Indian Epistemology: The Concept of Pramanas for Competitive Exams

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Indian Epistemology - The Concept of Pramanas (Philosophy) (Important Five Preception)
Title: Knowledge


  • Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge.
  • It is derived from the Greek word “Episteme,” which means knowledge.
  • Indian epistemology deals with understanding the concept of knowledge from the point of view of Indian philosophers and Indian schools.
  • Some of the major concepts of Indian epistemology which are discussed in “Pramana-sastra” are;
    • The sources of valid knowledge or Pramanas.
    • The concept of valid knowledge or prama.
    • The concept of false knowledge or invalid knowledge or aprama.
  • According to Indian Philosophy, the Sanskrit word for knowledge is prama.
  • It means right knowledge which is always real and valid.
  • The opposite of prama is aprama or false, invalid, unreal knowledge, for example, doubts, errors, mistakes, etc.
  • In order to derive prama, Indian philosophy accepts six sources of valid knowledge. These sources of valid knowledge are also known as Pramanas.

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Definitions of Pramanas

  • Pramanas are the sources of valid knowledge, they are the means via which we arrive at valid knowledge.
  • Pramanas are defined as the means of right cognition. Right cognition is always valid, real and free from errors, doubts, etc.
  • Pramanas are defined as the proof that deals with right apprehension or consciousness of the object.
  • Prama (valid knowledge or right cognition) can only be known via the pramanas (sources of prama)

The Six Pramanas

  • The Six Pramanas accepted by Indian Philosophy are;

(the correct order)

  • Perception or Pratyaksha
  • Inference or Anumana
  • Comparison or Upamana
  • Postulation or Arthapatti
  • Verbal Testimony or Sabda
  • Non-Apprehension or Anupalabdhi
Title: The Six Ways of Knowing
  1. Perception
  2. Other name: Pratyaksha
  3. It deals with knowledge gained by the means of senses is called perception.
    • The word senses, here means, five external senses. They are;
    • The sense of sight (eyes)
    • The sense of smell (nose)
    • The sense of hearing (ears)
    • The sense of taste (tongue)
    • The sense of touch (skin)
  • In other words, it deals with true cognition of an object via the sense-object contact.
  • For example, the perception of the table in front of me is possible due to the contact of the sense of sight (eyes) with the object (table) .
  • In simple terms, any knowledge of the world or the external objects that comes to us from our senses is called perception.
  • Note: Perception is the only pramana which is accepted by all the schools on Indian philosophy.
Title: 5 Preceptions
  1. Inference
  2. Other name: Anumana
  3. Anumana or Inference is a pramana which means after-knowledge because etymologically speaking, anu means after and mana means knowledge.
  4. So, anumana deals with knowledge which follows from some other means of knowledge.
  5. For example, when we pass through a hill and see smoke around it, we say, the hill has fire. This is possible only because we already possess the previous knowledge (based on perception) that where there is smoke, there is fire.
  6. This relation of, “wherever there is a smoke, there is a fire,” is known as vyapti or universal relation, or invariable concomitance.
  7. In other words, vyapti is the universal relation of the middle term, smoke (hetu) with the major term, fire (sadhya) .
  8. Vyapti is the logical ground of inference and no conclusion is possible without it.
  9. Therefore, correct knowledge through anumana is possible because of vyapti.
Title: Image
  • According to Indian Logic, anumana or inference deals with both Deductive and Inductive reasoning.
  • The five propositions of a syllogism are;
    • The hill has fire (proposition that we want to prove or pratijna)
    • Because it has smoke (reason or hetu)
    • Whatever has smoke has fire, eg. an oven (example or udharana)
    • The hill has smoke (application of the universal relation of smoke-fire to the present case or upanaya)
    • Therefore, the hill has fire (conclusion or nigamana)
  • Valid knowledge via the means of Anumana is called Anumiti in Indian Philosophy.
  • Note: The above syllogism includes both deductive and Inductive reasoning.

3. Comparison

  • Other names: Upamana, Resemblance, Knowledge via examples, Analogy, Denotation, Similarity.
  • Comparison deals with the relation between two things, a name and a thing denoted by that name.
  • For example, a man who has never seen a cow goes to the jungle and sees an animal with four legs, long tail and is reminded how his friend once told him that, “cow is an animal which has four legs and a long tail,” so, the man recognises that animal in the jungle is a cow.
  • A similar example would be, say you have never seen a saxophone, you meet a musician and the person tells you that, “saxophone looks like a U-shaped trumpet.” So, the next time you see a U-shaped trumpet, you will identify it as a saxophone.
  • Valid knowledge via the means of comparison is called upamiti.

4. Postulation

  • Other names: Arthapatti, Implication, Conjecture, Knowledge via Supposition, Circumstantial knowledge.
  • Postulation means knowledge where the necessary supposition of an unperceived fact is made to explain a thing.
  • For example, when a fat man who does not eat during the day is taken into consideration, we suppose that because he is fat, he must eat, so he eats during the night. Here, our supposition that he eats during the night helps us explain the nature of the man who is fat.
  • Arthapatti is used when, a given phenomenon is such that we cannot understand it unless we suppose some fact regarding it to help ourselves understand it.
  • Note: It only deals with suppositions and the nature of the knowledge is circumstantial.

5. Verbal Testimony

  • Other names: Sabda, Aptavakya, Agama.
  • Verbal Testimony means knowledge that arises from Shruti.
  • It deals with aptavakya, meaning, words from an authentic authority (agama) which are error free, reliable, and not false.
  • Some examples of Verbal Testimony can be the words of saints, prophets, priests, scriptures (such as, Vedas, Upanishads, Quran, Bible, Talmud, etc.) .
  • The opposite of apta-vakya is called anapta-vakya It means, words or statements of an unreliable person.
  • For example, a stranger may be a nice person to talk to but cannot be considered as a reliable, true and error free source.
  • There are four conditions which must be followed for a reliable, valid knowledge via the means of Verbal testimony;
    • Akansha: It means the sentence should make a complete sense.
    • For example, it cannot be like, “a flower elephant drawing room dinner.”
    • Yogyata: It means the sentence should not be contradictory in nature.
    • For example, it cannot be like, “water the plants with fire,” or “ice looks hot.”
    • Sannidhi: It means there should be closeness or proximity within the words in a sentence.
    • For example, it cannot be like, “a … man … is … walking … . down … the … road”
    • Tatparya: means one must take the intention of the speaker into consideration.
    • For example, the word, “bear” when used in a sentence, “I cannot bear him!” here, the word bear means, “to put up with” and not the animal bear.

6. Non-Apprehension

  • Other names: Anupalabdhi, Abhava, Knowledge via negation, Knowledge via absence, Non-Perception.
  • Non-apprehension is a pramana which deals with the immediate knowledge of something non-existent.
  • In other words, negation or absence of something is known through Non-Apprehension.
  • For example, “the teacher is not in the class,” means, the teacher is absent or non-existent (abhava) .
  • Similarly, “The jug is not in the room,” means, the jug is not present in the room. Likewise, “The flower has no fragrance,” means, fragrance is not present in the flower.
  • Note: it is the only pramana which deals with the knowledge of something absent or not existent.
Pramanas and Schools
NumberName of the SchoolNumber and Name of Pramana/Pramanas
1Carvaka1- Perception
2Jainism3- Perception, Inference, Verbal Testimony
3Buddhism2- Perception and Inference
4Nyaya4- Perception, Inference, Comparison and Verbal Testimony
5Vaisesika2- Perception and Inference
6Sankhya3- Perception, Inference and Verbal Testimony
7Yoga3- Perception, Inference and Verbal Testimony
8Purva-Mimamsa3- Perception, Inference and Verbal Testimony
9Advaita-Vedanta6- Perception, Inference, Comparison, Postulation, Verbal Testimony and Non-Apprehension

(Sabda is most important)

10Vishishtadvaita Vedanta3- Perception, Inference and Verbal Testimony

(Sabda is most important)

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