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  • Classical Indian Philosophy of Induction: The Nyāya Viewpoint
  • Paul J. Williams
Classical Indian Philosophy of Induction: The Nyāya Viewpoint. By Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010. Pp. xv + 311. Hardcover $85.00.

The problem of induction has been among the most fiercely debated issues in philosophy for a remarkably long time. Though it is generally thought that David Hume was the first to articulate this concern, in Classical Indian Philosophy of Induction, [End Page 423] Kisor Chakrabarti explains that the question of whether inductive reasoning can result in knowledge (pramā) has been debated in South Asia for approximately two thousand years, accompanied by a vast corpus of Sanskrit philosophical literature. This problem was taken up by philosophers from several of the classical Indian traditions beginning with the skeptical position of the Cārvāka school. Chakrabarti's book explores a wide range of views from Indian and Western philosophers, while focusing on a defense of induction drawn primarily from the work of the great Navya-Naiyāyika Gaṅgeśa.

The urgency of the problem for Nyāya epistemology is brought into view at the outset of the book with Cārvāka arguments against the very possibility that inductive reasoning can lead to knowledge. Chakrabarti cites a series of influential rejoinders from several of the classical Indian philosophical traditions, and briefly explores the positions of Western philosophers such as Carnap, Popper, Reichenbach, Russell, and Strawson on the problem of induction. Finally, Chakrabarti argues that Gaṅgeśa's approach to justifying knowledge born of induction can solve the problems of induction both old and new.

One of the primary virtues of this book is its thoughtful organization. A distillation of Gaṅgeśa's view on induction and Chakrabarti's positive proposal are on the table by the end of the second chapter. The remainder of the text consists of translations from the works of Gaṅgeśa, Prabhacandra, Śrīharṣa, and Dharmakīrti, along with a running commentary by Chakrabarti. As a result, this volume is accessible to those unfamiliar with classical Indian epistemology (pramāṇa-śāstra) and will be a tremendous resource to specialists and nonspecialists alike.

Be that as it may, the text is brimming with the specialized language of classical Indian epistemology. Fortunately, Chakrabarti explains the terminology well and keeps his translations consistent throughout. According to the mainstream Nyāya view, to draw an inference (anumāna) is to "grasp a pervasion" (vyāpti-graha) between class characteristics. For example, when one observes smokiness (the "mark" or hetu) on a hill (the "inferential subject" or pakṣa) and correctly infers that there is fieriness (the "probandum" or sādhya) on the hill, the agent does so by virtue of recognizing that smokiness is pervaded by fieriness. In other words, all loci of the former are loci of the latter. Terminology such as this facilitates valuable distinctions and helps to frame the philosophical terrain.

Chakrabarti presents the following Cārvāka arguments against induction, and thus against inference (anumāna), as a source of knowledge (pramāṇa) as classically conceived. First, in the past when we have taken there to be a pervasion between two class characteristics, in some cases the probandum has later been found to deviate from the mark. A classic example is the inference that iron (the mark) is pervaded by the property of not being scratchable (the probandum), disproved by the discovery that iron can be scratched by a diamond. Thus, the Cārvāka conclude, we cannot possess knowledge that two phenomena will always occur together in the future simply because we have never observed them deviate in the past (p. 4). Second, because it is always possible that there is another factor — an "adjunct" (upādhi) — which occurs invariably with the probandum but deviates from the mark, knowledge produced [End Page 424] by inductive reasoning is unattainable. For example, fieriness (the mark) is not pervaded by smokiness (the probandum) because the adjunct of wet fuel is needed for the existence of smoke, but is unnecessary for the existence of fire. Fire may occur without smoke when there is absence of the...