Anekantavada or Multisidedness

Author: Ashwani Peetush (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Anekantavada (Sk. lit.: theory of not-one-sidedness) is a Jaina epistemological view that requires that the truth of any claim must consider the context and standpoint (naya) from which it is made.  The theory has had an enormous impact and influence on the logic, epistemology, and ethics of Buddhist and Upanisadic schools as well as on Mohandas Gandhi’s activism and philosophy of nonviolence. Anekantavada grows out of a commitment to the Jaina principle of ahimsa or non-harm to others (including their intellectual perspectives). It requires one not simply to tolerate and put up with others’ perspectives, but to see them as on par with one’s own views; it also emphasizes that one’s own views may themselves be wrong. This theory is used to understand religious and philosophical differences to this day in India and is popularized in the Jaina metaphor of the elephant and the blind men.

The theory is grounded in a pluralistic metaphysical realism that argues that reality is composed of an infinite number of entities that are modified in innumerable variation. The meaning of any particular claim to truth must therefore take into consideration and be indexed to substance/subject, time, space, and mode/quality. Statements may thus be asserted only conditionally (syadvada or the theory of conditional predication). What may at first appear as contradictory may actually be complementary (e.g., “the pot exists” and “the pot does not exist” are not necessarily contradictory if indexed to different times of assertion, spatial location of the pot, or the modality of the clay of which it is made).


Primary Sources
Secondary Sources

Primary Sources:

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973.  Contains an excellent selection of primary texts listed below.

Divākara, Siddhasena. ‘Sanmati Tarka.’ In A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, 269-71. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973.  5th CE Work in Jaina epistemology and logic.

Malliṣeṇa. ‘Syādvādamañjarī.’ In A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepallli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, 260-8. Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973.  Work in Jaina epistemology and logic, commentary of Jaina philosopher Hemachandra’s work (11-12th CE).

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Saṅghavi, Sukhlālji and Bechardāsji Doshi. Siddhasena Divākara’s Sanmati Tarka with a Critical Introduction and an Original Commentary. Ahmedabad: L. D. Institute of Indology, 2000.

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Secondary Sources:

Anekantavada. Wikipedia article. . General discussion.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna. The Central Philosophy of Jainism (Anekānta-Vāda). Ahmedabad: L.D. Institute of Indology, 1981.  Advanced discussion of Jaina logic and epistemology, and comparative analysis of anekantavada in relation to Buddhist themes in European philosophy.

Ganeri, Jonardon. Philosophy in Classical India. New York: Routledge, 2001.  Chapter 5 contains an excellent introduction to anekantavada and conditional predication.

Gandhi, M. K. Young India. Volume 7. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House: New Order Book Company, 1981.  An interesting short article in which Gandhi discusses the critical importance of anekantavada for his activism, respect for others, and his philosophy of non-violence and satyagraha. See also: Gandhi on non-violence

Peetush, Ashwani. “Human Rights and Political Toleration in India: Multiplicity, Self, and Interconnectedness.” In Peetush, A. and Jay Drydyk (eds.), Human Rights: India and the West. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015.  A discussion of anekantavada and its relationship to toleration and pluralism.

Ram-Prasad, Chakravarthi. Indian Philosophy and the Consequences of Knowledge. Hampshire, Guildford: Ashgate, 2007.  An advanced discussion of various interpretations of anekantavada.

Webb, Mark Owen. “Jain Philosophy.”  Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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One thought on “Anekantavada or Multisidedness

  1. Pingback: Gandhi on non-violence – Global Philosophy

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