Nyaya’s pramana (Knowledge-Generators) as Natural Kinds

Location: Somerville College
Speaker: Stephen Phillips
Date: October 10, 2009
Time: 16:30

This paper examines Nyaya’s understanding of the sources of knowledge, especially perception and inference, as generating genuine subkinds of cognition that are discernible by introspection as well as through our own and others’ behaviour, and addresses how typological resources are used by the school in its epistemological theory. By being able to recognize a cognition as perceptual, inferential, analogical, or testimonial in character, we have access to our knowledge such that doubt and controversy can be resolved. The hinge premise is that we may assume such cognition to be veridical. Like contemporary disjunctivists, Naiyayikas see pramana as natural processes and their results as falling into natural kinds, with close imitators, illusions, incorrect inferences, false testimonial comprehension, and so on, as something else altogether, not the same at all, though a wider uniting kind may be identified, being-a-property, being-a-psychological-property, and so on up through the categorial system. This facet of Nyaya’s epistemology helps to solve an issue facing modern reliabilist externalism, which is the position that beliefs receive a default positive epistemic status in virtue of being the results of reliable processes of belief-formation. The issue is how to differentiate doxastic processes in an epistemically relevant fashion. Nyaya has a straightforward answer–identify candidates by the highest standard, one-hundred percent reliability, and correlating marks (jati-vyanjana)–an answer that this paper in the end says a word or two to defend.