Jaina Theories of Inference in the Light of Modern Logics

Published: 01.03.2017

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London

In the direct continuation of the work undertaken in my doctoral dissertation,[1] the first aim of this post-doctoral project is to produce an improved Sanskrit text, as well as an English translation of a selected text about Jaina theory of knowledge and argumentation: the section on inference in the third chapter of the Prameyakamalamārtaṇḍa, The Sun that Grows the Lotuses of the Knowable (henceforth PKM), written in the eleventh century by the Digambara Jaina master Prabhācandra (980-1065).[2]  Following this, I aim to produce a philosophical commentary on this section, as well as an overview on the Jaina conception of inference during that period. In a third step, my project will consist in developing a formal representation of Prabhācandra's account for inference.

Since PKM is an important text in Jainism which has never been reliably edited, producing an improved Sanskrit text of a selected part of it is an important desideratum. This step is but the first of a broader project, because we know, especially from the New Catalogus Catalogorum, that the number of extant manuscripts of the PKM is particularly high; there are at least 30 manuscripts. A critical edition of the work is therefore a large task. In the scope of a three year Post-doctoral Fellowship from Ghent University, the first steps towards such an edition will be taken. I will investigate especially two manuscripts held by the Bhandarkar Institute in Poona: manuscript 836, year 1875-6, manuscript from 1432-3 CE; as well as the manuscript 638, year 18756, manuscript from 1738-9 CE. From this more reliable edition, I will provide the first English translation of the section on inference (anumāṇa), PKM, pp. 348-390. This translation will appear together with the translation of another chapter of the same work I have presented in my doctoral dissertation: the chapter on contextual reasoning, including the theory of viewpoints (nayavāda), the theory of modes of assertion (saptabhaṅgī), and the theory of cryptic inferences (patravāda), PKM, pp. 676-693.

Second, this project will give an overview and a philosophical account for Jaina conceptions of inference during that period. I will focus on three main aspects:

  1. Giving a view on Jaina conceptions of inference in a way that is compatible with modern philosophy of logic. The reason for this is straightforward: due to the very nature of these treatises on knowledge and argumentation, a good contemporary translation of them has to make sense for today's reader in philosophy of logic.
  2. Investigating what Prabhācandra borrowed from other schools of thought, and especially from Buddhism. This is of particular importance in the PKM, since in pp. 504-511, a whole work of the Buddhist Dharmakīrti, namely his Sambandhaparīkṣa, Investigation on Relations, is reproduced along with Prabhācandra's commentary.
  3. Understanding the relationship, if any, between the Jaina theory of contextual reasoning and the Jaina theory of inference. Concretely, I will try to answer the following question: "Does it make sense to speak about contextsensitivity in the case of an inference? And is it what Prabhācandra is advocating in his theory of viewpoints?" In fact, an inferential process deals with validity and not with satisfiability, because it validates the ascription of properties in relation to the structure of a given argument. One possible solution to this problem is to understand the theory of viewpoints as describing the way one is allowed to attack a given ascription of properties in relation to the underlying ontology of the premises of the argument. In this interpretation, the correctness of an inference is dependent upon argumentative practices too, as well as upon the type of participants in the debate.

Finally, I would like to perform a further step, since my project includes the development of a formal representation of Prabhācandra's account for inference. Modern techniques of logic have been traditionally applied to Indian historical texts about reasoning and logic in the works of  Indologists such as Schayer (1933).[3] But in recent years, Western philosophers and logicians too have become interested in this process for two main reasons: (i) they have an interest in understanding logic in terms of interaction between agents and, in this dynamic, in seeking the historical roots of logic in the practice of rational debates; (ii) one of the major issues of current discussions in logic is to fill the gap between the empirical approach in science and the formal nature of logical analysis. This is because only then would it be possible to give an account of the process of acquisition of new pieces of knowledge. In this context, historical texts are important because they shed light on the relationship between logic and proof in sciences. For example, viewpoints in Jainism can be interpreted as perspectives linked to epistemic agents. In this interpretation, the Jaina conception of inference sheds light on the relationship between the formal structure of arguments and the knowledge of a given epistemic agent. On account of these two reasons, modern applied logics, such as Dynamic Epistemic Logic or Dialogical Logic, have been used to express in a formal way chosen thesis of classical Indian logic.[4]

For our work, there are two desired outcomes to gain from such a formal representation. First of all, the process itself of developing a formal representation contributes to our understanding of the represented thesis, or set of thesis. Secondly, formal systems can be used in order to test some hypothesis on a given theory, for example, to determine if its set of principles is consistent. Concerning more precisely Prabhācandra's account of inference, developing a formal system derived from the exact inferences Prabhācandra would have accepted as valid ones will enable us to test whether logical rules of inference patterns and of negation in Jainism are not sufficient, and to determine to what extent one needs argumentative rules too, if one does. Such argumentative rules can be general rules in relation to the limited character of human reasoning, for example rules stressing the limited number of steps within which an argument has to be conducted; or they can be rules more specifically in relation to a given type of participant, such as rules stressing that if one seeks victory and not truth, then there should be an arbitrator and a judge to supervise the debate.

In sum,  my research project on Jaina theories of inference in the eleventh century is interdisciplinary. It consists of a dialogue between philology, establishing a Jaina text in Sanskrit and stressing what is original in a doctrine that has been built within a given historical, cultural and linguistic context; philosophy, considering theoretical propositions of classical India by means of a comparison with our understanding of the problems faced in the theory of argumentation and gnoseology as developed in Western tradition; and formal logic, providing modelling tools that might shed light on some problematic aspects of the historical theories under consideration.

Marie-Hélène Gorisse received a PhD from the University of Lille in 2011 for her dissertation on Jaina theory of contextual reasoning in the work of Prabhācandra. She is now a post-doctoral researcher at Ghent University in the Research Group 'Buddhist and Jaina Traditions in South and East Asia'. Her focus of research is the theory of knowledge and argumentation in late Jainism.


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CoJS Newsletter • March 2013 • Issue 8

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