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Reviewed by:
  • Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science
  • John N. Crossley
Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. By Sundar Sarukkai. New Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 2005. Pp. xiii + 268 + [5].

The naïveté of modern Western logic has been its strongest point. By this I mean that because Western logic has predominantly adhered to a two-valued logic, argumentation is straightforward (as opposed to the intricacies of, say, intuitionistic or various kinds of modal logic). Moreover, the two-valued approach greatly facilitates mathematical formulations of science and philosophy. As regards the Indian tradition, witnesses of any debate between classical Indian logicians will not need convincing of the humanity of such an activity, and of all its subtleties.

Sundar Sarukkai’s Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science shows how the two very different approaches from East and West can illuminate each other. It is not an introduction to the philosophy of science, but rather an invitation to look at philosophy of science in a new way, using the approaches of classical Indian logic, in particular Navya Nyāya. [End Page 565]

Sarukkai is not trying to make claims of priority, nor even is he concerned with whether some ideas on science originated in the East before they did in the West. In particular he is not writing an Indian version of Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (Berkeley: Shambhala, 1975). Rather he is introducing the style and ideas of classical Indian logic to new readers and asking them to consider how one might think about philosophy of science illuminated by the classical Indian way of doing logic, a way unfamiliar to most Western readers. Indeed, many Westerners find it inaccessible because so many accounts immediately devolve into seemingly infinite lists of fine distinctions. Overall, Sarukkai resists that temptation (except a little, around pp. 60 ff.), giving instead an insight into the approach and ways of thinking of Indian logic.

Sarukkai’s major thesis may be crudely approximated by saying that in the West philosophy of science tries to put logic into science, and that in the East Indian logic seeks to put science into logic—that is to say, it strives to make logic scientific (pp. 13 and 108–109). The naïve Western approach takes an abstract view of logic and formulates science using abstract logical and mathematical theories. Indian logic looks at the world and remains involved with the world throughout. Because of this, logical arguments have to involve contingent matters of fact or observation (p. 42).

Western readers may find the lack of distinction between induction and deduction disturbing, but the Eastern involvement with the world, not merely abstraction, reflects a different way of looking at what logic is and where its origins lie. It is interesting to note that although Logic, along with Grammar and Rhetoric, constituted the Trivium in medieval Europe and the various parts of mathematics constituted the Quadrivium, this formal logic has been greatly influenced by mathematics in the West, while in India the influence of grammar has remained of fundamental importance.

Such a view also leads to the question of the relationship between signs, their significance, and their interpretation (the discipline of semiotics). This arises because many observations in science are made via some form of instrument and not directly through sense perception.

The book is neatly distributed into six chapters, although there are a number of forward references. These chapters comprise a long introduction, “Doubt,” which is in part an apologia for Sarukkai’s orientation, which begins the connection of Indian views, especially of the Navya Nyāya school, with Western, that is, Greek-derived, approaches. Chapter 3 is a thematic introduction to classical Indian logic, and is probably the most approachable text I have seen on the subject, although purists may argue that it is too superficial. The Western way is discussed in chapter 4, but throughout it bears in mind the Indian desire to make logic scientific. Chapter 5 is the core of the book, and the author maintains a salutary care not to use hindsight heavily and not to impute modern views to the ancients...