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  • Epistemology in Pracīna and Navya Nyāya
  • Jonardon Ganeri
Epistemology in Pracīna and Navya Nyāya. By Sukharanjan Saha. Kolkata: Jadavpur University, 2003. Pp. 166.

Epistemology in Pracīna and Navya Nyāya, by Sukharanjan Saha, usefully collates ten previously published essays on Indian epistemology: two longer essays first published in 1986 and a series of more recent shorter pieces. The leading thesis of the book is that the epistemology of the older writers in the tradition of Nyāya-Vaiṣesika is, in important respects, better than the "new epistemology" originating with Gaṅgeśa. Sustained attention is given to the epistemology of the Vaiśeṣika thinker Praśastapāda (ca. A.D. 660), and the first six essays all "seek to show that Praśastapāda's views are more acceptable than those of Gaṅgeśa considered from the point of view of contemporary epistemology" (p. 4). The remaining essays argue in support of a similar conclusion with regard to certain ideas found in the older Nyāya of Gautama and Vātsyāyana. The titles of the essays collected here are: (1) "Epistemology in Pracīna and Navya Nyāya"; (2) "Kindred Points in an Old Epistemology" (1986); (3) "Gaṅgeśa's Reactions to Some Gettier-like Problems" (1986); (4) "The Unestab-lished Reason in Nyāya"; (5) "The Savyabhicāra Hetvābhāsa in Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika Schools"; (6) "The Thesis of Nirvikalpaka in Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika"; (7) "Truth as Avyabhicāritatva"; (8) "A Note on the Definition of Pramā; (9) "Nyāya Theory of Predication"; (10) "The Present and Its Knowledge"; and (11) "Types of Inference in Gautama and Vātsyāyana."

Whether or not one finds oneself in agreement with Saha's specific arguments, the general conception of the book seems to me to be laudable. The astonishing [End Page 120] continuity of the Indian philosophical tradition makes it all too easy to survey the history of Indian philosophy and assume that historical development runs in tandem with philosophical progression. It is tempting to think, for example, that Gaṅśa, reviewing the epistemology of the older tradition, and considering the various objections that had been brought against it by external critics like Śrīharṣa and the later Buddhists, produced a new theory that was both an improvement on and a systematization of earlier Nyāya epistemology. To succumb to this temptation would be a mistake, however, for at least two reasons. First, it might be that the discussion of the earlier thinkers was, though less sophisticated, "closer to the ground," so to speak, than that of their successors. The comparative absence of theoretical baggage may have enabled those earlier writers to remain true to the facts, even when they could not easily be explained or systematized. This does indeed seem to be the case with the sūtra texts, and it is also very noticeably the case with Praśastapāda, who exhibited, for instance in his discussion of motion, an openness to the facts rather than closure born of theoretical over-commitment.

Second and relatedly, it might be that the earlier thinkers had not yet closed down the range of topics and approaches deemed worthy of philosophical discussion or exploration. Thus, again in the sūtras, we find the beginnings of discussions on an enormous array of issues and hypotheses, not all of which were subsequently picked up or extended in later theory. Saha, for example, argues that Gaṅgeśa committed the later tradition to a rigid causal theory of knowledge, and suggests further that because of this he "failed to appreciate the richness of the philosophical insight of the founders of the system of philosophy to which he owes his allegiance" (p. 69). If this is right, then a return to the earlier strata of the tradition might well lead to an enrichment of our understanding of the range of philosophical possibility. Saha's approach, then, helps to guard the modern student of Indian philosophy from mistakenly thinking that "newer is always better," just as we have learned to be on guard against the older and contrary...


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