Talk:Sixteen elements of Nyāya

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Nyāya darśanaṃ is one among the six traditional philosophies, which consider the vēdaḥ as the unchallenged source of knowledge. As all the philosophies have their own way to understand the world. Sorrow[1] is stated as the main problem faced by mankind and liberation from it. 'Ātyantika duḥkha-nivṛttiḥ' is the main goal of our life. To attain this goal, the true knowledge of all the elements is very primary. These elements are sixteen in number.

pramāṇa- pramēya- samśaya- prayōjana- dṛṣṭānta-sidhdhanta-avayava-tarka-nirṇaya-vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍā-hētvābhāsa-chala-jāti-nigrahasthānām tatvajñānānniśrēyasādhigamaḥ.[3]

This is the first sutra of nyāya sūtraṃ which states that the true knowledge of the sixteen elements or padārthāḥ leads to niśrēyasa or the mōkṣhaḥ[4].

Sixteen elements of Nyāya

These sixteen elements of nyāya are as follows:

  1. Pramānaṃ - It is the means of valid knowledge.
  2. Prameyaḥ - It means the object of right knowledge.
  3. Saṃśayaḥ - It means doubt.
  4. Prayojanaṃ - It means the motive.
  5. Dṛṣṭāntaḥ - It means the illustrations.
  6. Siddhāntaḥ - It means the demonstrated truth.
  7. Avayavaḥ - It means the factors of reasoning and syllogism.
  8. Tarkaḥ - It means the reasoning and confutation.
  9. Nirṇayaḥ - It means discernment.
  10. Vādaḥ - It means discussion.
  11. Jalpaḥ - It means disputation.
  12. Vitaṇḍā - It means cavil or objection.
  13. Hetvābhāsaḥ - It means fallacious reasoning.
  14. Chalaḥ - It means the casuistry or unfair reasoning.
  15. Jātiḥ - It means futile rejoinder.
  16. Nigraha-sthānaṃ - It means clinchers.


प्रत्यक्षानुमानोपमानशब्दाः प्रमाणानि।[5]
Pratyakha- anumāna- upamāna- śabdāḥ pramāṇāni[6]

Pramā is nothing but the valid knowledge. The source of that is pramānaṃ[7]. Valid knowledge[8] is that which reveals a thing as it actually is and which is used daily. It can be identified as valid knowledge when it is corresponding to the actual nature of the object as it is.[9] We can also know that it is valid when we successfully obtain the object stated.[10]Valid knowledge/ pramā corresponds to the thing as it really is, and leads to successful utilization thereof.

According to Nyāya tradition, there are four pramāṇāni namely:

  1. Pratyakhaṃ
  2. Anumānaṃ
  3. Upamānaṃ
  4. Śabdāḥ

Each school of Indian thought has its own theory of the Means to obtain valid knowledge.

School of Thought Theory 1 Theory 2 Theory 3 Theory 4 Theory 5 Theory 6 Theory 7 Theory 8
Cārvāka Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ - - - - - - -
Mīmāmsaka Verbal Testimony/Śabdaḥ - - - - - - -
Vaiśeṣika & Buddhists Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ Inference/Anumānaṃ - - - - - -
Saṅkhya Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ Inference/Anumānaṃ Verbal Testimony/Śabdaḥ - - - - -
Naiyāyika Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ Inference/Anumānaṃ Comparison/Upamānaṃ Verbal testimony/Śabdaḥ - - - -
Prābhākara Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ Inference/Anumānaṃ Comparison/Upamānaṃ Verbal testimony/Ṣabdaḥ Presumption/Arthāpattiḥ - - -
Bhāṭṭas & Vedāntins Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ Inference/Anumānaṃ Comparison/Upamānaṃ Verbal testimony/Ṣabdaḥ Presumption/Arthāpattiḥ Non-existence/Abhāvaḥ - -
Paurāṇika Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ Inference/Anumānaṃ Comparison/Upamānaṃ Verbal testimony/Ṣabdaḥ Presumption/Arthāpattiḥ Non-existence/Abhāvaḥ Probability/Saṃbhavaḥ Tradition/Aitihyaṃ


आत्मशरीरेन्द्रियार्थबुद्धिमनःप्रवृत्तिदोषप्रेत्यभावफलदुःखापवर्गाः तु प्रमेयम् ।[11]
Ātmā- śarīra-indriya-artha-budhdhi- manaḥ-pravṛtti-dōṣa-prētyabhāva-phala-duḥkhāpavargāstu pramēyaṃ।[12]

After defining pramāṇāni, the sūtrakāra or Gōtamaḥ further defines pramēya. An object of a valid knowledge is pramēya. It is classified into twelve parts as follows:

  1. Ātmā - It is denoted by self.
  2. Śarīraṃ - It is represented by body.
  3. Indriyaṃ - It is called as senses.
  4. Arthaḥ - It is known as experiences.
  5. Buddhiḥ - It is denoted as intelligence.
  6. Manaḥ - It is known as intellect.
  7. Pravṛttiḥ - It is defined as activity.
  8. Doṣaḥ - It is known as imbalances.
  9. Prētyabhāvaḥ - It is called as re-birth.
  10. Phalaṃ - It is known as consequences.
  11. Duḥkhaṃ - It is called as suffering.
  12. Apavargaḥ - It is defined as liberation.

There are many things that might be concerned as the topics of accurate knowledge, but these 12 are especially significant because the true knowledge about them will dispel all the delusions and lead to freedom from sufferings; while false knowledge concerning these topics perpetuates rebirth and suffering. Nyāya only establishes these principles on a rational basis but does not attempt to dilate upon them. It even does not attempt to explain all that is known about these several topics which is left to analyze by the more speculative systems of other philosophies.


समानानेकधर्मोपपत्तेः विप्रतिपत्तेः उपलब्ध्यनुपलब्ध्यव्यवस्थातः च विशेषापेक्षः विमर्शः संशयः।[13]
Samānānēkadharmōpapattēḥ vipratipattēḥ upalabdhi- anupalabdhi- avyavasthātaśca viśēṣāpēkṣaḥ vimarśaḥ saṃśayaḥ।[14]

Doubt must not be confused with error or false knowledge. Doubt is just the incomplete knowledge which forms the platform for further investigations. It is therefore a very positive and desirable quality to have.

False knowledge or error may produce an erroneous conviction which demotivates the mind by removing all the desires for further knowledge or even entertaining viable alternatives. Error is defined as “the knowledge which does not lead to any successful action”. For example, it is impossible to fulfill the expectations created by hallucinations.

Causes of Saṃśaya

A conflicting judgment about the precise character of an object arises from the below mentioned four different arguments:

  1. Display of properties common to many objects
  2. Characteristics not common to any objects
  3. Conflicting testimony
  4. Irregularity of perception and non-perception

Types of Saṃśaya

The ideal world of thought must correspond to the outer reality in order to be considered true. The rules and methodology of nyāya are to be applied when doubt arises which necessitates to need to examine reality for confirmation or clarification of the truth. There are four kinds of doubt:

  1. Perception of common properties or failure to perceive the difference - It can be explained when in the dark a lamp-post may be mistaken for a person, or a coiled rope can be mistaken for a snake.
  2. Conflicting testimony of witnesses or news reports or differing opinions on the same subject by two or more people.
  3. Irregularity of perception - This concept is demonstrated when one is unable to determine whether water is perceived when it is seen in a pond where it actually exists or when it is seen in a mirage where it really does not exist. This possibility arises when on hearing the rustle of leaves in the bush there arises a doubt whether it is due to leaves or it could even be an animal or a human.
  4. Irregularity of non-perception - This is exemplified when one is unable to believe that something exists because it was never perceived through an object or thing with qualities as described. It also cannot be perceived through the inability to believe that such a thing exists like a kangaroo which is believed to be a big jumping rat.


यं अर्थं अधिकृत्य प्रवर्तते तत्प्रयोजनम् ।[15]
Yaṃ arthaṃ adhikṛtya pravartatē tat prayōjanaṃ।[16]

Prayojanam is a desire which impels one to act. Purpose serves as the motive behind all the action done to attain something pleasurable or to avoid something undesirable. Until there is a purpose, there can be no successful action; therefore, a wise person never engages in any kind of purposeless actions. It is also the purpose or motive which determines if an act is morally right or wrong. No act should be deduced as good or bad, it is the intention with which it is done that determines its moral character. Therefore sincere spiritual aspirants should always examine and reflect upon our motives and clarify the intent of actions performed.


लौकिकपरीक्षकाणां यस्मिनर्थे बुद्धिसाम्यं सः दृष्टान्तः।[17]
Laukikaparīkṣakāṇāṃ yasminnarthē budhdhisāmyaṃ saḥ dṛṣṭāntaḥ।[18]

When an expert and layman are of the same opinion this happens. It is also known as the familiar example which is a common observation of both common folk and experts. Both the scientists and laymen accepts the general proposition that whenever there is rain there must be clouds. This type of example can be used in the process of reasoning from the known to the unknown.


तन्त्राधिकरणाभ्युपगमसंस्थितिः सिद्धान्तः।[19]
Tantrādhikaraṇābhyupagamasaṃsthitiḥ sidhdhāntaḥ।[20]

A conclusion of an hypothesis, reached and agreed upon by a school of philosophy Siddhānta is a conclusion that is recognised as being logically proven by a certain school of philosophy. These are of four kinds of Siddhānta:

  1. A commonly accepted truth - is a tenet which is not opposed by any school of philosophy and which is claimed by at least one school; e.g. All schools of Hindu

Philosophy accept earth, water, light, air, and ether as the basic five elements and smell, taste, color, touch, and sound as the objects of the five senses.

  1. A peculiar truth - is a tenet which is accepted by similar schools, but rejected by opposite schools. e.g., the 3 Abrahamic schools all accept that God creates the world from nothing. All schools of Indian philosophy reject this conclusion, as a something cannot come into existence out of nothing. (ex nihilo nihilo fit).
  2. An implied truth - is a tenet which is not explicitly declared as such, but which follows from the examination of particulars concerning it. e.g., the discussion whether certain people should be allowed to vote implies that those people are capable of understanding and making political decisions.
  3. A consequential truth is a tenet which if accepted, leads to the acceptance of another tenet; e.g., the acceptance of the doctrine that there is a Self-separate from the 5 senses, because it can recognize one and the same object by seeing and touch, implies:—
  • that the senses are more than one,
  • that each of the senses has its particular object;
  • that the Self derives its knowledge through the channels of the senses; and
  • that a substance which is distinct from its qualities is the locus of them.


  • प्रतिज्ञाहेतूदाहरणोपनयनिगमनानि अवयवाः।१.१.३२
  • pratijñā hētūdāharaṇōpanayanigamanāni avayavāḥ

Introduction to Avayavāḥ


  • अविज्ञाततत्वे अर्थे कारणोपपत्तितः तत्त्वज्ञानार्थं उहः तर्कः।१.१.४०
  • avijñātatvē arthē kāraṇōpapattitaḥ tatvajñānārthaṃ ūhaḥ tarkaḥ

A process for ascertaining the real nature of a thing of which the character is not known. A method of arriving at the truth by showing the absurdity of all contrary ideas. Tarka is a method of attaining knowledge of the truth about an unknown or uncertain thing by comparing and then gradually eliminating all the competing suppositions; E.g. Is the Self a product or a non-Product? If the Self is a non-product, it will experience the result of its action and will, on the eradication of the causes of re-birth, attain release; therefore, re-birth and release are indeed possible. If it is a product, these will not be possible, because the Self's connection with the body, mind, and senses will not be the result of its own action, nor will it experience the fruit of its own actions. The phenomenon of re-birth and release is well known and established; therefore, the Self must be a non-product. This form of reasoning is also called Confutation. This is not a method which ascertains, determines and verifies that the Self is a particular thing and nothing else. It simply eliminates all other contesting theories to the supposition it supports; after which Truth is established through the application of other means of Right Knowledge. For this reason, Confutation is considered to be a supporting technique and is, therefore mentioned separately.


  • विमृश्य पक्षप्रतिपक्षाभ्यां अर्थावधारणं निर्णयः।१.१.४१
  • vimṛśya pakṣapratipakṣābhyāṃ arthāvadhāraṇaṃ nirṇyaḥ

The removal of doubts, and the resolution of a dispute, by examining two opposite views. Dialectic is in the form of a dialogue between two people who may hold differing views, yet wish to establish the truth by seeking agreement with one another. This is in contrast to debate in which two or more people hold differing views and wish to persuade or prove one another wrong (and thus a jury or judge is needed to decide the matter), The sequence of investigation is as follows:— First impression 9 doubt arises 9 examining the opposite view (pūrva pakṣa) 9 application of logic 9 determination of the controversy 9 ascertainment of Truth. (nirṇaya) Doubt is the result of first impression and gives impetus to investigation in order to ascertain the truth.

“Ascertainment” is unnecessary in the case of direct perception or the verbal testimony of a trustworthy authority. But you must first be convinced that the authority is trustworthy. In other words, everything should be doubted and questioned and not accepted simply because the person holds a degree or title. You must test that individual and once you have assured yourself of their trustworthiness then you can accept their statements without further investigation. Endlessly questioning for the sake of questioning is not useful for acquiring and furthering knowledge.


  • प्रमाणतर्कसादनोपालम्भः सिद्दान्ताविरुद्दः पंचावयवोपपन्नः पक्षप्रतिपक्षपरिग्रहो वादः। 1-2-1
  • pramāṇa tarkasādhanōpālaṃbhaḥ sidhdāntāvirudhdaḥ paṃcāvayavōpapannaḥ pakṣapratipakṣa parigrahaḥ vādaḥ

A dialogue in which one adopts one of two opposing positions. The purpose of Discussion is to arrive at the truth of the proposition under consideration. This may be achieved by talking about the topic with anyone who is a sincere seeker of Truth. In vāda it is not necessary to establish one's own thesis, it is enough to submit one's views for examination in order to ascertain the Truth. The discussion does not necessarily have to take into consideration the opposite opinion; it is enough to put any proposition to the test of logic. The usual procedure is to maintain the thesis by means of Right Knowledge and to attack the counter-thesis by means of tarka.


  • यथोक्तोपपन्नः छलजातिनिग्रहस्थान साधनोपालम्भः जल्पः। 1-2-2
  • yathōktōpapannaḥ chalajātinigrahasthānōpālaṃbhaḥ jalpaḥ

A vigorous verbal disputation directed at gaining victory only. The sole purpose of engaging in a polemic is simply to gain victory over the other party. There’s no desire to either gain further knowledge of Truth or to establish one’s own position, and therefore, one can employ any device of debate in order to win. These devices are usually of a negative character, such as attacking the opponent’s character, (argumentum ad hominem) quibbling, advancing futile arguments, reducing to absurdity, evading the issue, focussing on examples or metaphors rather than on the actual argument itself etc.


  • स प्रतिपक्षस्थापनाहीनः वितण्डा। 1-2-3
  • sa pratipakṣa sthāpanāhīnaḥ vitaṇḍā

A kind of wrangling, which consists in mere attacks on the opposite side. In cavil there is no desire to establish any proposition. The only interest is to heckle the speaker by carping and offering frivolous objections.

Polemics and Cavilling, which are considered as forms of Discussion, may be used by an aspirant of Truth only as means of protecting one's young and fragile knowledge which has not yet matured into a full blossomed conviction. One may occasionally encounter objectionable people who, devoid of true knowledge, are puffed up with their academic achievements or are deluded by their own erroneous convictions. These people may try to impose their views and beliefs on others. Under such circumstances the student is urged to make use of these argumentative devices in order to safeguard the development of knowledge in the same way that nature uses thorns on some plants to safeguard the growth of its fruit. If one’s philosophy or belief system is under attack then one may also employ these negative means for self-defence. One should never gratuitously criticize or attack anyone else’s belief system, ideology or way of life if that person is keeping to themselves. When a person tries to impose their views on others then defence is required. 13) Fallacious Reasoning/ hetvābhāsaḥ

  • सव्यभिचारविरुध्द- प्रकरणसम- साध्यसम- कालातीताः हेत्वाभासाः। 1-2-4
  • savyabhicāra virudhda prakaraṇasama sādhyasama kālātītā hētvābhāsāḥ

Introduction to Hētvābhāsāḥ


  • वचनविघातो अर्थविकल्पोपपत्या छलम्। 1-2-10
  • vacanavighātō arthavikalpōpapatyā chalaṃ

The opposition offered to a proposition by the assumption of an alternative meaning. Casuistry is of three sorts: - (1) Playing upon words (vacas). This consists of willfully taking a term to mean something different from that intended by the speaker; e.g., taking the word 'quadruped' to mean four-legged table instead of an animal. (2) Generalizations (sāmānyas). This consists of asserting the impossibility of a particular part because of the impossibility of the whole; e.g., to deny that a particular cow is black because all cows are not black. (3) Metaphors (upacārās). This consists of invalidating a word used in a particular context by taking it literally when it was used metaphorically; e.g., the ‘House cheered’ means that the people in the house cheered and not the physical structure.


  • साधर्म्य वैधर्म्याभ्यां प्रत्यवस्थानं जातिः।1-2-18
  • sādharmya vaidharmyābhāṃ pratyavasthānaṃ jātiḥ

(Offering objections founded on mere similarity or dissimilarity. The reply is said to be futile if it does not take into consideration the universal connection between the middle term and the major term. Mere similarity or dissimilarity is not sufficient. There are twenty-four kinds of futility which aim at showing an equality of the arguments of two sides so that neither side can win the argument. )


  • विप्रतिपत्तिरप्रतिपत्तिश्च निग्रहस्थानम्।1-2-19
  • vipratipattirapratipattiśca nigrahasthānaṃ

When we do not understand or misunderstand the argumentation stated by the opponent we eventually lose the debate. There is no purpose in entering into a debate with ignorance of the subject being investigated. Demonstrating ignorance or misunderstanding of the subject under discussion and attaining defeat in a debate is the last element in nyāya darśanaṃ, which is called nigrahasthānaṃ. Here the term nigrahasthānaṃ means attaining defeat in a debate. The means for that defeat are shown as Vipratipattiḥ[21] and Apratipattiḥ. Vipratipattiḥ is a situation in which one misunderstands and Apratipattiḥ is a situation in which does not understand at all.


  1. It is also called as duḥkhaṃ in sanskrit.
  2. १.१.१
  3. 1.1.1
  4. Destruction of the final sorrow is mōkṣhaḥ according to nyāya
  5. १.१.३
  6. 1.1.3
  7. It is denoted in the quote "pramā karaṇaṃ pramāṇaṃ"
  8. It is denoted in the quote "yathāvasthita vyavahārāṇuguṇa jñānam pramā"
  9. It is denoted in the quote "tadvati-tat-prakāraka-anubhavaḥ"
  10. pravṛtti-samārthya
  11. १.१.९
  12. 1.1.9
  13. १.१.२३
  14. 1.1.23
  15. १.१.२४
  16. 1.1.24
  17. १.१.२५
  18. 1.1.25
  19. १.१.२६
  20. 1.1.26
  21. viparītā vā kutsitā vā pratipattiḥ