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Historical background of Buddhist Epistemology and Logic

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Historical background of Buddhist Epistemology and Logic
Epistemology and Logic belong to philosophy as an important branch. Epistemology deals with ways of knowing, Logic with valid argument. Therefore, these two are interrelated in the pursuit of knowledge. Buddhism from the very beginning was based on epistemology and logic. To understand the Buddhist position with regard to these two areas we must know the Indian background. Buddhism arose in India at the particular time that is in the 6th century B.C. During that time there were some important Schools of thought, having their own ways of thought regarding epistemology and logic. Here we pay attention to Brahmanism as found in the Vedas Materialism, Scepticism and Jianism. When the Buddha started to preach his newly discovered he had to pay attention to the contemporary thoughts.
Brahmanism as found in the Vedas appeared to have undergone certain changes in the cause of time. In the beginning they believed in the existences of many gods. That stage is known as Polytheism. It was difficult for them to practise as there were many gods, for them select and offer sacrifices. Therefore, they began to simplify the practices.
During the second period they selected only the god that was the most relevant for the time being. They believed that other gods were existing. But they were too invited later for different functions. This stage was known as Henotheism.
Still were problems with regard to this stage. So they still simplify and began to believe the existence of one god as supreme god under whom the lesser gods function. This stage is known as Monotheism.
Still later they developed Monism, which believed god as a principle.
Now during all these stages epistemology and logic contributed to the development of ideas. When one carefully goes through the Vedic text one finds the Brahmanas were thinking to systematise their ways of thoughts. When there was the belief regarding the existences of gods there was question with regard to the existences of this very gods. They were asking whether any one has seen that god and how to justify that belief. This we find within the centre of Brahmanical thoughts.
A part from Brahmanism there was other School of thought in India that is Materialism. Materialism was known as a philosophy at that time. We don’t know when and where it first originated. But the ideas of Materialism are found even in the earliest stage. As a philosophy Materialism taught the world began out of some matter. According to them, some material principle like earth, water, fire and wind were made as the main substances from which the world originated. For this view, different epistemology and different logic were employed.
Oppose to Materialism there was Idealism. It maintains the world began form mind. Mind was the most important principle, which led to the origin of the world (including human beings etc). For this trend also different epistemology and different logic are mentioned.
There was other trend known as Scepticism. It is the nature of the sceptic to doubt the possibility of knowledge. He would say regarding these, matter one would not be able to know. So Scepticism is the solution.
In addition to these trends, there was another School known as Jainism. Jainism was taught by Mahavira, who got enlightenment after the practice of austerity for (12) years. He had a particular view regarding the nature of the world and man place in it. To communicate this idea Jainsm uses different epistemology and different logic. Their view of reality is that reality is many aspects and it is difficult for other persons even if he is enlightened to teach it to a person who is not enlightened. Therefore, they are using a special logic known as Syadvada- theory of may be.
Now in this contest, the Buddha (Buddhism) appeared with the new massage. He has to consider the prevalent theories at that time regarding epistemology and logic. When we consider this background we see that there were a large number of theory of epistemology and logic. The Buddha as a person who had undergone training under the different teachers was able to show the distinctive features of his thoughts while showing the similarities and dissimilarities with other thoughts. In the beginning many Indian accepted a number of means of knowledge. They are:
  1. Revelation
  2. Authority
  3. Perception
  4. Inference
These sources were understood in different ways be different thoughts. Buddhism also criticized some of the social knowledge and accepted others under a different interpretation.
  • Encyclopaedia of Buddhism (Epistemology)

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