What is the Nyāyasūtra about?

I will be not the first one who notes that the list of padārtha ‘categories’ at the beginning of the Nyāyasūtra is somehow strange.

Let me, therefore, repeat it here (the padārthas have been emphasised):

pramāṇaprameyasaṃśayaprayojanadṛṣṭāntasiddhāntāvayavatarka-nirṇayavādajalpavitaṇḍāhetvābhāsacchalajātinigrahasthānānāṃ tattvajñānān niḥśreyasādhigamaḥ

(the translation is purely indicative:)

The summum bonum is achieved through the knowledge of the reality of means of knowledge, objects of knowledge, doubt, purpose [of one’s investigation], example, conclusive view, parts [of the syllogism], reasoning, ascertainment, discussion [aiming at the establishment of truth], agonistic debate, sophistry, pseudo logical reasons, deceit, futile answer and points of defeat.

A first problem regards the fact that the first two items seem to already include the rest of the list, so that one does not really understand why others are separately listed. My usual attitude is to give credit to a text and try to make sense of it, but in this case, let us look at it through the eyes of a thought-provoking Indian philosopher, Daya Krishna, who wrote:

We have two different types of topics which have been discussed and enumerated as pramāṇa, prameya, saṃśaya, prayojana, dṛṣṭānta, siddhānta, avayava, tarka, nirṇaya on the one hand and vāda, jalpa, vitaṇḍā, hetvābhāsa, chala, jāti and nigrahasthāna on the other. The latter obviously relate to discussion and argument between persons while the former seem to be more internatl to the nature of the argument itself. The latter therefore have psychological elements intermixed with other things while the former seem to be more logical in character. (2004, p. 61)

The ‘extensional’ enumeration of the subject-matter of the Nyāya-sūtras, thus, is an amalgamation of two different discourses, the one relating to the forms of argumentation between different persons debating a point and winning or losing in the argument, and the other relating to the theory of proof of justification. The mixing of these different discourses in the first sūtra is a sign of a basic confusion in the mind of Gautama, the supposed author of the Nyāya-sūtra. (pp. 48–49).

Now, Daya Krishna is a philosopher and his words about the Nyāyasūtra should tell us more about his own philosophical position than about Nyāya itself. Nonetheless, the point seems to me, in this case, worth further reflection.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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8 thoughts on “What is the Nyāyasūtra about?

  1. Hi, Elisa!
    Why not consider this sutra as a kind of mnemonic enumeration of the key-terms? In this case padArtha of course should not be translated as ‘category’, but as something like ‘basic objects of inquiry’, given that artha is usually not an object per se, but an object of our intention/attention. I remember a paper of my friend Dmitriy Olenev, dedicated to this problem. Unfortunately the paper is in Russian.
    Daya Krishna’s remark about the two different discourses seems reasonable. These two discourses in sum constitute Nyaya as a tradition of rational debates and inquery. t is only with their combination that the goal of Nyaya can be archieved.

    • Thank you, Evgenija, interesting proposal for the translation of padārtha! And please, do link to the paper by Olenev, for the benefit of the readers who can read Russian. As for the function of the first sūtra, I see your point and I tend to agree with it, but please do not forget that the sūtra itself makes a much stronger claim, namely that out of the knowledge of these things, one will attain niḥśreyasa.