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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