Nyāya Sūtras

The means to correct knowledge, according to ancient Nyayasutras

The Nyāya Sūtras is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text composed by Akṣapāda Gautama, and the foundational text of the Nyaya school of Hindu philosophy.[1][2] The date when the text was composed, and the biography of its author is unknown, but variously estimated between 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE.[3][4] The text may have been composed by more than one author, over a period of time.[3] The text consists of five books, with two chapters in each book, with a cumulative total of 528 aphoristic sutras, about rules of reason, logic, epistemology and metaphysics.[5][6][7]

The Nyāya Sūtras is a Hindu text,[note 1] notable for focusing on knowledge and logic, and making no mention of Vedic rituals.[9] The first book is structured as a general introduction and table of contents of sixteen categories of knowledge.[3] Book two is about pramana (epistemology), book three is about prameya or the objects of knowledge, and the text discusses the nature of knowledge in remaining books.[3] It set the foundation for Nyaya tradition of the empirical theory of validity and truth, opposing uncritical appeals to intuition or scriptural authority.[10]

The Nyaya sutras cover a wide range of topics, including Tarka-Vidyā, the science of debate or Vāda-Vidyā, the science of discussion.[11] The Nyāya Sutras are related to but extend the Vaiśeṣika epistemological and metaphysical system.[12] Later commentaries expanded, expounded and discussed Nyaya sutras, the earlier surviving commentaries being by Vātsyāyana (c.450–500 CE), followed by the Nyāyavārttika of Uddyotakāra (c. 6th–7th centuries), Vācaspati Miśra's Tātparyatīkā (9th century), Udayana's Tātparyapariśuddhi (10th century), and Jayanta's Nyāyamañjarī (10th century).[13][14]

Author and chronology

The Nyaya-sutras is attributed to Gautama, who was at least the principal author.[3] According to Karl Potter, this name has been a very common Indian name,[15] and the author is also reverentially referred to as Gotama, Dirghatapas and Aksapada Gautama.[3] Little is known about Gautama, or which century he lived in. Scholarly estimates, based on textual analysis, vary from the 6th century BCE, making him a contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira, to as late as the 2nd century CE.[3] Some scholars favor the theory that the cryptic text Nyaya-sutras was expanded over time by multiple authors,[3] with the earliest layer from about mid-first millennium BCE that was composed by Gautama.[15] The earliest layer is likely to be Book 1 and 5 of the text, while Book 3 and 4 may have been added last, but this is not certain.[15]

One may sum up the situation pretty safely by saying that we have not the vaguest idea who wrote the Nyayasutras or when he lived.

— Karl Potter, The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies[15]

It is likely, states Jeaneane Fowler, that Nyaya and the science of reason stretch back into the Vedic era; it developed in the ancient Indian tradition that involved "dialectical tournaments, in the halls of kings and schools of Vedic philosophers", and Gautama was the one who distilled and systematized this pre-existing knowledge into sutras, or aphoristic compilations called nyayasutras.[16]

The Nyaya school of Hinduism influenced all other schools of Hindu philosophy, as well as Buddhism. Despite their differences, these scholars studied with each other and debated ideas, with Tibetan records suggesting that Buddhist scholars spent years residing with Hindu Nyaya scholars to master the art of reasoning and logic.[5] This cooperation has enabled scholars to place the currently surviving version of the Nyayasutras, to a terminus ante quem (completed before) date of about the 2nd century CE, because one of the most famous and established Buddhist scholars of that era, Nagarjuna, explicitly states, "sutra 4.2.25 is addressed against the Madhyamika system" of Buddhism.[15] Other ancient Buddhist texts confirm that Nyayasutras existed before them, and the text is considered the primary text of old Nyaya school of Hinduism.[17]