The Concept of Error in Non-Absolutism

Published: 09.06.2006
Updated: 02.07.2015
Dr. Samani Chaitany Pragya

Dr. Samani Chaitanya Pragya worked for many years under the scientific guidance of late Professor Musafir Singh at JVBI Ladnun. It was her task to work out lectures for correspondent students, which Prof. Singh then went through with her. Once he surprised her with the question,

What is the concept of error in non-absolutism?”

Prof. Musafir Singh

Generally it is said that everything is right in Non-Absolutism from one point of view or another. The concept of wrong is totally absent in this theory. On the other hand, it is said that science advances through falsification. Unless the lower category of truth is falsified the higher category of truth can not be discovered. If we accept the truth invented as ultimate and final; the search for truth would cease to continue one day and no thesis would give rise to antithesis.

If we look at the doctrine of Non-absolutism in this light, the charge may apparently look to be true but in reality it is not. Had the doctrine of Non-absolutism viewed everything as right the Jains would not have rejected the absolutist views of other philosophical systems in right earnest. On the contray, the Jain logicians have used the doctrine of Non- absolutism as the sharpest weapon to cut down the rival views. This indicates that the principle of error does work somewhere in the doctrine of Non-absolutism. The conditions under which it works are as follows:

  1. If a view presented about a reality is groundless.
  2. If a view presented relatively is taken absolutely.
  3. If two different views having different spheres are applied to one and the same aspect of reality
    i.e. if the sphere of one view is applied to another (rival) and vice-versa.

The term ‘Non-absolutism', in fact, comes into being in the age of philosophy. In the canonical period the seeds of the doctrine are found in the form of philosophical standpoints technically known as Naya.
Naya may be defined as:

A particular opinion or a viewpoint - a viewpoint which does not rule out other different viewpoints and is, thereby, expressive of a partial truth about an object as entertained by an observer. [1]

The definition reveals three features of the philosophical standpoint. They are as follows:

  1. Naya is the objective view of an observer.
  2. It is partial in approach.
  3. It deals with its own aspect of reality and does not rule out other aspects of one the same reality.

On the basis of these three characteristics of Naya the possibility of error becomes quite clear in Non-Absolutism. Wherever these characteristics are ignored the probability of error becomes an actuality. We can elaborate on the issue as follows:

First, the view that has no connection with the real is totally wrong. Such views may be more than one in number. They all together are recognized as wrong Non- Absolutism. In Jainism there are two types of Non-Absolutism, viz.; Right (Samyak) and Wrong (Mithya). The wrong one is groundless, absolute and exclusive in approach and nature e.g. someone saying that fire is cold and solid because coldness and solidity of fire are totally wrong conceptions. Such views cannot be accepted as right in any sense in Non-Absolutism. Here the error appears due to the lack of objectivity of the views or wrong interpretations of the truth i.e. fire. Even in the canonical age we do not see that whatever was said about any reality was accepted as true. Whenever the Lord Mahavir used to deal with some problem. He, inspite of being presented many more objectives regarding one problem, never accepted each of them as true. The Lord boldly rejected those objectives, which were not connected with the reality. According to Dr. Mahavir raj Gelara, in his answers rejection plays greater role than acceptance.

Second, error appears in Non-Absolutism when a partial view is treated as the absolute view. To illustrate, reality, according to Jains, is threefold i.e. origination, cessation and persistence. As such if any of these views is taken independently, isolated from the others, can never yield an adequate idea of reality. Hence there must be co-relatively among the different views related to one reality. This can be clearer in the subsequent exposition.

As we know, there are two fundamental views to perceive the truth: the substantial and the modal.[2] The substantial view deals with persistence and modal view deals with birth and decay of an object. But if any of the two views becomes exclusive in its approach the truth cannot be adequately grasped and expressed; for, the three characteristics: birth, decay and persistence must cling together to present the real in its entirely. The two, therefore, if divorced from each other, become wrong in their conclusion.[3] This is also true that there is no third view which can cover both the aspects of reality jointly. Moreover, it cannot be said that can not be adequately expressed by these two Nayas; for, if we combine these two standpoints we can certainly arrive at the truth through the method of Non-Absolutism.[4] Here error arises in explaining the truth only because of the adoption of the exclusive or absolutist viewpoint. In this context Acharya Siddhasena Divakar rightly concludes:

  • All the views (Nayas), therefore, in their exclusively individual standpoints are absolutely faulty. If, however, they consider themselves as supplementary of each other, they are right in their viewpoints. [5]

Third, error becomes inevitable when two views having different spheres are applied to one and the same thing. Discussing the attitude of one view towards the rival AcharyaSiddhasena Divakar states:

  • Modal view does not view the positive assertion of substantial view as its legitimate subject. On the other hand, substantial view looks down upon the statement of the former in the same fashion. [6]

This is because the very thing that is viewed by the substantial view as a universal is considered by the modal view as a particular and vice-versa which is really not the proper way of examining the subject matter of each other. Instead of imposing ones own view upon the other if both the standpoints consider the subject matter of each other from their particular point of view the chances of error would automatically disappear. This is because every is justified in defending itself in it domain. As long as it is conscious of its own limitations it is right. If it transgresses its limits and tries to refute the rival view or perceive it otherwise, it is faulty.

In other words, error would emerge if the view of the lower sphere is applied to the higher sphere. It is exactly so because the horizon of the higher view is wider and beyond the approach of the lower view. As it is happening in modern science, the equations evolved and the theories discovered by Newton are no longer applicable to the macro-world of Einstein. The Newtonian principles are applicable only to the solar system and not beyond it. The same is true of all views that deal with reality. In brief there are only two basis views: the substantial and the modal but in fact there may be as many as there are angles and expressions of truth. It has rightly been said:­­­­­­­­­

  • Nayas are as many in number as there are methods of putting the sentences. Para-Samaya (heresies) also are so many as Nayas. [7]

All the views can be subsumed under seven standpoints such as:

  1. Naigama (The teleological or the Universal-Particular standpoint).
  2. Sangraha (The class view).
  3. Vyavahara (The standpoint of the particular).
  4. Rijusutra (The standpoint of momentariness).
  5. Sabda (The standpoint of synonyms).
  6. Samabhiruda (The etymological standpoint).
  7. Evambhuta (The ‘such-like' standpoint).

In these seven-fold perspective the preceding standpoint encompases wider sphere than the succeeding one. Hence, the subsequent view becomes subject to error in the light of the preceding one and vice-versa. In this context Acharya Siddhasena rightly remarks: “All the views (Nayas) are right in their own respective spheres- but if they encroach upon the province of other views and try to refute them are wrong.”

Acharya Mahapragya also endorses this position in the following manner. “The doctrine of Naya is the process of knowing the reality part by part. From substantial view, the substance is a real object and the mode is an unreal object. From modal viewpoint, it is the vice-versa.” The upshot is that all the views are not of equal status and therefore may be subject to error if they cross their limits.


  1. PKM; P. 676 quoted in ‘Facets of jain philosophy Religion and Culture'; P.107
  2. SANMATI TARKA by Acharya Siddhasena Divakar; 1\3
  3. Ibid; 1\13
  4. Ibid; 1\14
  5. Ibid; 1\21
  6. Ibid; 1\10
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  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Mahapragya
  3. Acharya Siddhasena
  4. Chaitanya
  5. Einstein
  6. Evambhuta
  7. JVBI
  8. Jain Philosophy
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  10. Ladnun
  11. Mahapragya
  12. Mahavir
  13. Musafir Singh
  14. Naya
  15. Nayas
  16. Newton
  17. Non-absolutism
  18. Objectivity
  19. Pragya
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  21. Samani Chaitanya Pragya
  22. Science
  23. Siddhasena
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