This accomplishment may be met, according to Nyaya philosophy by the obtaining of true knowledge of all things or a true knowledge of the padarthas (Junankar 391, 465-467;Vidyabhusana 1975: 1).

Nyaya System of Proof and Debate:

The system of proof in the Nyaya system revolves around the use of five “steps” or “limbs” which each demarcate a stage in reasoning. These may be illustrated in the following often quoted example [The following is modified from Matilal (1999:4)]:

1) There is a fire on the hill.

2) For there is smoke.

3) Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, as in the kitchen.

4) This is such a case (smoke on the hill).

5) Therefore it is so, there is fire on the hill.

The first step presents the conclusion or thesis, the second explicates some piece of evidence, the third gives an example to uphold the second step. The fourth step instantiates that the case under investigation is like the example mentioned in the third step. The fifth step then simply states the conclusion again as valid. This system of proof was designed not to reflect the essential structure of reasoning, but rather to act as a way of convincing others of the thesis presented in step one. These steps reflect the attitude of debate possessed by ancient Naiyayikas and the goals of their argument structure (Matilal 1999: 4-5).


The classical system of Nyaya debate (katha) according to the Nyaya-Sutras is divided into honest or truth seeking debate (vada), debate that should be won by any means necessary (jalpa) and finally a debate meant to irrevocably and harshly defeat an opponent (vitanda).   The first katha, may occur between a master and his students where truth is the ultimate goal, the second between equals where victory (vijaya) is the goal. The third is characterized by a wholesale attack or rebuttal of the opponents view without giving time or credence to the opponent in any form, the goal being to merely dispute the opponents view, not substantiate ones’ own. In fact the enactor vijaya may be considered in a case such that the philosopher possesses no true opinion and is only intent on defeating his opponents’ position (Matilal 1986: 83-86).


Navya-Nyaya and Conclusion:

The New Nyaya or Navya-Nyaya, was introduced as an advancement over the older school of Nyaya. Its system differs in key aspects from the original school of Nyaya, one prominent aspect being the array of padarthas.


The Navya-Nyaya system details only seven padarthas, as opposed to the sixteen detailed by Gautama in the Nyaya-Sutras (though later scholars reduced them to two, as previously discussed). These padarthas are, substance (dravya), quality (guna), action (kriya), generic character or genus (jati), ultimate difference or that which distinguishes one indivisible object from another (visesa), inherence or self relation (samavaya) and absence (abhava). While it is obvious that these categories differ from the padarthas of Gautama, the most significant difference is the last padartha, abhava or the lack of substance (bhava). The recognition of absence as a part of the system allows the Navy-Nyaya logician to attribute the absence of a quality to an object rather than simply not mention it when categorizing objects (Ingalls 37-38). While the theme of absence was explored in the older Nyaya school particularly in application to the apprehension of the absence of an object it was formally dismissed (Junankar 39).


Another interesting feature of the school is the idea employed by its practitioners that all things that exist are knowable, but not necessarily knowable to human minds. They affirm that if it (whatever “it” may be) is not knowable to human minds, it is at least knowable to a god. Hence there is both determinate and indeterminate knowledge. Determinate knowledge is described as that knowledge that allows for a specific object to be distinguished from other objects, which knowledge is usually expressible in language. Indeterminate knowledge on the other hand is held by Naiyayikas to be knowledge which cannot be expressed in linguistic terms as linguistic terms only refer to determinate objects, not indeterminate objects. They therefore affirm that one may only infer the existence of indeterminate knowledge (Ingalls 39).


While the Nyaya Darsana has played a significant role in the development of the religious landscape of India and surrounding areas, in modern times it is largely framed as a subject of the past. Still its impact remains relevant as a realist philosophical contributor to the shape of the philosophical schools of India (Matilal 1986: 1-15).


References and Further Recommended Reading:

Ingalls, Daniel H. H. (1988) Materials for the Study of Navya-Nyāya Logic. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Junankar, N.S. (1978) Gautama: The Nyaya Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Matilal, Bimal K. (1986) Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press.

Matilal, Bimal K. (1999) The Character of Logic in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Vidyabhusana, Satis Chandra (1975) The Nyāya Sutrās of Gotama. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Vidyabhusana, Satis Chandra (1978) History of Indian Logic: ancient, mediaeval and modern schools. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.


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Article Written by: Jordan Pepper (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.