Eastern epistemology  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jain Epistemology

According to Jain epistemology, reality is multifaceted (anekanta, or 'non-one-sided'), such that no finite set of statements can capture the entire truth about the objects they describe.

The Jain list of pramanas (valid sources of knowledge) includes sense perception, valid testimony, extra-sensory perception, telepathy, and kevala, the state of omniscience of a perfected soul. Inference, which most other Indian epistemologies include, is interestingly absent from this list. However, discussion of the pramanas seem to indicate that inference is implied in the pramana that provides the premises for inference. That is, inference from things learned by the senses is itself knowledge gained from the senses; inference from knowledge gained by testimony is itself knowledge gained by testimony, etc. Later Jain thinkers would add inference as a separate category, along with memory and tarka or logical reasoning.

Since reality is multi-faceted, none of the pramanas gives absolute or perfect knowledge. Consequently, all knowledge is only tentative and provisional. This is expressed in Jain philosophy in the doctrine of naya, or partial predication (also known as the doctrine of perspectives or viewpoints). This insight generates a sevenfold classification of predications, which can be schematized as follows:

  1. Perhaps a is F (syat asti).
  2. Perhaps a is not-F (syat nasti).
  3. Perhaps a is both F and not-F (syat asti-nasti).
  4. Perhaps a is indescribable (syat avaktavyam).
  5. Perhaps a is indescribable and F (syat asti-avaktavyam).
  6. Perhaps a is indescribable and not-F (syat nasti-avaktavyam).
  7. Perhaps a is indescribable, and both F and not-F (syat asti-nasti-avaktavyam).

'Perhaps' here is used as a translation of syat which can also be translated as ‘from a perspective,’ or ‘somehow.’

Early Jain texts (e.g. Tattvartha Sutra) indicate that for any object and any predicate, all seven of these predications are true. Hence, for every object a and every predicate F, there is some circumstance in which, or perspective from which, it is correct to make claims of each of these forms. This view has been criticized (by Shankaracharya, among others) on the ground of inconsistency. While both a proposition and its negation may well be assertable, the conjunction, being a contradiction, cannot. This leads some commentators to understand the syat operator to mean ‘from a perspective.’ Since it may well be that from one perspective, a is F, and from another, a is not-F, then one and the same person can appreciate those facts and assert them both together. Given the multifaceted nature of the real, every object is in one way F, and in another way not-F.

One problem with this epistemology is that it seems to be self-defeating. If reality is multifaceted, the doctrines that underlie Jain epistemology are themselves equally tentative. The doctrine itself must then fall short of complete accuracy. Therefore, we should say, "Perhaps (or “from a perspective") reality is multifaceted." At the same time, "Perhaps reality is not multifaceted." Jain epistemology gains assertibility for its own doctrine, but at the cost of being unable to deny contradictory doctrines.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Eastern epistemology" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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