Author: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa)
The Carvaka tradition offers an example of a pleasure-oriented this-worldly philosophy of life, based on a strictly empiricist epistemology and materialist metaphysics. Claiming that sense-perception constitutes the only reliable means of knowing, Carvaka thinkers reject the possibility of drawing inferences about what cannot be perceived, and some reject the validity of inferential reasoning altogether. They therefore argue that there is no afterlife, and that the mind is a product of matter. Consequently, they also deny the utility of priests and rituals, and question the caste system. They are represented as amoral hedonists by their opponents, but this portrait may not be entirely accurate.
There are no virtually no first-hand Carvaka writings, and Carvaka philosophy is largely known through the texts of other schools. As these texts are mainly written by opponents, they may not be painting the most favorable possible portrait of this tradition. A good selection of such texts is provided in the chapter on Carvaka philosophy in A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, ed. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan & Charles A. Moore (Princeton University Press, 1967): pp. 227-249.
Major sources are:
Krisna Misra, Prabodhacandrodaya (Rise of the Moon of Intellect), c. 1000 CE, Act II
Madhavacharya, Sarva-darsana-sangraha (Compendium of all Knowledge), 14th century, Chapter 1: The Charvaka System
Secondary Sources – Online:
Secondary Sources – Books and Articles:
Ramakrishna Bhattacarya, “Materialism in India: A Synoptic View” (2011)
An overview of the history and major tenets of the Carvaka school, by a leading expert. Further explications of Carvaka and other materialist texts by the same author are given online at:
There is also a monograph on the subject by Ramakrishna Bhattacarya, Studies on the Carvaka/Lokayata (London: Anthem Press, 2011).
John M. Koller, “Skepticism in Early Indian Thought,” Philosophy East and West, 27/2 (1977), 155-164.
Includes discussion of Carvaka epistemology.
Pradeep P. Gokhale, Lokayata/Carvaka: A Philosophical Inquiry (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Philosophical investigation of the variety of Carvaka thought, based on a close and erudite engagement with the scattered textual sources. Covers Carvaka epistemology, metaphysics and values.
Ancient Greek positions on happiness & the good life: Epictetus, Epicurus, Aristotle
Ancient Greek materialism: Democritus, Lucretius