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).

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Shankara’s Nondualism (Advaita Vedanta)

Author: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa)

Shankaracharya, also known as Adi Shankara, is an 8th century Indian philosopher and theologian who argues that ultimate reality or brahman is single and not substantially distinct from the world. Often compared with Western monists such as Parmenides, Plotinus and Spinoza, Shankara contends that the universe of distinct particulars has only a dependent and limited being, and that our everyday attribution of ultimate reality to it is a result of ignorance. While in some respects this metaphysics resembles Buddhist emphases on the conditioned and transient nature of things, Shankara posits a stable and unchanging reality behind the shifting appearances, which is said to be identical with the permanent aspect of the self (atman) as pure consciousness. Shankara is a Vedantic thinker who respects the authority of the Upanishads, to which he appeals in support of his claims. However, his metaphysical position is at the same time developed through philosophical refutations of the views of rival schools, including Buddhist ones. Shankara’s commentary on the Brahma Sutras, for instance, contains arguments against Buddhist subjective idealism maintaining the non-existence of the external world, and against the central Buddhist doctrine of no-self or anatta.

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Gandhi on non-violence

Authors: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa), and Manvitha Singamsetty (University of Ottawa)

Non-violence or ahimsa is a principle at the heart of Gandhi’s moral and political philosophy. Most fundamentally, the principle involves a commitment to not harming others in one’s interactions with them, but it is especially connected with a variety of peaceful civil resistance. Gandhi drew on classical schools of wisdom such as Jainism, Buddhism and Vedic thought to presents an ideal of non-violence adapted to a contemporary social and political climate.  This ideal encompasses the virtues of freedom, truth, love, justice, courage, honesty and sacrifice. Its political methods include, among others, satyagraha (“holding to the truth”), civil-disobedience and non-cooperation. For Gandhi, the goals of non-violence are political justice, social stability and economic self-sufficiency

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Carvaka school

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.

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