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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Section III

Published: 07.05.2012

In order, for us, to determine the kinds of possibilities that are involved in the doctrine of Syādvāda we shall have to understand the expressions, Dharma, guṇa and paryāya. The nature of a Dravya can be understood only in the light of these expressions. To me it appears that the Jaina philosophers use the term Dharma for any potential feature of a thing. We need to assume that totality of such dharmas are given to us as dispositions. Guṇa, on the other hand, means for them the actual feature of a thing. But such a feature shall be either of the nature of a differentia or proprium, other features of a thing are given along with it. Paryāyas, again, are those features of a thing which are actualized through a thing undergoing a change. Such features are actualized either simultaneously or successively in course of time. These features could be of the nature of accidents - inseparable or separable.[1]

In Jaina philosophical texts, it appears that, the terms Padārtha, Dravya, Tattva, Vastu and Sat are used almost interchangeably. This leads to a number of problems. But we need not bother about them here. It is for this reason, perhaps, that what is said about a dravya becomes inter alia applicable to a vastu or sat.[2] We shall understand these terms broadly in the sense of any physical thing.

One striking point about a thing that is brought out in one definition of it is that it has three kinds of characteristics: (a) emergence (Utpāda) (b) decay or degeneration or change (vyaya) and (c) some kind of permanence (dhrauvya)[3] that becomes the basis of re-identification and recognition of it. Such a definition of a thing reveals a general, although important, feature of a thing. Such a thing further has two kinds of features (on the plain of actuality): (a) guṇas or those features that are given to us experientially along with the thing itself and are, as stated above, of the nature either of differentia or proprium, and (b) those features which the thing has only contingently. They, as argued earlier, could be of the nature of accidents. We describe a thing either in terms of guṇas or paryāyas or both.[4] Since any feature that is epistemically given to us is given in course of time and since epistemically any descriptive statement about a thing presuppose maximally the totality of such features that are either collectively or alternatively given to us in course of time, either along with the emergence of a thing or in course of its life-history, a thing is also defined as the one that has many (literally innumerable) such factures.[5] The reason being that a thing can change and through a change can come to have newer and newer features and never shall we be in a position to say that a thing has so many features and not more. A statement about a thing can be made only with reference to the given occasion. If we make a statement about a thing independently of the stipulation of occasion it would hardly be informative in the genuine sense of the term.

A thing does not have those and only those features that are given to us in experience. Better it is to say that a thing either has at least these features which it is now having or those which it would have in the course of time. Thus a thing potentially has not only those features that are actualized but also those which were or will be actualised. That is, a thing potentially has all the features, whether they are actualized or not. This is how a thing is also defined as that which is beset with totality of all features potentially.[6]

If we bring to bear these three descriptions of the nature of a thing upon one another then it turns out that the possibilities that we can envisage with regard to a thing fall readily into two groups: (a) epistemic possibilities - the ones which figure in the descriptive statement about a thing, and (b) possibilities understood as capabilities, abilities or dispositions. Here capacities or dispositions or potentialities are understood perhaps as a sub-visible structure of a thing. Unless a thing has potentialities they will never be actualised. It is in this sense that dispositional possibilities are prior to epistemic possibilities. But, contrariwise, all our statements about dispositions of a thing are anchored in epistemic possibilities and which are, therefore, prior to possibilities as potentialities. 3ut the features a thing comes to have either as differentia or otherwise are those and only those, it is maintained by Jaina philosophers and logicians, which it must have as dispositions. It is in this sense that epistemic possibilities presuppose possibilities as potentialities.

One important question arises here. Granting that there are possibilities, what kind of possibilities are they? In this connection four alternatives stand out prominently: (a) possible events, both specific and otherwise, (b) possible courses of events, (c) possible kinds of individuals and (d) possible individuals or particulars. Out of these, in the context of Syādvāda, the first two are ruled out simply because they are basically technical possibilities. Although they are explainable in terms of nomological possibilities, to the extent to which they are at heart etiological or causal possibilities and to the extent to which Jainas are talking about physical objects independently of causal chain in the context of Syādvāda, these possibilities are out of question. The basic issue the Syādvāda is concerned with is to describe a thing vis-a-vis the features it has and these are given along with other features the thing comes to have in course of time, either simultaneously or in succession. This issue is different from the issue of the explanation of the either emergence of a thing or the features. It is in this context that etiological possibilities will figure. More importantly, however, we should understand that every genuine characterization of a thing consists in giving a determinate value of determinables; and for this determinables need not at all be conceived as causally enchained possibilities. But what about the last two? In some text it is argued that the expression 'syāt' is envisaged to bring forward the possibilities in the sense of such objects as a ghaṭa.[7] But an object may be considered as a kind of individual or as an individual or a particular. Now, out of these the former is ruled out at least so far as the contention of some texts is concerned. The reason for this is that same text adds that such an entity, which is potentially beset with many dharmas, must be the one that is existent.[8] But this view does not seem to be uniformly borne out by all scholars or Jaina philosophers would not have an objection, it seems, to the acceptance of the kind of individuals. In this case, however, the possibilities that would figure in our consideration would not be existential possibilities but nomological possibilities although they are explicable in terms of conceptual possibilities. But the issue being of the description of a thing absolute conceptual possibilities are out of questions, as such statements would be descriptively impotent and irrelevant. The conceptual possibilities would figure on the level of explanation and justification of descriptive statements. But that is quite different a story.

Even then a question may be posed that can we not say that although the Jaina thinkers do not expressly deal with formal possibility in the context of the descriptively significant statements, might they not be dealing with relative possibility? This alternative too is ruled out. For the question of relative possibility arises only where we talking about a thing either with reference to another thing or a prior state of itself. The descriptive statements in terms of possibility that Jainas envisage in the context of Syādvāda are too relative statements and are, by the very nature of the case, supposed to be about a particular thing alone independently of the reference to another thing or its prior state. Hence the case of relative possibility, too, is ruled out.

Out of the two kinds of possibilities Aristotle talks of the Jain philosophers are not talking about what Hintikka calls 'possibility proper' or logical possibility. They are rather considering possibility of the kind of contingency. Such contingency they further understand in both of its senses: either the one that is short of necessity or the one that is descriptive of an indeterminate.

The kind of statements that bring out possibility in the sense of contingency that Jaina philosophers envisage are also those in which contingency is understood in the sense of two features of a thing going together or their compatibility, a notion weaker than that of consistency of two dharmas or guṇas or paryāyas. Further, it is important to remember that possibilities that are under consideration in the frame of Syādvāda are those that come to the foreground with respect to emergence, or degeneration or change of a thing. This is why, perhaps, eternal sentences are considered to be out of question and occasion sentence are emphasized upon.

The entire program that Jaina logic envisages to put forward in terms of its doctrine of Syādvāda needs to be considered in a still wider perspective. In contrast to the view of the modern logicians, the Jaina logicians seem to hold that although a given sentence may express the same proposition on different occasions, yet in spite of the fact it is the same proposition, its truth-value changes with time. The propositions that are considered relevant in the context of Syādvāda are descriptive propositions. As sameness of a thing does not preclude it from undergoing change and taking on different features similarly although it is the same proposition that is expressed on different occasions, this in itself should not prohibit it from taking different truth values. That things change, in spite of retaining their identity, is a fact. Thus things assume different features in course of time. Correspondingly, on the plane of propositions, Jaina logic seems to hold, that although propositions are the only bearers of truth-values yet they are bearers of not the same but perhaps of changing truth-values. It accepts change both of truth-value of a proposition and features of thing. On the plane of things it seem to argue that things or dravyas are the only entities that can take contrary guṇas or paryāyas on different occasions and yet retain their identity at least which can form basis of re-identification and recognition of them. That is why temporally indefinite sentences are taken to be paradigms of informative sentences. In saying this they indeed are in a great company of such masters as Aristotle. The reason for this seems to be that temporally indefinite sentences about a thing arc the proper vehicles of communication. This contention obviously presupposes that knowledge properly so called must come ultimately in terms of direct acquaintance.

This position, moreover, seems to propound that correspondence between proposition and facts is the basis of assigning truth values to propositions. Things change and take on new features. Such changed things cannot be matched with older propositions and yet get truth value truth. In order to be able to cope with the situation of things changing their features and our being able to describe them by means of propositions which not only bring out new features of a thing but also take truth-value truth we shall have to take either one of the following two courses: (a) frame altogether new propositions or (b) allow older propositions to change their truth-values. Without ruling out the first alternative completely the Jaina logicians seem to maintain that to be able to cope with such a situation propositions should also be taken to be changing their truth-values. Either changed proposition or propositions with changed truth-value correspond with changed things and this is how they take truth-value truth. Thus correspondence is the crux of the problem and changing thing is the reinforcing situation. Both these taken together seem to thrust on them acceptance of the change in truth-value of a proposition. This is what Jaina logicians seem to advocate. It is perhaps this which they intend to convey when they say that truth-value of no descriptive proposition is fixed in so far as things change.

The contention that truth value of a proposition changes, however, raises two important issues: (a) what is the basis of drawing a line of demarcation between sentences and propositions? and (b) If it is maintained, and it is so maintained by Jaina logicians, that a thing has number of potentialities, then how to account for change in the truth-value of a proposition? For whereas insistence on number of potentialities would demand an assumption of number of propositions descriptive of them, a change in the truth-value would demand that number of propositions available at our disposal is a limited one. Perhaps a distinction is sought to be made between propositions descriptive of potentialities and those descriptive of actualities, the latter being treated as genuinely descriptive of the nature of a thing. Obviously the number of the statements of the latter kind is limited. If this phenomenon is connected with changing things then change in truth-value seems a possible alternative. But still, why not frame a new proposition? In spite of the fact that Jaina logicians admit temporality within the fold of their logic what would be their reaction to this problem is very difficult to say. But we need not bother further about this issue here.

One thing, nevertheless, is clear. The doctrine of the change of truth-value neither amounts to the doctrine of relativity, nor skepticism nor again to the notion of historical relativity. For the position of an historical relativist is different from that of the one who holds possibility of change in truth-value of a proposition. What historical relativist is out to maintain is that we do not have any absolute truths simply because we do not have any absolute criterion of truth. The one, on the contrary, who argues in terms of changing truth is not at all bothered about change in the criterion of truth. That is, he is not saying the truth value changes because our criterion of truth changes. What he focusses his attention on is change in object about which we are making a statement. Since things change, he seems to argue, the truths we have discovered will have to undergo change too for we shall have to rediscover the truths about the changed thing although the criterion of truth, viz. correspondence which Jaina philosophers accept, is retained. For him, in this way, discovery of truths about changing things is a never-ending and yet not a hopeless and fruitless program.

The entire contention of Jaina logicians seems to be based on the presupposition that the dispositions that a thing has happened to be actualized in course of time. Every genuine possibility is actualized in time. It is not necessarily the case that each possibility is realized but it can be assumed to be realized without contradiction. They hold that everything has a 'sub-visible structure of dispositions' that are, as Quine maintains, 'it's build-in enduring structural traits'; yet the typical sentences used to express human knowledge in the form of descriptive sentences are not 'eternal or standing sentences' but rather what are called 'occasion sentences'. Although the general philosophical opinion is that the former kinds of sentences are superior, Jaina logicians seem to maintain that the sentences of the latter kind are the ones to which we assent or from which we dissent. Such assent or dissent is further determined by the feature or features of the occasion on which they are uttered. Such sentences are temporally indefinite to make explicit the full sense of which we have to employ such expressions as 'now' etc. even if, therefore, it is assumed that there is a correspondence between grammatical and logical form of a sentence, yet it requires stipulation of occasion. Independently of such stipulation of occasion our assent to or dissent from is impotent, misleading and even logically indefensible.


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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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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Aristotle
  2. Dharma
  3. Dhrauvya
  4. Dravya
  5. Dravyas
  6. Guṇa
  7. Guṇas
  8. JAINA
  9. Jaina
  10. Kundakunda
  11. Paryāya
  12. Syādvāda
  13. Tattva
  14. Tattvārthasūtra
  15. Umāsvāti
  16. Utpāda
  17. Vimaladāsa
  18. Vyaya
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