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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Part 5

Published: 17.02.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

From these observations we may elicit two points of criticism: The first one is that syādvāda is a form of "eclecticism" because it is "a mere putting together of the several partial truths"[1] without a proper synthesis". This is expressed even more trenchantly by a follower of Hiriyanna who, after characterising "The Jaina Philosophy of Relativity" as "refreshingly modern"[2] and as "a happy blend of naturalistic and spiritualistic, realistic and idealistic tendencies", observes: " 'Just the philosophy' is perhaps what many contemporary philosophers, would say. But on close scrutiny, it fails to satisfy some of the deepest metaphysical and religious aspirations of mankind. Its fascination is the fascination of an eclecticism—a philosophy of compromise."[3] This is said to be. "the central defect" arising from the relativism of syādvāda.

The second criticism of syādvāda, made by Hiriyanna, is that it (syādvāda) is "variety of scepticism". "Prejudice against absolutism", the reason imputed by Hiriyanna for such "scepticism", is even more conclusively advanced by Radhakrishnan, who, after mentioning "the strong points of the theory of knowledge of the Jainas and defending it against the attacks of the Vedantins" remarks: "Yet in our opinion the Jaina logic leads to a monistic idealism (by which he means 'the hypothesis of the absolute') and so far as the Jainas shrink from it they are untrue to their own logic."[4]

After casually complementing syādvāda as the "most searching dialectic"[5] Belvalkar gives such a twist to his statement of syādvāda that it is made to sound like scepticism or rather, the even more non-committal attitude of "agnosticism". He writes: "As is well-known, this theory denies the possibility of any predication: S. may be, or may not be, or may both be and not be, P. With such a purely negative or agnostic attitude one cannot have any dogma; and Śankarācārya lays his finger accurately on the weakest point in the system when he says—'As thus the means of knowledge, the knowing subject, and the act of knowledge, are all alike, indefinite, how can the Tirthaṅkara (Jaina) teach with any claim to authority, and how can his followers act on a doctrine the matter of which is altogether indeterminate?"[6]

Besides this charge of agnosticism Belvalkar manages to raise a fresh issue which, however, he links up with agnosticism. He remarks that "the dialectic (of syādvāda) could not have sprung up from the same teacher or one and the same philosophical background".[7] This means that, according to him, syādvāda is incompatible with, or at any rate, does not naturally emerge from, the Jaina philosophy of identity-in-difference. Connecting this issue with his favourite charge of agnosticism he writes in his notes on Brahmasūtra-bhāṣya, "Śankarācārya, no less than the Sūtrakara... succeeds in proving that, as a mere 'anaikāntika' (sic) theory of predication the Syādvāda must return upon itself and end in doubting the doubter himself'.[8] Rao strengthens him by placing in his hands a further weapon in the form of charging syādvāda with "self-contradiction". To quote Rao's own words: "We see the tendency to please everybody and to compromise and in trying to compromise it involves itself in self-contradiction; the saviour of all systems is committing suicide".[9] From this joint attack of Belvalkar and Rao emerges the third charge that syādvāda is contradictory to the Jaina philosophical position in general as well as that it is self-contradictory.

A systematically elaborate answer to each of these three charges, viz., eclecticism, agnosticism and contradiction including self-contradiction, lies, as already mentioned, outside the scope of this work. Moreover, if a glance is cast over the various chapters of this work, especially these last three parts, it will be see that these criticisms have been met in spirit, if not in letter, according to the lights vouchsafed to the Jaina thinkers. We may, therefore, confine ourselves to a few remarks against each charge drawing upon, wherever possible, the remarks by the critics themselves who, on certain points, answer one another.

We may begin with the first criticism: Is syādvāda an eclecticism? Eclecticism is a "term applied to a system of philosophy or theology that strives to incorporate the truth of all systems, or the method by which it is made". "Since an eclectic system is a loose piece of mosaic work, rather than an organised body of original thought", it is said, "the term in philosophy has come to be one of reproach".[10]

We may examine syādvāda in the light of the definition of eclecticism as given here. So far as the first statement in the definition of eclecticism is concerned, there is nothing objectionable to syādvāda. For syādvāda is a "system of philosophy" which, 'strives to incorporate the truth of all systems"[11] as well as "method by which it (that is, 'incorporating the truth of all systems') is made." The critics also do not grudge this claim on the part of Jainism but they are doubtful whether Jainism can provide an adequate answer to the charge that it is "a loose piece of mosaic work rather than an organised body of original thought". Further, even as regards this charge they are keen not so much on the point of syādvāda being a product of "an original thought" as on that of its being "a loose piece" in which the parts do not hang together in an organised or systematic closeness. This emphasis on the question of closeness should be the leading factor in our refutation of the present charge.

That the seven modes of syādvāda express "partial truths" which do not firmly hang together, as a logical necessity, is only the prima facie view of syādvāda. That their truths are severally partial is true. But from this it does not necessarily follow that they are an odd collection of arbitrary 'half-truths' lacking in proper synthesis, or system. The fact that the truths presented by them are alternative truths which individually touch every aspect, and, together, all the aspects, of a situation in a systematic way has been borne in upon us, in some measure, in the course of the present chapter. A certain actuality, like the jar, an example with which the modes have been illustrated, is looked at from the possible seven angles and the deliverance of these modal judgments does represent a synthesis which is neither 'loose' nor unsystematic. Unfortunately no non-absolutistic system can provide the sort of idealistic 'synthesis' which "can satisfy the deepest metaphysical and religious aspirations of mankind". Under the absolutistic prescription a 'proper synthesis' can proceed from the sole real, viz., the absolute. But one fails to understand where the need for a 'synthesis' arises in the case of a secondless absolute. A 'synthesis' of any description is possible when there are more alternatives, loose or firm, than one. If it is so, it is impossible to understand the protests of the absolutists against any lack of synthesis when no synthesis at all is possible with a unitary absolute. By 'synthesis', therefore, the absolutist critics mean an obliteration of alternative truths in favour of the one asserted by the fourth mode in syādvāda. It is not a mere 'prejudice against absolutism'[12] but a deep difference in the approach of philosophical analysis that prevents syādvādin from throwing in his lot with a despotic absolute which brooks no rivalry from coexistent truths and, therefore, should raise no issue of synthesis. It is the love of a superficial reconciliation that lies at the back of the claim that syādvāda is a "halfway house to absolutism". Thus the synthesis achieved by syādvāda is one of discriminative unity rather than of a secondless unit which cannot be approached either by synthesis or by analysis. The conception of a unitary absolute has been, no doubt, a constant lure for mysticism and poetry. But the sphere of reality is often less lofty and very much less ethereal. Absolutism escapes from the harrowing problems of existence under the master excuse of the absolute. But it is through a tortuous process of analysis and synthesis that the secrets of elusive reality grudgingly yield themselves. This is provided for by nayavāda and syādvāda respectively.

If by lack of 'proper synthesis' syādvādin does not install an absolute at the centre as well as on the periphery of his philosophy and logic syādvāda pleads guilty to the charge and will be satisfied to remain an unrepentant sinner. The threat of its modes not hanging together does not baffle him since he is not unwilling to retain to some extent distinctiveness or even exclusiveness in the modal conclusions. He feels perhaps that the distinctions of the modal truths look to an absolutist eye grossly exaggerated. But they are bound together also by the unity of the dialectical principle under which the aspects of a factual situation are investigated and synthesised. Syādvāda may be an eclectic synthesis from the point of view of absolutism which demands a 'block' universe or a 'seamless coat' but is not unfaithful to the genius of its own philosophical position which demands a discriminative synthesis which it undoubtedly is. The next charge against syādvāda, viz., that it is "a variety of scepticism" or "agnosticism", may now be examined. A sceptical or agnostic philosophy or method is based on "the opinion that real knowledge of any kind is unattainable"[13]. More particularly agnosticism is an attitude of "knownothingness". Therefore a sceptic is defined as "One who, like Pyrrho and his followers in Greek antiquity, doubts the possibility of knowledge of any kind, who holds that there are no adequate grounds for certainty as to the truth of any proposition whatever".[14]


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Published by:
Jain Vishwa Bharati Institute
Ladnun - 341 306 (Rajasthan) General Editor:
Sreechand Rampuria
Edited by:
Rai Ashwini Kumar
T.M. Dak
Anil Dutta Mishra

First Edition:1996
© by the Authors

Printed by:
Pawan Printers
J-9, Naveen Shahdara, Delhi-110032

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