Kanada and the Beginnings of Indian Logic
You may notice that Kanada’s text, the Vaisheshika Sutra, is very hard to read. The introduction says that this is the first translation of this important text into English, and this was done and published in New Delhi, Northern India, in 2003. There is no British or American publication of this text. As you read Aristotle in the next weeks, consider how well Aristotle speaks in English when there is support and funding for the publication. If you compare this to the translator’s edition of Aristotle, you find that Aristotle speaks in fragmented words and the translators polish it and interpret it to get Aristotle to sound that good. This is unfortunate, for Kanada may have been the first atomist and one of the first logicians.
The Vedas are India’s earliest texts and traditions, consisting of many stories of gods and cosmic origins. Much philosophy and cosmology are contained in these texts. It is believed today that they were formed from earlier oral traditions into the standard written texts around 1200 BCE. Four hundred years later, around 800 BCE, the Upanishad texts taught the ‘inner meanings’ of the Vedas, drawing philosophical lessons from the tales of the gods. ‘Philosophy’ is darshana, ‘seeing’. The Upanishads preach liberation by knowledge. The most famous quote is “Tat tvam asi”, or “That is you”. Whatever is other to you is in fact your own self.
200 years later, around 600 BCE (Kanada’s time), India was experiencing a third wave of philosophy including the logicians, atomists, Jains and Buddhists. This is the time when Kanada, Gotama (next week), and the Buddha were supposed to have lived and taught, and schools of their followers flowered in the next several hundred years (the same time as philosophy and logic were flourishing in ancient Greece).
At this time, India was producing superior steel (wootz) that the Chinese, Romans and Egyptians highly prized. The Chinese tried for centuries to reproduce it at home but without success (until they invented cast iron which is the material of the medieval European blacksmith). The Romans sold German tribes people (like me) as slaves in India in trade for this steel, dies, spices and other goods. Alexander tried to conquer India, and failed, because of these goods. This means that Kanada, Gotama and Buddha were living in the inter-connected and international ancient world.
Kanada’s Life and Legend
Kanada’s dates are debated. Chinese scholars sometimes put his texts at 1000 BCE, while our scholars often put them at 200 BCE or even 100 CE. This is quite political, because the Chinese tradition comes very much from India and the European tradition comes very much from Greece. The publisher of this texts says it is safe to say that Kanada lived and taught by 600 BCE at the latest.
Kanada’s name means, ‘One who eats grain’, but it could also mean, ‘One who gathers particulars. We will see how this is central to logic and Kanada’s teachings. He is also known as ‘The Owl’, or Uluka. Legend has it that he was so ugly in appearance that he frightened young women, so he only ventured out at night, sneaking into granaries to eat corn and rice grains/particles. Another story is Shiva taught him in the form of an owl. Notice that there are many traditions and versions, some mixed with the stories of the Vedic gods.
Kanada began what is known as the Vaisheshika school, and thus his text is the Vaisheshika sutra. Vaisheshika means particular, but also particle, atom, particular, special, specific, and distinction. Kanada may have been the first logician and atomist in recorded history, but as we have seen this is still a debate that can be quite political. Gotama’s Nyaya (Logic/Debate) school borrowed much from Kanada in forming rules and manuals of debate. It is believed that Jainism and Buddhism took both of these systems and developed them in a skeptical and relativist direction. Thus, Kanada and Gotama are positivistic logicians who are seeking atomic truths (universal, necessary and certain), and the Jains and Buddhists are skeptical logicians who criticize positivistic thinking with relativity and skepticism.
The two schools of Kanada (Vaisheshika) and Gotama (Nyaya) focus on inherence (how the particular individual is a member of the general group) and inference (conclusions that can be drawn about the particular individual when one knows the general group). Two types of inherence which allow us to make valid inferences include speciation (groups that have typical qualities) and causation (events in time that lead from one to another).
Kanada set out his Vaisheshika system and its seven objects of knowledge to understand the world (cosmology or physics, but in the ancient world this extended to biology and psychology). Gotama, who we will study next, was concerned with debate and logical argument.
The Vaisheshika System
First, we will go over Kanada’s seven objects of knowledge, and then interesting points in the following chapters Kanada makes that are important for logic and physics.
1) Substance (dravya): nine in number (air, water, fire, earth, ether, time, space, self and mind). These are composed of particles or atoms that are eternal and uncreated (thus they can’t be created or destroyed). Newton, like medieval alchemists before him but unlike modern physics and chemistry, believed in ether, the glue element that sticks the others together in combinations.
2) Attribute (guna): quality (color, texture, odor, taste) and quantity (number, measure, distinction, conjunction, disjunction). Kanada argues in the text that attributes are not substances, but reside in substances and can cause substances, other attributes and actions.
3) Action (karma): note that karma is the physical energy and motion that makes kicking someone cause pain and also gets the kicker reborn as a cockroach (most only know of the second as a religious concept, but like Chinese Chi it is equivalent to physical energy and is often identified with the element fire in ancient systems). Kanada argues that substances and attributes can cause actions but actions themselves cannot produce other actions. He also argues action belongs to one substance, not many (note that the Buddhist “sound of one hand clapping” is a counter argument to this point, and that Gotama differs from Kanada on this also).
4) General (samanya): the universal or group, such as the general group (speciation) of all cows or the general event (causation) of a rainstorm (in which clouds cause rain).
5) Particular (vishesha): the individual or specific, such as the individual cow or the individual event of a cloud causing rain.
6) Inherence (samavaya): the particular being included and conforming to the general. We can make inferences based on inherences. If we know that the general group of cows have horns, then we know that this particular cow must have horns. Likewise, if we know that generally rainclouds cause rain, then we can infer that this particular rain must have been caused by clouds.
7) Non-existence or Emptiness (abhava): non-being, nothingness and void. Nuf said.
Kanada tries to give a systematic account of the many types of each object and the relationships between each object (ex: substances and qualities can produce actions, but actions cannot).
In the second chapter, Kanada gives us an early understanding of what would later be called Modus Tollens in European Logic following Aristotle. Kanada writes “in the absence of cause is the absence of effect but in the absence of effect there is no absence of cause”. This means that if you know “If P then Q”, then you also know and can infer “If not Q then not P” but you do not know and cannot infer “If not P then not Q”. This is very important to understand for basic logic, and many people make the mistake of thinking that one can infer “not P then not Q”.
Kanada discusses fire as energy. It is interesting that fire was the most common form of energy seen and used in the ancient world, whereas electricity is the most common form seen and used in the modern world. Thus, the Egyptians, Greeks, Indians and Chinese thought of energy as fire whereas we think of energy as electricity.
In the third Chapter, Kanada describes types of proofs and fallacies. Gotama and the Nyaya school try to give an entire encyclopedia, and disagree with Kanada on many points. Kanada like Aristotle argues that you can disprove arguments by finding contradictions and that you cannot infer the general from the particular (you cannot infer that all cows have spots from the individual cow that has spots).
Kanada argues that sound is caused and therefore it is impermanent. Some have argued this seems to be a subtle critique of the earlier Vedic tradition (like arguing “paper is perishable” as a safe and subtle way of suggesting that the Bible must be temporary, not eternal).
Kanada argues that things move downward naturally, so things must have additional causes/forces to move sideways or upward (thus, smoke shows additional force or energy, namely that it has fire in it and fire moves upward. He also argues thus that water moves upward by sun/fire in it, then comes downward in cycles. Then, when the water collects in clouds, it causes the fire to be released as lightning. He argues that the arrow flies first from cause and then from inherent tendency to remain in motion, similar if not identical to the modern concept of ‘inertia’.
Kanada says there are many organs in the body, but each has its own particularity as they have different causes/purposes. We believe this today, but consider the ancient world understanding that Aristotle shared called the teleological view: every individual thing has a particular purpose as if the whole is conscious. There is a Roman stoic writer who speaks of the horrible mystery of underground caverns that seem to exist in spite of no animals or humans being present. This is a horrifying mystery because without conscious use, the ancient mind would be baffled by its existence.