Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: The Conception Of Syādvāda

Published: 21.05.2012

It is necessary to know the philosophical question to which Syādvāda provides an answer. Nowhere in the Jaina philosophy there is an explicit mention of this question except the statement to the effect that ordinary statements assert or deny absolutely whereas the fact is that reality is multifaceted. In other words, the Syādvāda is linked with the ontological theory called anekāntavāda and it stands or falls along with that ontology. If Syādvāda is a theory in logic, as many people have accepted, then we are justified in demanding autonomy for it; it should be able to stand on its own force, without invoking the support of a theory about reality. If this cannot be done then we are obliged to call Syādvāda an extension of the anekānta ontology. An ontological logic is an ontology applied to the way of thinking committed to that ontology; it would not be an analysis and criticism of thought in general. This kind of logic is obviously circular in the sense that here we take into account that thought which is basically the same as we would have liked it to be; thus here we have a pertinent question: Is Syādvāda a system of logic or it is an extension of an ontology to the realm of logic? The second alternative seems to be the case, if the Jaina texts are of any value. But then what about those modern writers who see in Syādvāda a system of multi-valued logic? It seems that either these writers in their enthusiasm forget the fact that for the Jainas Syādvāda is nothing but a version of the anekānta-ontology or in their thinking logic, as a system of theories, need not be autonomous.

Ontological neutrality of a logical system is a necessary prerequisite for its universal acceptability. It is a different matter that a particular system of logic owes its origin to a particular ontology; what is essential for it, however, is that it ought to be applicable to almost all the situations where consistent thinking operates. Efforts are constantly made to weed out such extra logical factors that might have stealthily crept into the formulations of a system of logic, with a view to obtain as perfect a system as could be possible. This is how logic grows as a science. Syādvāda has not grown that way; no effort has ever been made to so view it and to apply it to situations outside the scope of anekānta.

Those who have upheld Syādvāda have attempted an evaluation and refutation of those philosophical positions which do not subscribe to the theory that reality has infinite number of facets (ananta-dharmaka). The main argument of Jainas against non-Jaina philosophies is that the latter being too rigid cannot admit of the possibility of opposite or alternative philosophical positions. Thus, for example, for the Nyāya even the possibility of the Buddhist position is not conceivable, whereas the Jainas would like to entertain such possibility. Moreover, apart from this inter-philosophical problem of the possibility of the alternative standpoints, there are intra-philosophical problems. For example those who stick to the position that only one formulation could be correct, any alternative formulation would be out of order, would find it difficult to make two statements about one and the same thing, viz. they cannot assert both the following statements about one and the same object i.e., 'This is a ring' and 'This is a piece of gold'. They seem to think that the assertion of the former would exclude the possibility of all other assertions; thus if 'p' stands for the former the latter would, being other than 'p', be 'not p'. Thus if both the statements are true of particular object then we ought to make a provision for the assertion of both 'p' and 'not-p' or at least be prepared to grant the possibility of an alternative statement being true. The Jainas have also argued from the fact of change and continuity. If A changes into B, B though a new entity is also a continuation of A, in some sense. Thus B is B and also, in some way, A, i.e. not-B. If continuity between A and B is not accepted then they would fall apart and there would be no sense in saying "A has changed into B'. The Jainas conclude that since there is more than one way of describing one and the same thing (vastu) and each such description is true in its own right, we have to accommodate all these views in a harmonious way, syādvāda provides an answer to the question: how can different statements about one and the same thing and theories about reality be accorded the status of truth?

An examination of this criticism is warranted, we have to see whether the Jaina criticism is valid and whether the question to which syādvāda seeks to provide an answer is a genuine question. Later on we may further enquire whether syādvāda does or can provide the desired answer.

The basic assumption of the Jainas in criticizing other philosophies is that the acceptance of one philosophy or assertion of one statement necessarily excludes all other philosophers or statements. In other words they seem to think that the assertion of 'p' would amount to the assertion of 'not not-p' i.e. rejection of 'not-p'. Incidentally this is what the Buddhist theory of apoha does. The Jainas forget, yet the Buddhists subscribe to the fact that the truth of a statement and the assertion of its truth are to be distinguished. If at a particular moment I assert the truth of a statement 'This is a ring', I do not imply that the statement 'This is a piece of gold' is false. One assertion can cancel only another assertion; truth is independent of any assertion. Similarly, when a person constructs a theory he does not imply that other theories are false, for theories are neither true nor false; they are either adequate or inadequate to explain all the facts or, they are self-consistent or inconsistent. Each succeeding theory claims to present a better explanation than the preceding one. Thus the assumption of the Jainas that the assertion of one statement invariably makes all other statements false and for ensuring the possibility of truth of other statements Syādvāda is essential is not warranted. The fact is that the assertion of one statement leaves the possibility of truth of other statements open. To ensure this Syādvāda is not needed.

The Jainas have also recognised the possibility of two contradictory statements together being true; they have criticized all those philosophies which subscribe to the law of contradiction. If I see a blue pen, may statement "This pen is blue' is both true and is asserted to be true. This means, as the Jainas have pointed out, that any other statement (e.g. "This pen is not-blue' or "This pen is black" and so on) about the same pen would be false. Obviously any objection to this position entails the rejection of the recognised logic of negation. One such objection is based on the ground that there is a possibility of such statements to which truth or falsity cannot be ascribed at the moment, e.g. statements about the future. Objection to the law of contradiction in this case arises from within the logic itself. In those cases where the law of contradiction is challenged not from within the system of logic itself but from an ontological standpoint, one has to examine the basis of such an ontology. Discarding contradiction would then be not a logical necessity. The objection to contradiction being a valid law of logic raised by the Jainas rests on the view that a thing may become what it is not at the moment, or it is something different from what a person sees it to be, or different persons in different positions and different climes would see it differently, and it may be one thing with reference to its own substance, time and nature but may become something else in the context of other substances etc. Obviously the Jainas link truth of a statement with substance, time, etc; they would reject any view regarding timeless truth. They would not agree with those who hold proposition to be timelessly true. To them a statement is made true or false in accordance with the nature and relative position of the thing it is about. Truth can be made and unmade depending upon how things fare. This position is open to a host of objections. But one that strikes it hard is about the identity of the subject in two statements having different predicates. It is thought that 'This pen is blue' is about the same pen as 'This pen is not blue'. Can we identify a pen, or for that matter any object, in isolation from its characteristics? The Jainas have to answer this question in the affirmative in order that they are able to say that since 'this' in both the statements stands for one and the same thing, both the statements should be taken to be true. In fact the Jaina definition of reality as a thing having innumerable facets, a dictum of the anekānta theory, rests on the identity of subjects among diverse predicates. Ordinarily the two statements mentioned above would be taken to be about two different pens; no contradiction would be involved and no Syādvāda will be needed for that. The need would be manifest once 'This pen' in both the statements is taken to be identical. One could raise the question at to what makes us call this particular object as 'pen' and the Jainas would say that both are pens because 'Thisness' is common to both. Apart from our objection to the notion of thisness being identical we may ask about the scope of thisness. How far can we go using 'This' rather than 'That'? In other words, when do we cease to talk of 'This pen' and begin to say 'That pen'? The Jainas would say that in relation to its substance etc. it is 'This' but in relation to other substance etc. it would be 'That'. But would it then not amount to saying that 'This' and 'That' are interchangeable? If so, then for the Jainas 'This pen is blue' and 'That dog is mad' would be the two statements about one and the same thing. The story of six blind men and the elephant indicates this possibility. In short, if the identity of the subject is taken to be the sole guide for accepting all the different statements having different predicates as true, then we have to find a way of determining the identity of a subject without bringing in the characteristics (dharmas) it possesses. But nothing which could determine this identity would be different from the characteristics a thing possesses, including the relation it has with a substance, time and nature. Thus in order to be able to reject contradiction we need a theory denying all the possibilities of predication (as in the Advaita Vedānta or the Theory of Svalakṣaṇa); if predication is a possibility, as the Jainas themselves hold, no effort would be strong enough to save such a theory from contradiction. Syādvāda in that respect is self-contradictory.

The distinction between naya and pramāṇa drawn by the Jainas is really the distinction between a categorical statement and the statement allowing the possibility of all other statements. A naya is the way people use language ordinarily and a pramāṇa is the way they ought to use it prefacing every statement with 'Syāt' (may be). The statement 'The pen is blue', it is to be necessarily presumed, would not serve this purpose, which the other statement 'Syāt, the pen is blue' is expected to serve. But, then, we are justified in asking as to why this recommendation should be followed: why a Syāt statement is to be preferred over other statements without 'Syāt'? Apparently while drawing a distinction between naya and pramāṇa the Jainas have in mind the fact that a categorical statement excludes all contradictory and contrary statements. But in that case would a Syāt-statement (S-statement, hereafter) exclude or not exclude a non-S-statement? Obviously the answer has to be in the affirmative as long as the distinction between naya and pramāṇa is maintained. But what would be the negation of an S-statement? Let us compare two pairs of these two types of statements with a view to see how negation functions in each case. Thus:

(i) The pen is blue.
The pen is not blue.

(ii) Syāt, the pen is blue.
Syāt, the pen is not blue.

In (i) negation denies truth to the affirmative statement. In other words, here negation negates the truth value of the affirmative statement and in that process also affirms the truth of the negative statement. In (ii) 'Syāt' neither affirms nor denies truth value of a statement, for if the statement 'the pen is blue' or 'the pen is not blue' be true in its own right the function of 'Syāt' would become superfluous. In that case Syāt would be only a kind of mental attitude one ought to hold with regard to any affirmative or negative statement. In this respect a S-statement would be like a belief-statement. But then you cannot recommend a particular attitude towards a statement and this attitude cannot figure in logic as a constant factor. Moreover in a S-statement negation does not and cannot negate 'Syāt'. Obviously 'Syāt, the pen is not blue' cannot be restated as 'It is not-Syāt that the pen is blue', as we do say 'It is not true that the pen is blue'. Here the restatement would be 'Syāt' it is not true that the pen is blue', and for that matter it would also be correct to say "Syāt, it is true that the pen is blue'. Therefore in a S-statement 'Syāt' is not concerned with truth or falsity of the 'statement to which it is attached'. But what about the full S-statement 'Syāt the pen is blue'? We cannot ascribe truth-value to this full statement although a part of it may be true, because in that case the whole statement would be exclusive and that would defeat the very purpose of Syādvāda. So a S-statement has to be without any truth-value; it is neither true nor false. Since a S-statement neither affirms nor denies there would be no contradiction between affirming and denying statements. So 'Syāt, the pen is blue' would not exclude "The pen is blue', nor would it be contradicted by "The pen is not blue'. Similarly 'Syāt, the pen is blue' and 'Syāt, the pen is not blue' can very well go together. In the light of this analysis one can safely conclude that pramāṇa 'a S-statement' is not opposed to naya 'a non-S-statement', the former does not exclude the latter. But it must always be kept in mind that a naya has truth value whereas a pramāṇa does not have it. They are distinct but pramāṇa and naya can coexist.

A S-statement can coexist with a non-S-statement by overcoming the contradiction between affirmation and negation within the non-S statement. Therefore within a S-statement you can have both p-and not-p together. It is in this limited sense that a S-statement includes rather than excludes non-S-statements. We have also seen that negation cannot significantly apply to a S-statement. But there may arise a real conflict between a S-statement and a statement of exclusive assertion or denial, what is called durnaya in Jaina texts. A durnaya-statement is of the form 'X is nothing but a'...Here 'nothing but' would be significantly used only when it is meaningful to say that x is b or c or d, and out of all the possibilities only one is ascribed to it in a given situation. The possibility of other predicates than the one asserted (anyayoga) and exclusion of all of them except the one asserted (vyavaccheda) is the function of 'eva' which characterized all durnayas. In fact the phrase 'nothing but' is convertible into 'not other than". "This pen is blue' can be restated as 'This pen is nothing but blue' or 'the colour of this pen is not other than blue' or 'It is not the case that this is not blue'. Syādvāda would accept "This pen is blue' (a naya) but would oppose any move to restate it in any of the forms given above. For the Jainas transition from affirmation to the negation of the other, i.e., the negation of the thing negating the affirmed, is not warranted. In other words they would object to the definition of affirmation in terms of double negation. Similarly a negative statement like 'This pen is not blue' cannot be restated in terms of three negations. In order to understand Syādvāda it is necessary to find out the reason for this.

When we say 'Syāt, X is a' it is implied that X may be a, b, c,... etc., i.e. it is possible to ascribe unknown number of predicates 'to X equally unknown number of contexts and for the present one of them is being predicated of X. Had it been the case that by definition no other predicate, in no other conceivable context, could be ascribed to X then 'Syāt' would be useless, nay 'Syāt, X is a' would become contradictory. So also 'X is a' would become a tautology. There are two conditions for any S-statement to be significant: (a) the possibility of more than one context in which one and the same statement can be significantly made and (b) the possibility of more than one predicate being significantly used with a subject. Let us consider the first condition first. In one context we may say 'This pen is blue' which, according to the Jaina texts, would mean that with reference to its own substance, time and nature a particular pen is blue; but with reference to other substance, time and nature it may be something else. Context for them is to be identified in terms of substance, time and nature and affirming or denying statements is singling one context out of many possible contexts. One may talk of John in the context of size and shape, in the context of relations (i.e. father of, son of, brother of etc.) in the context of social standing and achievements etc. But even within a single context, say of relation, it is possible to have more than one way of talking about John. He may be a father, son, brother and husband and all these descriptions would be in order within one and the same context and no one description should necessarily exclude the possibility of other descriptions. If John is the father of James it does not mean that he cannot be the son of Rosa. In order to ensure that one affirmation does not tend to exclude other possible descriptions or statements, within the same content or in other contents, a statement is to be prefaced by 'Syāt.' Thus "This pen is blue' leaves the possibility for other statements also being true, but its so called restatement as 'This pen is nothing but blue' denies the possibility of any other statement being true. In this sense there is a contradiction between simple affirmation (in the sense of singling out one of the many possible contexts) and exclusive affirmation (in the sense of singling out one context and denial of all other contexts). 'Syāt' would mean, then, simple affirmation or naya (to which 'Syāt' is added to ensure that it does not exclude other possibilities) in contrast to exclusive affirmation or durnaya. Affirmation is the act of singling out one and not the exclusion of other possibilities, likewise negation would be singling out a context other than that of the thing's own substance, time and nature and not the exclusion of other possibilities. In other words, truth and falsity are not to be defined in terms of exclusion of one another.

In fact Syādvāda would not be concerned with the question of truth at all; we have seen that a S-statement has to be truth-neutral. It is futile to demand a definition of truth or falsity from Syādvāda. Syādvāda represents a formal programme whereby you can distinguish an exclusive statement from non-exclusive statement and it is a recommendation to use all the statements in non-exclusive sense. The scheme of Saptabhaṅgī is therefore to be taken as a device for converting an exclusive statement into a non-exclusive statement. In this operation it takes the advantage of the logic of the word 'Syāt' but it stops at that point. It does not propose to investigate into the logical behaviour of S-statement with regard to their relations and the rules, if any, of derivation and so on. It is evident from reading the Jaina texts that in the treatment of inference they never bring in Syādvāda; they follow the same rules, of course with minor variations, as Nyāya has with regard to inference. In the first place this fact shows that the Syādvāda is not intended to be a system of logic; it takes each individual statement at its face-value. Secondly, theoretically it may also be not possible to construct a system of logic for S-statements. The reason being that by insisting on the possibility and desirability of all kinds of statements being collected together the Jainas have denied themselves any instrument whereby they could evaluate a statement. If all the possible statements have Syāt-value one cannot justifiably prefer one set of statements over another. They cannot, for example, insist that 'X is red; therefore, X is coloured' is a better construction than 'X is red; therefore, X is fragrant.' These both sets of statements would have Syāt-value in Syādvāda. Therefore within Syādvāda itself no system of logic is possible and the Jainas have recognised this fact by treating inference without reference to 'Syāt'.

To sum up, Syādvāda is primarily an ontological theory and its impact would be felt only among rival ontological theories. It seeks to answer a question concerning the nature- of reality and in this process it succeeds only in giving us a tool whereby we can confirm the anekānta-theory.

It would be wrong to see into it a system of multivalued logic. A Syāt-statement is value-neutral and it lacks in any tool that can be used to eliminate a non-Syāt statement. A S-statement is all inclusive and there is no way of constructing a system of logic taking it as a base. Therefore those who take pride in stating that Syādvāda is an Indian version of multi-valued logic are misguided.

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. Advaita
  2. Advaita Vedānta
  3. Anekānta
  4. Anekāntavāda
  5. Apoha
  6. JAINA
  7. Jaina
  8. Naya
  9. Nyāya
  10. Pramāṇa
  11. Pride
  12. Saptabhaṅgī
  13. Science
  14. Syādvāda
  15. Syāt
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