Daya Krishna on Apoha


In this paper, I argue, by spelling out what apoha is all about, that Daya Krishna’s version of apoha in Kantian perspective amounts to a variance. I take a contrary position to what Daya Krishna has argued. It would be imprecise to look at apoha from Kantian perspective, for Kant’s is about propositions and judgment where, in fact, categories play a major role. Apoha is a theory of semantics where there is a commitment to particulars, with an outright rejection of the “fictitious” universal, which gives a cognitive justification of the process of conception formation. Hence, if what I have understood on apoha is correct, I wonder whether the theory of apoha is much more than what Daya Krishna unravels in the light of Kantian enterprise. Though there is a similarity in the intellectual enterprise on apoha of Buddhist logicians and infinite of Kant, they stand apart as the Buddhist apoha is apropos a theory of meaning.

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  1. 1.

    Dignāga’s Pramānasamuccaya deals with apoha, especially its second chapter titled “Svārthānumāna” and the fifth chapter titled “Apoha”. A word on the celebrated work of Dignāga, the Pramāṇasamuccaya: The Pramāṇasamuccaya is a Sanskrit work written in anuṣṭubh meter. The Sanskrit original is lost, but the Tibetan translation still exists. It has six chapters: the first is Pratyakṣa, perception; the second is Svārthānumāna, the third is Parārthānumāna; the fourth is Hetu-dṛṣṭānta (reason and example), the fifth is Apoha or Anyāpoha (negation of opposite) and the sixth is Jāti (analogues or farfetched analogies).

  2. 2.

    Contemporary scholarship has shed light on the fact that Dignāga and Dharmakīrti did not have the same argument and conclusions. A learned scholar writes in this regards: “Stated simply, the difference is this: whereas Dharmakīrti was the architect of a complex edifice of apologetics in which every received dogma of Indian Buddhism was justified by a multiplicity of arguments and every cherished Brahmanical belief was subjected to a barrage of feisty polemics, Dignāga emerged as a figure much more in line with the sceptical spirit of archaic Buddhism and early Madhyamaka philosophy. For Dignāga, the central task was not to construct and defend a rationalized system of thought but to examine the fundamental assumptions on which all our claims to understanding rest” (Hayes 1988: xi).

  3. 3.

    Dharmakīrti 1989 wrote a commentary on Pramāṇasamuccaya of Dignāga after the name Pramāṇavārttika-kārikā, or simply Pramāṇavārttika. Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇavārttika deals with apoha, especially the first chapter “Pramāṇasiddhiḥ”, the second chapter “Pratyakṣam” and the third chapter “Svārthānumānam”.

  4. 4.

    Śāntarakṣita 1926 Tattvasaṃgraha, verses 867–1212 deal with apoha.

  5. 5.

    Ratnakīrti 1995 Apohasiddhiṣ, the complete work, deals with apoha.

  6. 6.

    “According to the Śabdakalpadruma and Amarakośa (Rāmaśramī tīkā), apoha has been derived from the verb root ūh. In Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī, in the verb root lexicon ūh has been classed under the set of bhū, etc. (bhvādi gaa) which means to infer, to think logically, to reason, etc. A negative prefix apa and the nominal suffix ghañ have been added to the verb root ūh” (Mishra 2008: 89).

  7. 7.

    The theory of arthakriyākāritva is a Buddhist contribution. “The criterion of reality is efficiency (artha-kriyā-kāritva). … To have efficiency is to change. An efficient permanence is a contradiction in terms. It might be held that the permanent is not something having eternal duration; it endures only son long as the effect is not produced, after which it is destroyed. … Dharmakīrti (Pramāṇavārttika II, 421) urges that objects cannot be permanent. If they were, the knowledge of the present would by itself give rise to the knowledge of the entire future, there being no change, no novelty. And relative permanence is still more defensible. If a thing changes at all, it must change incessantly. The real is momentary” (Chatterjee 1987: 4).

  8. 8.

    Jonardon Ganeri makes a remarkable exposition of apoha theory in comparative intake from cotemporary debates in epistemology in his recent paper (Ganeri 2011: 228–246).

  9. 9.

    See Chapter XIV titled “the Problem of Universals” in Frederick Copleston 1985, A History of Philosophy, Vol. II (New York: Image Books, 1985), 136–155. Further, the fourteenth century nominalists’ attack on realism is again metaphysical/ontological. The criticism of William of Ockham on the metaphysics of his predecessors like Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas was strictly ontological. Ockham denied the existence of universals, as universals are only mere conceptual terms (termini concepti) which signify individual things, and they stand for them in propositions. Only individual things exist. For details, see Chapter IV titled “Ockham (2)” in Frederick Copleston 1985, A History of Philosophy, Vol. III (New York: Image Books, 1985), 49–61.

  10. 10.

    In recent times “nominalism” is employed as a branding for the rebuttal of abstract entities—both universals and particulars—and upholds the rejection of such things as propositions, sets, and numbers. For a detailed study on the rejection of nominalism and upholding of realism (or a “scientific realism” or “a posteriori realism” where epistemology comes to play a major role, see Armstrong 1980: 1–57).

  11. 11.

    “Vikalpa is derived from kṛp verb root (vi + kṛp + ghañ) which means doubt, uncertainty, but more appropriately it means ‘option’ or ‘optionality.’ In this sense it comes close to sign (liṅga/hetu) or symbol. It is an option or alternative or sign/symbol that may be a pictorial representation, any cultural-community’s specific code or a linguistic/inferential sign” (Mishra 2008: 95).

  12. 12.

    Dignāga, Pramāṇasamuccaya V: 16 (the translation taken from Rajnish Kumar Mishra, Buddhist Theory of Meaning and Literary Analysis, 96, and it is based on Richard P. Hayes’s translation of the fifth chapter of Pramāṇasamuccaya).

  13. 13.

    Dharmakīrti, Pramāṇavārttika I: 108c (as quoted by Dreyfus 2011: 212).

  14. 14.

    Though in this article, Mark Siderits states that the thorough criticism of Dignāga by Naiyāyikas and Bhaṭṭa -Mīmāmsākas was defended by Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla, and in defending the thesis of Dignāga, they introduced “a number of elaborations and modifications” and in turn went away from Dignāga’s version of apoha that was “a version of pure sentence theory” to “a form of the related designation theory”. However, Siderits considers apoha as “radically nominalistic in intention”.

  15. 15.

    Apoha amounts to an error theory. Tom Tillemans writes in this connection: “… in order for us to apply language and concepts to things in the world, we need to somehow ignore the differences that there are between all particulars and think and talk in terms of common properties to whose reality we are unreflectively and naively committed, even if in our more sophisticated theoretical reflections we might be persuaded that they are merely our inventions” (Tillemans 2011: 56). Tillemans calls it as the “theory of unconscious error” as well (Tillemans 1999: 209–211).

  16. 16.

    Apoha is an “independent semantic theory” and not as “part of translation manual” (Siderits 2001: 59–70), especially on pages 66–70.

  17. 17.

    Mark Siderts puts in neatly this way: “The meaning of a kind-term is the ‘exclusion of the other’ (anyāpoha). This builds on the idea that since a given predicate determines a bipartition of the world, mastery of that predicate may be expressed either as the ability to tell when the expression does apply or the ability to tell when it does not. …the meaning of ‘crow’ may be given as: not non-crow. What all the things that are called crows have in common, then, is that they are not in the class of non-crow” (Siderits 2006: 727).

  18. 18.

    A76–83/B102–109, B159, 209–214 (Kant 1998: 209–214)

  19. 19.

    A68–69/B93–94 (Kant 1998: 205)

  20. 20.

    A293/B 350 (Kant 1998: 384)

  21. 21.

    A70/B95 (Kant 1998: 206)

  22. 22.

    A572/B600 (Kant 1998: 553–554)

  23. 23.

    Wayne M. Martin in his book Theories of Judgment analyses the perennial issue of philosophy, namely, the nature of judgment and how it differs from the theories of judgment (Martin 2006).

  24. 24.

    For a detailed exposition of the notion of jātiśabda, see Sen 2011: 172–174; 178–180, and the note 12 on page 202. The notion of jātiśabda will be clearer when one makes the distinction between jātiśabda and other yadṛcchaśabda (arbitrary words), samudāyaśabda (designate collective words), guṇaśabda (quality words), kriyāśabda (action words).

  25. 25.

    Uddyotakara, Kumārīla Bhaṭṭa, Vācaspati Miśra, Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, Bhaṭṭaputra, Jayamiśra, Pārthasārathi Miśra, Jaina thinkers like Mallavādin, and others have vehemently criticized Dignāga, though they have done it from their own respective standpoints. A concise account of such criticisms on Dignāga could be found in Sen 2011: 178–201.

  26. 26.

    A430/B458; A432/B460 (Kant 1998: 472)

  27. 27.

    A. K. Ramanujan writes: “In cultures like India’s, context-sensitive kind of rule is the preferred formula-tion” (Ramanujan 1989: 47).

  28. 28.

    In relation to Indian context-sensitive mode, A. K. Ramanujan writes: “Such a pervasive emphasis on context is, I think, related to the Hindu concern with jati-the logic of classes, of genera and species, of which human jatis are only an instance. Various taxonomies of season, landscape, times, gunas or qualities (and their material bases), castes, characters, emotions, essences (rasa), etc., are basic to the thought-work of Hindu medicine and poetry, cooking and religion, erotics and magic. Each jāti or class defines a context, a structure of relevance, a rule of permissible combinations, a frame of reference, a meta-communication of what is and can be done. It is not surprising that systems of Indian philosophy, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina, confine themselves to the consideration of class-essences (jāti) called genera and species in Western philosophy. They never raise the question of whether there are universals of other types, namely identical qualities and relations. The assumption seems to be that qualities and relations are particulars, though they may be instances of universals (Raja Ram Dravid, The Problem of Universals in Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1972: 347)” (Ramanujan 1989: 53).

  29. 29.

    A detailed exposition on this could be seen in Nakamura 1964.


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The author would like to thank the two unknown reviewers for their comments and suggestions on the first draft of the paper. The present version is the revised and modified one in the light of their comments.

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Sebastian, C.D. Daya Krishna on Apoha . J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. 32, 373–389 (2015).

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  • Apoha
  • Buddhist theory of meaning
  • Daya Krishna
  • Kant
  • Nominalism
  • Universals