Perception as a pramana or method of knowledge has not been discussed at length in Western logic. In so far as it has been discussed, it has created a divide amongst the realists, the idealists and the empiricists. Many schools of Indian philosophy have taken up a critical examination of perception as a means of gaining valid knowledge. The Nyaya is one of them. According to the Nyaya school of philosophy, valid knowledge or prama can be gained through four different means namely; perception (Pratyaksa), inference (Anumana), verbal testimony (Sabda) and comparison (Upmana). Of these, the Naiyayika considers perception to be fundamental. This is true in the sense that although perception may not be the only method of knowledge, it forms a basis for other sources of knowledge like inference, comparison and testimony. In so far as the objects of knowledge are concerned though, the methods or ways of knowing them stand on the same footing, as there are some objects that can be known through all four methods of knowledge while there are others that can be known only through one source of knowledge. For example, we may know about there being fire on the mountain through inference, as well as perception. On the other hand, there are certain objects of knowledge that can be known only through testimony, like the knowledge of supernatural identities. Thus, with regard to any method of knowledge it may be said that some contents of knowledge or truths can only be given by it, while others may come from this as well as other sources of knowledge. We can thus infer that in so far as the contents of knowledge are concerned, there is nothing to distinguish one means of knowledge as more fundamental than another.
The position of Perception with respect to the other pramanas:- •
Perception as the basis of other sources of knowledge:
Now the Naiyayika has his reasons for considering perception as being more fundamental than the other sources of knowledge. Although the Naiyayika does not agree with the Cārvāka or other empiricists who believe that perception is the only source of knowledge, the Naiyayika does hold that perception is the basis of the other forms of knowledge. It has been rightly said that the other methods of knowledge presuppose perception and must be based on the knowledge derived from perception. Allow me to illustrate this by the use of an example: We can infer fire on the mountain only after perceiving the smoke, and also after having perceived the relation between the smoke and fire. Hence, perception forms the very first step in inference. Without having perceived the relation between firs and smoke, and then again without having perceived the smoke on the mountain, we would never be able to infer fire on the mountain. Again, when we use Upmana or comparison, we must first perceive the points of similarity between two objects. The same holds true for Sabda or testimony. Sabda is dependent on perception in as much as the first step in it is the visual or auditory perception of written or spoken words, and such words must come from a person who has a direct or intuitive knowledge of the truths communicated by him. Thus the Naiyayika shows us that perceptual knowledge is the ultimate ground of other sources of knowledge. •
Perception as the final test of all knowledge:
Western empiricists have rather overstressed the validity of perception as a source of knowledge. According to them, the truth of perception is unquestionable and self-evident. This is because perception can be used to confirm the truth of knowledge derived from inference, comparison and testimony, whereas perceptual knowledge does not need this sort of further confirmation. We might acquire certain knowledge from a source like inference, but if we are in doubt, only perception can clarify the matter. Hence, the Naiyayikas rightly believe that perception is the most basic and fundamental method of gaining knowledge. It must be noted here though, that...
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