Brief note on the Nyaya theory of Causation

Tradition regards sage Gautama is the founder of Nyaya philosophy. the basic question involved in any theory of causation is: “Does the effect pre-exist in its material cause?” Those who answer this question negatively are called Astkaryavakius, Nyaya Naisesika, Buddhism and some follows of Mimansa believe in Asatkaryavada. According to them, the effect is a new creation, a real beginning. The effect does not pre-exist in its material cause. The said, if the cloth is already exists in the threads, then why should not the threads serve the purpose of the cloth?

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Let us now consider the Nyaya theory of causation. A cause is defined as an unconditional and invariable consequent of a cause. The same cause produce the same effect and the same effect is produced by the same cause. Plurality of causes is ruled out. The first essential characteristic of a cause is its antecedence: the fact that it should precede the effect. The second is its invariability, it must invariably precede the effect. The third is its unconditionally antecedence is immediate and direct antecedence and excludes the fallacy or remote cause. Thus we see that the Nyaya definition of a cause is the same as that in western inductive logic. Hume defines a cause as an invariable antecedent. Carveth Read points out that unconditionally includes immediacy. A cause, therefore, is an unconditional, immediate and invariable antecedent of an effect.

Nyaya recognizes five kinds of accidental antecedents which are not real causes. Firstly, the qualities of a cause are mere accidental antecedents. The color of a potter’s staff is not the cause of a pot. Secondly the cause of a cause or a remote cause is not unconditional. The potter’s father is not the cause of a pot. Thirdly, the co-effect of a cause are themselves not causally related. the sound produced by the potter’s staff is not the cause of a pot, though if may invariably precede the pot. Night and day are not causally related. Fourthly, unnecessary things like the potter’s ass are not unconditional antecedents; though the potter’s ass may be invariably present when the potter is making a pot, yet it is not the cause of the pot. A cause must be an unconditional and necessary antecedent. Nyaya emphasizes the sequence view of causality. Cause and effect are never simultaneous. Plurality of causes is also wrong because causal relation is reciprocal. The same effect cannot be produced by the other cause. Each effect has its distinctive features and has only one specific cause. Further, like Western logic, the Nyaya regards a cause as the sum-total of the conditions, positive and negative, taken together. The cause is an aggregate of the unconditional or necessary and in variable antecedent conditions which are called karanasamagri. The absence of negative counteracting conditions is called pratibandhaka bhava.

An effect is defined as the counter-entity of its own prior non-existence. It is the negation of its own prior-negation. It comes into being and destroys its prior non-existence. It was non-existent before its production. It did not pre-exist in its cause. It is a fresh beginning, a new creation. This Nyaya-Vaishesika view of causation is directly opposed to the Samkhya-Yoga and Vedanta view of Satkaryavada. It is called asatkaryavada or aram bhavada. The effect is non-existent before its creation and is a new beginning (arambha), a fresh creation, an epigenesis. It is distinct from its cause and can never be identical with it. It is neither an appearance nor a transformation of the cause. It is newly brought into existence by the operation of the cause.

There are three kinds of causes – samavayi, asamavayyi and nimitta. The first is the samavayi or the inherent cause also called as the upadana or the material cause. It is the substance out of which the effect is produced. For example, the threads are the inherent cause of the cloth and the clay is the inherent cause of a pot. The effect in hares in its material cause. The cloth inheres in the threads. The effect cannot exist separately from its material cause, though the cause can exist independently of its effect. The material cause is always a substance. The second kind of cause is asamavayi or non-inherent. It inheres in the material cause and helps the production of the effect. The conjunction of the threads which inheres in the threads is the non-inherent cause of the cloth of which the threads are the material or the inherent cause. The color of the threads is the non-inherent cause both co-inhere in the material cause. The non-inherent cause is always a quality or an action. The third kind of cause is nimitta of efficient. It is the power which helps the material cause is nimitta of efficient. It is the power which helps the material cause to produce the effect. The weaver is the efficient cause of the cloth. The efficient cause includes the accessories, e.g., the loom and shuttle of the weaver or the staff and wheel of the potter. The efficient cause may be a substance, a quality or an action.


Sometimes a distinction is made between a general or an ordinary and a peculiar or an extra ordinary cause. Space, time, God’s knowledge, God’s will, merit, demerit, prior non-existence and absence of counteracting factors are the eight general causes. The extraordinary cause is called the Karma or the instrumental cause and is included in the efficient cause. It is the motive power which immediately produces the effect, e.g., the staff of the potter. The modern Nyaya regards the efficiency itself which inheres in this cause as the real instrumental cause. The inherent cause, the non-inherent cause, the efficient cause and the purpose correspond to Aristotle’s material, formal efficient and final causes.

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