Brief Note on the Formulation of Indian Syllogism

The Nyaya School was essentially a school of logic, maintaining the view that clear thinking was an essential preliminary to salvation. This school evolved, about the beginning of the Christian era, a system of syllogistic logic which seems to have been quite independent of the Aristotelian system which conditioned the thought of Europe. The usual formula of the Indian syllogism was as follows:

(i) There is a fire on the mountain,

(ii) Because there is smoke on it,

(iii) And where there is smoke there is fire, as, for example, in a kitchen.


(iv) This is the case with the mountain,

(v) And therefore there is a fire on it.

We may compare this with the Aristotelian formula:

(i) Where there is smoke there is fire.


(ii) There is smoke on the mountain.

(iii) Therefore there is fire on it.

The Indian syllogism is more cumbrous than the Greek one, but it might be more effective in debate, since the point is driven home by repetition, the first proposition being virtually the same as the fifth and the second the same as the fourth. The example (here the kitchen) was looked on as an essential element of the syllogism, and also seems to derive from debating technique.

It is a sur­vival from the earliest phase of Indian philosophical thought, when listeners were often satisfied with analogical arguments. An example of such an argu­ment is the famous parable of the salt in the Chhandogya Upanishad (vi. 13), which is mentioned above (p. 113).


As salt dissolves in water, so the individual is dissolved in the absolute Brahman. This, from the point of view of logic, is no argument at all, but it helps to explain a mystical theory and is very effective as a means of enforcing conviction upon one already predisposed to believe the proposition.

On this basis the Nyaya logicians developed the very subtle and difficult doctrines referred to at the beginning of this chapter as ultra-logical, which have been little studied outside circles of specially trained Pandits until quite recently.

They are too recondite for consideration here, but it should be noted that in some respects they prefigure the new logic of the twentieth-century west, and represent a significant element in the intellectual heritage of India.

The Vaiseshika School was based on a system of atomism, explaining the cosmic process in which the soul was involved. The Vaiseshikas, like the San- khyas, held that the soul was wholly different from the cosmos, and that its salvation lay in fully realizing this difference. The first stage in this process was the recognition of the world’s atomic character.

The universe was an infinitely complex and endlessly changing pattern of atoms {anu) combining and dis­solving according to regular principles. At the end of the cosmic cycle the atoms reverted to a state of complete equilibrium from which they only emerged at the beginning of the next cycle, as the raw material of a new cosmos.

The Indian atomic system, in many respects anticipating the theories of modern physics, was the result not of experiment and observation but rather of logical thought. Since an endless regress was logically and psychologically unsatisfactory, it was believed that there must be a final stage in the subdivi­sion of any piece of matter, beyond which further subdivision was impossible.

Hence the universe must be atomic in structure. Further developments of the theory led to a doctrine of molecules to account for the multifarious variety of the world. The Vaiseshika philosophers agreed thus far with modern scientific physics; they did not, however, hit on a realistic theory of elements, which would have demanded practical investigation and experiment.

Syllogism in Logic | A Class-Room Introduction to Logic

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Like most other Indian philosophers, they maintained the existence of five atomic elements- earth, water, fire, air, and akasa, which filled all space; akasa is generally translated ‘ether’, in the sense in which this term was used in Western pre- relativity physics.

The Mimamsa School was primarily one of Vedic exegesis, and set out to prove the complete truth and accuracy of the sacred texts, in much the same manner as did the doctors of the medieval Catholic Church or such Protestant reformers as Calvin. The world-view of this school was not distinctive, but its teachers produced interesting and original theories of semantics, and some of them made contributions in the field of law.

Out of the Mimamsa School emerged the most important of the six systems, the Uttara-Mimamsa (‘ Later Mimamsa’), more commonly known as Veddnta,
‘The End of the Vedas’. This term was apt because, unlike the Mlmamsakas, who placed equal emphasis on all the Vedic literature, the Vedantins stressed the significance of the Upanishads, which for them formed a sort of New Testament, not a mere appendix to the earlier Vedic literature. The main task, as they conceived it, was to harmonize the teachings of these texts into a con­sistent body of doctrine.

The basic text of the Vedanta School is the Brahma Sutras of Badarayana, composed perhaps 2,000 years ago. These are a series of very terse aphorisms, perhaps originally intended as lecture notes, to be filled out extempore by the teacher.

Since they are so elliptical and ambiguous they were commented on and differently interpreted by numerous great doctors of medieval Hinduism to produce a wide range of philosophical and theological systems.

Undoubtedly the most influential and probably the most subtle of these teachers was Sankara, a south Indian Saivite Brahman who, early in the ninth century, composed lengthy commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, the chief Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita.

In these he put forward his famous doctrine of Advaita (‘No second’, i.e. monism), maintaining that the pheno­menal universe with all its multifariousness, and the whole hierarchy of being from the greatest of the gods downwards, were not absolutely real, but were maya, the secondary emanations of the one ultimate absolute being, the im­personal neuter entity known as Brahman, characterized by the three attributes of being (sat), consciousness (chit), and bliss (ananda). Brahman was un­changing and eternally stable, while everything else, being finally unreal, was subject to change, which, in the case of the individual being, manifested itself in the form of samsara, the process of transmigration.

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