Nyaya Philosophy: The Basis of Indian Logic

India is often equated with spirituality, but the truth is India as a society has always dominated all the aspects of knowledge. Even during the British domination of India, we have produced great scientists and mathematicians. This is because of a very sound solid logical system on which the India society is based. The foundations of this logical system are in the Nyaya school of Philosophy. So, as part of the Shat darshan that is six orthodox schools of philosophies of India, let’s go over Nyaya Philosophy.

Nyaya philosophy is the base on which the higher philosophies of India have been built. The founder of this school philosophy is Akshpaad Gautam, who composed the nyay sutras. If you have read the works of Greek philosophers you will notice that their work sounds very similar to the Nyaya philosophy. I personally think that the Greek golden age just could not last long enough to grow out of logic and go beyond it. Nyaya philosophy in my opinion is very logical and goes deepest into logic than any other philosophy that I am aware of. I will not cover the logic here though, as it is quite dry and boring. Most of you will get bored of it and will tune out. I mostly focus more on the aspects of Nyaya philosophy that the other philosophies of India have found useful and have picked up.


Nyaya philosophy says that all our sufferings are dues to our ignorance, there to overcome them acquiring right knowledge is very important. As a result, Nyaya philosophy puts in a lot of emphasis on gaining the right knowledge. This is why a the Naiyayikas have worked extensively on Pramana Shashtra, where they have carefully categorized all the different forms of Pramanas (i.e. Source of Knowledge). We will not go into the details of this, as it will be quite boring.

Nyaya epistemology accepts four out of six Pramanas as reliable means of gaining knowledge. These are

Pratyakṣa (perception), It is of two types in Hindu texts: external (Laukik) and internal (Alaukik). External perception comes from the direct interaction of the senses with worldly objects, such as seeing, hearing, tasting etc. The internal perception arises from inner sense of the mind through our intuition.

Anumāṇa (inference), In this pramana you reach a conclusion from one or more direct observations and then applying reason based on previously known truths. A classic example for this is observing smoke and inferring that there is fire.

Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy), the best example of this is that if a person has never seen a wolf and you tell him that a wolf just looks like a German Shepherd dog but lives in wild and will be found in pack. When you the person goes to a jungle and see an animal like the German Shepherd dog and identifies it to be a wolf then he has used Upmana.

Śabda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts): What here means is that Nyaya Philosophy believes in the authenticity of the Vedas, which is why this is considered one of the six orthodox Hindu schools of Philosophy.

Arthapatti and Anuplabdhi are not accepted as the valid source of knowledge in Nyaya Philosophy, where arthapatti is a circumstantial proof, while anuplabdhi is proof by negation. As mentioned previously, there is a lot of details in the Nyaya Epistemology that I have skipped, such as different subtypes of these pramanas and how to logically authenticate them, as it’s all very dry, however there is one very interesting fact that I would like to talk about here and that is about syllogism used in Indian Philosophy. Syllogism is a method deductive reasoning to come to a conclusion. In the western philosophy the syllogism is generally carried out with three statements. As an example:

All Men are Mortal (Major Premise)

Socrates is a Man (Minor Premise)

Therefore: Socrates is Mortal (Conclusion)

In Indian syllogism however there are five steps

1. “पर्वतो वह्निमान्” — प्रतिज्ञा i.e. There is fire in the mountains (Pratigya, First Proposition)

2. “धूमात्” — हेतु i.e. Smoke is coming from there (Hetu, Second Proposition)

3. “यो यो धूमवान् स स वह्रिमानं” — उदाहरण i.e.Where there is Smoke, there is fire (Udahran, Universal Proposition that is proven through Vyapti, where one thing is always associated with other, such as smoke and fire)

4. तथा चायम् — उपनय i.e. Thus, it can be perceived (Upanaya, Application of Universal Proposition in current case)

5. तस्माद् वह्निमान् — निगमन i.e There is fire in the mountains (Nigaman, conclusion)

So, you can see the that the syllogism in Indian philosophy is different and more thorough in comparison to western philosophy.

Physical World in Nyaya Philosophy

After explaining the sources of knowledge, the Nyaya Philosophy delves into objects of knowledge which it calls Prameya and mentions that there are 12 of these, which are आत्मा (Individual Self), शरीर (body), इन्द्रियाँ (Senses), अर्थ (Meaning), बुद्धि/ज्ञान/उपलब्धि (Knowledge), मन (mind), प्रवृत्ति (Tendency of an object), दोष (mental imperfections), प्रेतभाव (Rebirth after death), फल (Consequence either pleasant or unpleasant), दुःख (Suffering) and अपवर्ग (Liberation)।

So, these are the objects about which knowledge can obtained using the pramanas we discussed above. As you can see most of these are not physical objects, however, you must note that Nyaya philosophy does not deny the existence of physical world. It recognizes the existence of Time (Kaal) and Space (dik) and mentions that the physical world is made up of one invisible substance called Akasha and four visible substances earth, water, fire and air. Wherever four visible substances are not there, the space is filled with Akasha. The Time, Space and Akasha are eternal, while earth, water, fire and air are composed of atoms, which are eternal. These atoms by arranging themselves constitute everything physical in this universe.

Individual Self

In all the Indian philosophies the eventual goal is the cessation of suffering. The one suffering is the individual self. Since suffering comes due to ignorance, gaining the knowledge about the individual self is key to cessation of suffering. Nyaya philosophy has a very realistic approach towards the self. It says that the self is composed of a special substance with desires, aversion, feelings and cognition being its properties. All these are not physical because physical objects do not have these properties. This is why Nayayikas do not believe that self is the product of our mind.

Since the experience of person is not experienced by the other and the Upanishads say self is the experiencer inside us, therefore, Naiyayaikas believe that there are as multiple selfs in this world, which takes up a body. The self is not the senses because even when we shut the sense or loose any sense, the self still remains. Since the Naiyayakas believe there are multiple selves, they do not believe that the Self is pure consciousness, self-shining and eternal, instead Naiyayayikas claim that consciousness arises when the self gets attached to a body. The self for Naiyayayikas therefore is the thing that give us that feeling of I-ness, which is our ego. This idea is very similar to what is shown popularly in the movies, where when a person dies, his Atma leaves the body and goes to Yama and then reincarnates in a new body.

How do you prove that the self exists inside us, the explanation is quite simple, we experience pleasure and pain, we have feelings, we have knowledge about things, while nonliving things do have such properties, therefore there must be a self-inside us who is our true essence. As in all Indian philosophies the ultimate goal is freedom from suffering of this self. Naiyayakias say that we experience suffering through our senses. When our self is attached to the body, then we is no way to avoid having unpleasant senses, thus for the cessation of suffering the self should not attach to the physical body. With the self not attaching to the body, there will be no sensations and therefore no suffering. The self then remains suspended in its unconscious form neither feeling pain nor pleasure. This is the state of liberation or mukti. In order for the self to attain mukti, the self must have the right knowledge, which can be attained through the process of Sravana (Studying scriptural instructions), Manana (Gaining insights through mental reasoning) and Nididhyasana (Meditation on the instructions).


The Naiyayikas believe in the existence of God and says God is the creator of this universe however he does not create this universe out of nothing. In Nyaya philosophy it is assumed that the time, space, self and atoms are eternal. What God does is arrange these entities in a certain way to create this universe. So clearly God is not the material cause of this universe, but the first agent. In addition to being the creator, God is also the agent who preserves this universe and then destroys it.

God is the agent through which the different selfs experience pleasure and pain depending on their past behavior. God achieves this by arranging the objects in this universe according to the moral behavior of the individuals. God has eternal consciousness and direct cognition of all the objects in this universe. This eternal consciousness is God’s attribute, not God himself. God in Nyaya Philosophy is told to have six perfections (shadashwarya), which are that he is majestic, almighty, all glorious, infinitely beautiful, possessed of infinite knowledge and perfect freedom from attachment.

God is the motivating force behind the actions of living beings. He gets his will done in this universe through living beings and in that sense no living being in this universe have complete free will in their actions. This way God becomes a benevolent father who directs his offspring to act in a certain way. Based on how one follows his directions, God then through other living beings provides the fruits of our actions. Since Nyaya philosophy is associated with logic, it has to provide the proof for the existence of such a God and actually it provides 12 proofs for it, in the interest of time we will discuss the three most important ones here.

  • The simplest proof is the Shabda pramana of the Vedas which Nayay philosophy considers to be valid.
  • Another proof provided is the causal proof which mentions that just as you need a potter to change a clay into a pot, similarly you need God to create this universe from its material constituents. Since these material constituents are arranged in an organized way, the agent which organizes them must be intelligent, because if he is not intelligent then this world will also be haphazard. Since the universe is not haphazard, therefore it proves that God exist.
  • Third proof is based on the idea of Adrishta, which is linked to the idea of karma. In this world, different people are born in different circumstances. Some people face more hardship then others, why is that? The answer provided in Indian context is that of the idea of karma. The deeds that you do today will bear fruits for you in the future. Therefore, if you are experiencing a lot of hardships in this life then you must have done bad deeds in your past life. Naiyayikas then say that this accrual of karma and manifestation of its fruits is not visible to us and therefore the mechanism behind it is invisible to us or Adrishta to us. This adrishta phenomenon cannot occur by itself, but must have an intelligent force driving it, therefore, there must be an omnipotent, omniscient divine God who manages the adrishta.


Nyaya philosophy’s main contribution towards Indian philosophy is in the epistemology, that is, how to gain valid knowledge about anything. Although we skimmed over the Nyaya epistemology very quickly, as it is very involved, what you should know is that the methodology presented here forms the basis of Indian logic and is used in all Indian schools of philosophy. This philosophy is very realistic in its outlook and uses logic to forms its concepts. Any person with a simple frame of mind might find its claims quite relatable and easily understandable, however for a person with sophisticated intellect much remains desirable from this philosophy. It is a classic example of the statement of our rishis that you cannot reach the truth by logic alone. I will point out three issues I have with this philosophy

  1. The idea of self is not very satisfying. First of all the Naiyayaikas say that the self is our ego which attains consciousness after entering a body. Then it says that there are multiple selfs in this universe. Now think about it, if we are told that we are our ego, each person is his ego and that when attain liberation then we go into a suspended state of nothingness. One of the biggest fears in our life is losing our identity. If we are told that the ultimate aim of our life is to attain nothingness, then this will only lead to nihilism in us. Such a society will soon fall into materialism, just as we see in the Christian and Islamic societies.
  2. The idea that God is not the material cause of this universe but just an agent of its creation, preservation and destruction is again not very satisfying. It has the same issues that we point out in the idea of God in Islam and Christianity. If God is not the material cause of this universe but just the organizer, then he must be separate from this universe. If he is separate then he is not infinite and therefore cannot be omniscient, he basically just becomes an architect.
  3. Another issue with God just being the creator, preserver and annihilator of this universe is that, if he is doing it, what is the motivation for him to do it. If he created it because of desire then desire becomes higher than God. If he is doing it out of compassion, then he is not very successful as, living beings suffer in this universe and the only way out of it for them is to go back to nothingness. Actually, if God created this universe with any desire, then that desire becomes higher than God, so eventually what you end up with is that God created this universe for no reason whatsoever. However, this reason again takes us to nihilism.

With that said, Nyaya philosophy definitely has a lot to offer in terms of providing the logical framework of Samsara, Mukti and Karma, which is used by other India philosophies to build more sophisticated ideas that we will explore in other Indian philosophies.

Originally published at https://stoicsadhu.com on October 24, 2020.




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Rahul Yadav

Rahul Yadav

Discover Indian Heritage: Arts, Science, Religion and Philosophy of India

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