Before “Classical Indian Philosophy”: the influence of the Sāṅkhya logic UPDATED

We discussed already on this blog about how our conception of “classical Indian philosophy” is contingent and historically determined. For instance, if you were to ask me what “classical Indian philosophy” for me means, I would at first answer with “debate between Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā and Buddhist Pramāṇavāda”. However, as soon as one throws a closer look at the texts, one sees how this balance was precarious and how the debate had different protagonists at different times.

Since it is Friday, and Friday is reading time for me, I will discuss in this connection Toshikazu Watanabe’s Dignāga on Āvīta and Prasaṅga (2013; about āvīta see also Franco 1999). The āvīta syllogism is part of the Sāṅkhya terminology, where it denotes a sort of indirect argument. A typical example is the Sāṅkhya argument about the existence of a common primordial matter (called prakṛti or pradhāna):

“It is impossible that evolutes do not arise from one single cause, because [if this were not the case] it would follow that they would differ [from each other completely]” (see Watanabe’s reconstruction of the argument at p. 1230: na vyaktasyaikapūrvakatvābhāvaḥ, bhedaprasaṅgāt).

It is distinguished from the vīta ‘direct’ argument, e.g.:

“A primordial matter exists, because one sees homology* among the various [evolutes]” (asti pradhānam, bhedānām anvayadarśanāt, see p. 1230).

Watanabe shows how Diṅnāga criticises the difference between the vīta and the āvīta syllogism, claiming that in fact there is no difference between the two reasons (i.e., anvaya and bhedaprasaṅga (ko hy atra viśeṣo bhedaprasaṅgānvayayoḥ, PSV 3.16). Watanabe shows in logical notation that the point is that for Sāṅkhya ~anvaya is tantamount to bheda: thus the two arguments become identical.
However, Dignāga does not just criticise the Sāṅkhya argument, he re-interprets it by means of embedding the prasaṅga way of reasoning (what we would call reductio ad absurdum) into his trairūpya analysis of the syllogism. In this way, the reductio ad absurdum, that was probably until that point a dialectical device used against one’s adversaries in debates, became part of the logical structures of legitimate syllogisms.

Accordingly, Watanabe can aptly show (p. 1232) that the structures of Dharmakīrti’s prasaṅga and prasaṅgaviparyaya arguments (two types of reductio ad absurdum) correspond to Dignāga’s analysis of the vīta and āvīta arguments.

In other words, the substitution of prasaṅga instead of āvīta is one of the instances in which one can observe how the previously dominant epistemological school, the Sāṅkhya, has been replaced by the Buddhist epistemological one.

(cross posted also on my personal blog.)

*I am indebted to Toshikazu Watanabe for a valuable comment on my translation of anvaya. I had originally translated it as “continuity” for etymological reason (anu-i– `to recur’) and because of the meaning it assumes in the later context of the syllogism. Watanabe suggests that what is meant with anvaya is, instead, better rendered with “homology”, which “ means, like in the context of biology, the similarity or correspondence of nature between things that have a common evolutionary origin”.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

4 Replies to “Before “Classical Indian Philosophy”: the influence of the Sāṅkhya logic UPDATED”

    • I am no expert, but I would say no relation at all. The āvīta (this writing seems the original one, as proved by Franco) is an indirect proof (through an unwanted consequence), the sāmānyato dṛṣṭa a direct one. Do you have a different view about it?

      • No, honestly, it was a quick (and sloppy) idea about the way that the sāmānyato dṛṣṭa inference is somewhat indirect itself, akin to what we may call inference to the best explanation. You are right.

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