Epistemology: Notion of knowledge in Sankya School of Philosophy

According to Indian philosophical history, the Sankhya is one of the oldest philosophical Schools. This school of thoughts has its roots in Indian Vedic knowledge. Sankhya is the essence of the Vedas. This philosophy is believed to be founded by Maharishi Kapil.  Sankhya philosophy begins with the knowledge of nature and its origin.This school is comparable to Yogic school of thought and also similar to Nyaya School of Philosophy.  Knowledge is the modification of mind. Knowledge process in Sankhya, mind goes towards the object.

Nature and condition of valid knowledge
Validity of knowledge is anexplicit and reliable cognition of some object. It is obtained through the process of adaptation of the willor the intellect.Will reflects the consciousness of the self in it. The mind or intellect, according to this school, is an unconscious material entity. “Consciousness or intelligence or caitanya really belongs to self. But the self cannot immediately apprehend the object of the world.” The self is all in all-encompassing. The self, therefore, comes to know objects through the intellect, the mind and the senses; when objects’ forms are impressed on the intellect, which reflects the light or consciousness of the self.

The factors of valid knowledge
In all valid knowledge, according to Sankhya, there are three pivotal factors namely the subject -pramata; the object- prameya and the medium-pramanaof knowledge. The subject of knowledge-pramatais a conscious principle that receives and recognizes knowledge. It is the self, which is the pure consciousness. The object of knowledge or prameya is presented to the self. The medium of knowledge or pramanais the modification of the intellect. It is throughthe selfthat we come to know an object.It is, therefore, the source or the medium of knowledge. Valid knowledge, therefore, is the reflection of the self in the intellect, without which the unconscious intellect cannot cognize anything, and which is modified into the form of an object.

Sources of Valid Knowledge
In the Sankhya school of philosophy, the theory of knowledge follows in the main its dualistic metaphysics and in epistemology, this school accepts only three independent sources of valid knowledge. The validity of knowledge is possible through the three following pramanas namely:-

1.        Pratyaksha- Perception,
2.        Anumana - Inference
3. Sabda- Verbal testimony
The other sources of knowledge like comparison, postulation and non-cognition are not recognized as separate sources of knowledge but included under the above three pramanas or sources of knowledge.

All the schools of thoughts accept perception even the western philosophy.  Perceptive knowledge denotes knowledge deriving from any five senses. According to Samkhya the mind, or the intellect or buddhi and the purusha plays a vital role in producing knowledge.Purusha is active in Sankhya thought. “Perception is the direct cognition of an object through its contact with some senses.” When the sense-organs come in contact with an object, the sensations and impressions reach the mind. In order words, when an object like apen comes within the range of your vision, there is contact between the pen and your eyes. And this is a perceptual knowledge.

The mind, which processes these sensations and impressions into proper forms, converts them into determinate percepts. These percepts are carried to the Mahat. Mahat, by its own applications, gets modified. Mahat takes the form of the particular object. This transformation of Mahat is known as modification of will. But still the process of knowledge is not completed. Mahat is a physical entity. Mahat, due to its lack of consciousness, cannot generate knowledge on its own. It has potential and can reflect the consciousness of the Purusha or self. “Illumined by the consciousness of the reflected self, the unconscious Mahat becomes conscious of the form into which it is modified (i.e. of the form of the object).” This can be better explained by an illustration with the theory of mirror. The mirror cannot produce an image on its own. The mirror needs light to reflect and to produce the image and therebyreveals the object. Mahat, in a similar way, needs the light of the consciousness of the Purusha to produce knowledge.

Kinds of Perceptions
Sankhyaschool of thought recognizes two kinds of perception namely- Indeterminate (nirvikalpa) perceptions and Determinate (savikalpa) perceptions.Indeterminate perceptionis mere impression. So there is merely seeing object. It arises at the moment of contact between the senses and the object. It is before mental analysis and synthesis of sensory data. In this state there is not recognition of any specific. But there is only a vague cognition of the object. This indeterminate perception is without understanding or knowledge. It is like that of a baby’s initial experience, which is full of impressions. Therefore there is a lot of sense data. But there is not any judgmental recognition involved. Most of them are indeterminate perceptions.

Determinate perception is the mature or more advanced state of perceptions. Determinate perception is the result of the analysis, synthesis, and interpretation of sensory data by the mind. It is because the forms of objects or names have been fingered and differentiated appropriately. So once the sensations have been dealt with, categorized, reflected and interpreted properly, they become determinate perceptions. This leads to identification and also generates knowledge. These forms or names of objects are determinate perceptions.

Anumana - Inference
“Inference is the knowledge of one term of a relation, which is not perceived, through the other which is perceived and known to be invariably related to the first. In it what is perceived leads us on to the knowledge of what is unperceived through the knowledge of universal relation (vyapti) between the two. We get the knowledge of universal relation between two things from the repeated observation of their concomitance.”  Sankhya largely accepts the Nyaya account of inference. Sankhya, however, uses a variety of inference known as analogical reasoning in its account of reality.“It should be noted here that we infer the existence of organs from acts of perception, not because we have observed the organs to be invariably related to perceptive acts, but because we know that perception is an actions and that an action requires a means of actions.”

Kinds of inference
In Sankhya, there are two types of inference namely-Vita-affirmative proposition and Avita- Negative proposition:-, Positive proposition is based on a universal affirmative proposition. Positive inference has got two of its kinds: Purvavat and amanyatodrsta. “Purvavat inferenceis that which is based on the observed uniform uniformity of concomitance between two things.”For example, one can infer the existence of fire from the existence of smoke. It is because one has always see smoke accompanied by fire.

Samanyatodrsta inference, on the other hand, is not based on any observation of the concomitance between the middle and major terms, but on the similarity of the middle with such facts as are uniformly related to the major.”This type of inference does, however, require facts that are uniformly related to the middle and major terms. For example, how can we know that we have senses? One cannot perceive one’s senses because they are beyond their own reach. We can only infer their existence. “Forall action some kind of instrument is needed; seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching are actions that must have their corresponding instruments; the senses are these instruments.”

Negative inference or Avita, is explained in the Nyaya system as sesavat. Sesavatisis an inference resulted by the elimination of all other possible alternatives. For example, the sound must be a quality because it is neither a substance nor relation or no anything else.Like Nyaya, Sankhya regards the logical form of inference that the five syllogisms are the most convincing forms of inferential proof.

Testimony- Sabda
Sabda or testimony literally means ‘words.’ Testimony is the knowledge of objects derived from words or sentences. A word is a sign or a symbol denoted to an object. Testimony cannot be known by perception or inference. But all verbal are not valid knowledge.In general we can say that for testimony to be reliable source of knowledge, the person who gives must be reliable. Reliability depends on person who must be morally honest, trustworthy and master of the subject matter. Sankhya solely accepts the Vedas as infallible, perfect, true knowledge and truth. This shows that theology and philosophy are intrinsically one.

Kinds of Testimony- Sabda
There are two kinds of Testimony- Sabda.  They are Laukika and vaidika. Laudikais an ordinary testimony by trustworthy persons. This category includes the trustworthy assertions of ordinary persons, saints, sages

Vaidika or the extra-ordinary testimony is the testimony which cannot be false. It is the testimony of Sruti or the Vedas which give us true knowledge about the transcendental realities, which cannot be known either by perception or by inference. The sacred scriptures- Vedas are free from all defects and imperfection and thus they are infallible. They are eternal.

Theory of Error
Asatkhyativasa means a perception of some unreal things. It is an erroneous perception. We perceived at time silver in the shell. It is shell-silver illusion, which is neither real as something external nor even real as something internal. It is absolutely unreal. “Thus the erroneous perception is declared to be non-being’s apprehension. One becomes aware of the non-being of silver only when the erroneous perception is sublated by the valid perception.”  We apprehend totally non-existent as existence. It is neither exists in the present situation nor even anywhere else. Error arises in taking something totally non-existent as existence. Thus Sankhya school rejects the subject- knower and object known.

Asatkyati stands for complete void- both ordinary and valid perception are declared to be erroneous. Many schools critique on this saying “the defect lies with asatkyativada that it not only negates silver but also the ‘this’ on the very basis of error along with error. 

Critical Analysis and comparison with the western Epistemology
There are some similarities between Indian and western Philosophies in their treatment of this topic- Epistemology. Western philosophy pays more important to experience and reason as the two vital sources of knowledge. In treating experience, western philosophy tends to identify experience with perception but not in Indian philosophy. Strictly speaking the concept of a priori knowledge is not to be found in Sankhya philosophy. There is either not clear opposition between rationalism and empiricism.Testimony is acknowledged as a source of knowledge both in India and west, but the west pays much less stress on it compare to Indian philosophy.

Critically comparing will demonstrate that the epistemologies of both the Platonic and Sankhya systems incorporate the knowledge revealed by experiences originating in internal consciousness, that both systems present the philosophical activity as the means to recovering these experiences, and that both hold that this activity is a necessary one for man,given one’s condition. One must admit that differences in cultural and social aspirations and intentions prevent these systems from being identical, but this is not what concern is here; I hope only to make clear that the fundamentals which underlie these systems at a radical level are open to comparison. What we directly perceive are contents of our own minds, but the statement we make is about things that exist independently.

If knowledge is necessarily true, then perceptive knowledge must necessarily be true cognition. But it is an undesirable fact that occasionally we do make mistakes in our perceptual judgment. We tend to see things or object covered by our cultures and prejudices. This occurs in the mind of the observer and we can be certain of these. I may be mistaken in saying that object in front of me is an orange, but I cannot be mistaken in saying that it appears yellowish, and that I get a sweet smell, that it has a certain shape etc. what I directly perceive are these sensation from which I come to the conclusion. I do this on the basis of some background knowledge that I have experienced of this sort before. There is a problem to go from how a thing appears to me to how things really are. How do I know it is really an orange? This problem is similar to the one that Descartes faced, namely the problem of the bridge.

Sankhya logic is built according to the psychological process involving in inference whereas Aristotelian logic deals more with the formed validity of arguments and not how reasoning is actually done. They make a clear distinction between the form and the validity of arguments and truth, but Sankhya logic makes not such clear distinction. 

Sankhya inference deals with the formal and the material with induction and deduction at the same time. This logic has advantage that it reflects better the way we actually reason with clear remembrance of vyapti.It has disadvantage too. In western logic,Hume shows how acute the problem of induction is.

A special point to be noted here is that in Indian theory of testimony source of knowledge or sabdapramana and the western theory ofHermeneutics hold that understanding a sentence is to know the truth expressed in it. And this is rightly said by J.N. Mohantyin his book- In Companion, ‘there are no such things as understanding a false sentence.’ This is something which I find difficult to agree with. However, if the identification of understanding with knowledge is not acceptable, understanding is a necessary pre-requisite for knowledge.

            InSankhya notion and sources of knowledge are alike to any other systems. This philosophy accepts three pramanas: perception (drsta), inference (anumana) and verbal testimony (aptavacana or sruti). Perception is thought to take place through images or ideas of objects. During perception the intellect or will upon stimulation by an object through the sense organs, undergoes modification. Thus the intellect assumes the form of the object it stimulates. Therefore, objects are not directly perceived, but only representations of them. Sankhya assumes the reality of the external object -representational realism. Sankhya largely accepts the Nyaya account of inference. However, its usage of effectiveness is in Sankhya philosophy often questions. For example, it uses the analogy of the lame man-blind man to explain the relationship between consciousness and matter. This might work, if matter had intelligence, but it doesn't. Although Sankhya accepted verbal testimony as a valid means of knowledge, it considers Vedas perfect and infallible. The Sankhya notion of knowledge has its own advantages and disadvantages like any other schools both east and west.

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