The Six Ways of Knowing: A Critical Study of the Advaita Theory of Knowledge

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  • Book Name The Six Ways of Knowing: A Critical Study of the Advaita Theory of Knowledge
  • Author D. M. Datta
  • Language, Pages English, 306 Pgs.
  • Upload Date 2022 / 07 / 28
  • ISBN 9788120840812, 812084081X
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The Six Ways of Knowing: A Critical Study of the Advaita Theory of Knowledge
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This book deals with the Vedanta standpoint, according to which there are six sources of knowledge. The conceptions of these different kinds of knowledge, with all the arguments given by the Vedantins to prove their independence and ultimacy, are critically discussed here in the light of modern Western concepts, and an attempt has been made to present the conclusions to students of Western Philosophy in a clear and lucid form.

As the purpose of this work is to bring the problems, concepts and theories of the Vedantins within the focus of modern Western thought, the method adopted is one of critical analysis and comparison of issues from extraneous aspects with which they are often associated.

During the years 1925-28, the writer had the privilege of occupying the Prabodh Chandra Basu Malik Chair of Indian Philosophy at the Bengal National Council of Education. In Compliance with the wishes of the founder of this chair, he was called upon to undertake some investigation into Indian Philosophy and publish the results of his labour. This volume represents his work in the discharge of that duty.

He attempts to study critically some important epistemological theories of one of the chief schools of Indian Philosophy, namely, the monistic Advaita School of Vedanta. Western Philosophy has generally recognized two ultimate sources of knowledge, immediate knowledge or perception, and mediated knowledge or inference. But there has been a variety of opinions on this matter among the different schools of Indian Philosophy. Some hold that perception is the only ultimate source of knowledge. Some accept both perception and inference. Others add a third, testimony or authority, to these. Still, others hold that comparison is an additional independent source of knowledge and should be combined with the above three. Others again contend that there is a fifth kind of knowledge, postulation, which is not reducible to any of the preceding. A few other thinkers hold that there is also a sixth type-non-perception-from which primary negative judgments are derived and which cannot possibly be reduced to any of the above. These views are not merely dogmatic assertions. Each school gives elaborate arguments for its own position. This book deals with the Vedanta standpoints of these different kinds of knowledge, with all the arguments are given by the Vedantins to prove their independence and ultimacy, are critically discussed here in the light of modern Western concepts, and the attempt has been made to present the conclusions to students of Western Philosophy in a clear and lucid form.

About the Author

D. M. Datta, M.A., PhD, Premchand Raychand Scholar (cal.), Formerly Professor of Philosophy, Patna College, India, Sometimes P.C. Basumallik Professor, National Council of Education, Jadavpur, Calcutta, and Visiting Professor, Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota, USA.

 

Preface

This is an age of international understanding. Races and nations which dwelt and flourished apart are now coming into intimate contact and gradually tending to evolve a world of common ideas & and beliefs. In Science, such a common world of thought has already been achieved. In Philosophy the ideal, though not realized, is fast dawning upon the minds of thinkers. For the fulfilment of this ideal—for the evolution of a world philosophy—what is best in every system. Eastern or Western, modern or ancient, requires to be gathered and added to the common stock. Anyone who has a casual acquaintance with Indian Philosophy knows what valuable contributions it can make towards this common fund. Difficult as the task of interpretation is, some eminent scholars, both Indian and European, have already done valuable work in this direction. But much more yet remains to be done. This volume is an effort to that end. It tries to present, after critical analysis and evaluation, the contributions of some Indian thinkers in a special branch of Philosophy.

During the years 1925-28, the writer had the privilege of occupying the Praboth Chandra Basu Mallik Chair of Indian Philosophy at the Bengal National Council of Education. In Compliance with the wishes of the founder of this chair, he was called upon to undertake some investigation in Indian Philosophy and publish the results of his labour. This volume represents his work in the discharge of that duty.

He attempts to study critically' some important epistemological, theories of one of the chief schools of Indian Philosophy, namely, the monistic (Advaita) School of Vedanta. These theories mainly concern the question as to the nature and number of the ultimate sources of knowledge and must be of great interest to students of modern European Philosophy, in which epistemology has come to occupy a central place. Western Philosophy has generally recognized two ultimate sources of knowledge, immediate knowledge or perception, and mediated knowledge or inference. But there has been a variety of opinions on this matter among the different schools of Indian Philosophy. Some hold that perception is the only ultimate source of knowledge. Some accept both perception and inference. Others add a third, testimony or authority, to these. Still, others hold that comparison is an additional independent source of knowledge and should be combined, with the above three. Others again contend that there is a fifth kind of knowledge, postulation, which is not reducible to any of the preceding. A few other thinkers hold that there is also a sixth type—non-perception—from which primary negative judgments are derived and which cannot possibly be reduced to any of the above. These views are not merely dogmatic assertions. Each school gives elaborate arguments for its own position. This book deals with the Vedanta standpoint, according to which there are six sources of knowledge. The conceptions of these different kinds of knowledge, with all the arguments given by the Vedantins to prove their independence and ultimacy, are critically discussed here in the light of modern Western concepts, and an attempt has been made to present the conclusions to students of Western Philosophy in a clear and lucid form.

As the purpose of this work is to bring the problems, concepts and theories of the Vedantins within the focus of modern Western thought, the method adopted is one of critical analysis, comparison and evaluation. Analysis has been necessary to isolate the epistemological issues from extraneous aspects with which they are often associated. It has been useful also in grasping accurately the significance of the Advaita view wherever ambiguity and vagueness seemed to be possible. It has been most necessary, however, in the study of the Sabda-pramana (testimony).

Comparison with Indian and Western theories has been necessary to understand the exact position of the Vedantins in relation to that of other thinkers. Evaluation has been needed to ascertain the real merit of the Vedanta views on the grounds of reasoning. The adoption of this method has often necessitated the elimination of Sanskrit technical terms, the use of Western terms and concepts, the rearrangement of topics and the introduction of lengthy criticism—all of which have their justification only in the purpose of the work.

Throughout the book the writer has adopted the attitude of a student whose mind has been infected with doubts derived from the study of Western Philosophy, and who tries to understand, therefore, how far the Indian theories can satisfy his sceptical mind. For the audience, and every writer has some audience before his mind, he has imagined a tribunal of Western philosophers, mostly composed of anti-idealistic-thinkers, with whom he tries to argue the case for Advaita-Vedanta as understood by him in order to carry conviction into their sceptical minds.

As to the value of such a study, it may be said that it tries to formulate in terms of Western Philosophy some important epistemological doctrines of Advaita-Vedanta and to show by criticism that though they are generally neglected, they constitute when rightly understood valuable contributions to the Philosophy of the world. Its negative value consists in exposing the absurdity of certain commonly accepted theories of the East and the West, and in suggesting some problems that demand solutions.

It may be necessary to note that the words Vedanta and Vedantin have been employed, in conformity with the common Sanskrit uses of the terms, to signify Advaita-Vedanta and Advaita-Vedantin respectively for the sake of brevity, and they are to be taken in those senses except when any other meanings have been explicitly indicated.

It will be noted that the order in which the different pramanas-(sources of knowledge) have been taken differs from the traditional order followed by the Advaita writers. Upamana (comparison) and anupalabdhi (non-perception), which will appear to Western thinkers to be obvious cases of perception, have been considered after perception. Again, arthapatti (postulation), which will appear to be nothing but inference, has been treated after inference. Sabda (testimony), therefore, has been placed last.

It may be necessary to mention here that the scope of the present work is limited to the consideration of the problems of knowledge (prama) alone; consequently, the problems of error (aprama) have not been included. This latter occupies a large field in Avdaita-Vedanta, and thorough justice to it can be done only in an independent treatise.

The writer would fail in his duty if he did not express his gratitude to all his teachers. He gratefully remembers first his early teachers, Professors Vanamali Chakravarty and Prabodh Chandra Sanyal, who first kindled in his mind the ambition to undertake a comparative study of Indian and Western Philosophy. He is indebted also to Dr. (now Sir) B. N. Seal, in whose versatile genius and incredible depth and width of scholarship his youthful ambition found a concrete embodiment and a source of lasting inspiration. He is grateful, further, for initiation into the original Sanskrit texts, to his teachers Mahamahopadhyaya Pandits Laksmana Sastri, Pramatha Nath Tarkabhushan, Ananta Krishna Sastri, and other learned Pandits.

He is especially indebted to the highly talented Pandit Jogendra Nath Tarkatirtha, of the Sanskrit College, Calcutta, with whom he studied for about two years some of the more abstruse texts while writing this book.

 

Introduction

Western Philosophy generally recognizes two sources of knowledge–Perception and Inference. But Indian Philosophy presents a variety of opinions on this matter. The Carvakas admit only one source of valid knowledge–perception. The Bauddhas and some Vaisesikas admit two sources–perception and inference. To these, the Sankhyas add a third–authority or testimony (S'abda). The Naiyayikas admit a fourth way of knowing–comparison (Upamana)–in addition to these three. The Prabhakaras again add to these four methods 'a fifth–postulation or assumption (arthapatti). The Bhattas and the monistic Vedanti ns recognise, however, six methods of knowledge, adding non-cognition (anupalabdhi) to the five already mentioned. We shall discuss here all the six methods of knowledge, as admitted by the Advaitins, one by one.

But before taking up the problems of our study properly, it is necessary to discuss in brief the Indian conceptions of knowledge (prams) and the methods of knowing (pramana), because they underlie all epistemological discussions.

The Sanskrit word j liana stands for all kinds of cognition irrespective of the question of truth and falsehood. But the word prams is used to designate only a true cognition (yatharthajnana) as distinct from a false one (mithya-jnana). In English, the word knowledge implies a cognition attended with belief. If, therefore, a cognition turns out to be false, belief in it is immediately withdrawn and as such it should cease to be called knowledge. Consequently knowledge, strictly speaking, should always stand only for cognition that is true, uncontradicted or unfalsified. The ordinary division of knowledge into true knowledge and false knowledge should, therefore, be considered as an instance of loose thinking; the word true as applied to knowledge would then be a tautology, and the word false positively contradictory—false knowledge being only a name for falsified knowledge, which is another name for no knowledge.

If this logical meaning of the word knowledge is consistently and rigidly adhered to, knowledge will exactly correspond to the word prams. Prams are generally defined as a cognition having the twofold characteristics of truth and novelty (abadhitatva or yatharthatva and anadhigatatva).

As regards the first characteristic, truth, all schools of Indian philosophy are unanimous. Every philosopher holds that truth should be the differentia of knowledge or prama. But views, as regards the meaning of truth, vary, and consequently the mark of a prama is variously expressed. Broadly speaking there are at least four different views about truth.

According to one view, the truth of knowledge consists in its practical value. True cognition is, therefore, variously defined as that which reveals an object that serves some purpose (artha or prayojana) or leads to the achievement of some end,' or favours a successful volition (sarpvadiprav ratya-nukala). This view will at once be seen to resemble the modern pragmatic theory of the West. It is mostly held by the Buddhists, but other writers also occasionally support it.

Another view, that we find chiefly in the Nyaya works, regards truth as the faithfulness with which knowledge reveals its objects. True knowledge is, therefore, defined as that which informs us of the existence of something in a place where it .really exists, or which predicates of something a character really possessed by it. This view resembles the correspondence theory of Western realists. A third view, which is incidentally referred to by many writers, regards truth as a harmony of, experience (samvada or samvaditva). A true knowledge according to this view, would be one which is in harmony with other experiences. This view again resembles the Western theory of coherence.

The Advaita school of Vedanta, however, favours a fourth view according to which the truth of knowledge consists in its non-contradictedness (abadhitatva). The correspondence view of truth cannot directly prove itself. The only way to prove correspondence is to fall back on the foreign method of consilience or coherence (samvada)–that is to infer the existence of a real correspondence between knowledge and reality from the facts of the harmony of experience. But all that we can legitimately infer from the harmony of knowledge with the rest of our experience up to that time is not that the knowledge is absolutely free from error; but that it is not yet contradicted. For we do not know that we shall not have future any experience that can falsify our present knowledge. As regards the pragmatic test of causal efficiency (artha-kriya-karitva), the Advaitins argue that even a false cognition may, and sometimes does, lead to the fulfilment of a purpose. One of the examples they cite to support their view is the case of a distant bright jewel which emits lustre. We mistake the lustre for the jewel and, desiring to get the mistaken object of our knowledge, approach it and actually get the jewel. In this case, therefore, the knowledge of lustre as the jewel—which is clearly a false cognition —leads to the attainment of the jewel and thereby satisfies our purpose, though eventually, we come also to know that the initial cognition which caused our action was itself false. We can multiply instances of this kind. The hypothesis, that the earth is stationary and the sun is moving has been working quite satisfactorily for ages; on the basis of this cognition, many of our actions are performed and purposes attained. It is only its conflict with astronomical phenomena that enables us to detect its falsity.

It is found, therefore, that the pragmatic view of truth is not tenable. The correspondence view has ultimately to fall back on the consilience or coherence theory which, when subjected to strict scrutiny, has to yield the result that truth, as ascertained by it, consists only in its non-contradictedness.

According to the Advaitins, therefore, prama or knowledge must have as one of its characteristics truth; and the truth of prama consists in its content being uncontradicted (abadhitartha-visayakatva).

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