Kautilya on the Indian Philosophical Situation

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Kautilya on the Indian Philosophical Situation

Post  Guest on Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:57 am

The Arthasastra is traditionally attributed to Kautilya or Chanakya, the brain behind the Mauryan empire. Accepting this tradition, its date is roughly the fourth century BC.

It is well known,of course, that the Arthasastra is neither a treatise on Indian philosophy nor a compendium of the Indian philosophical views, like those of Madhava or Haribhadra. However, it is still considered extremely important for reconstructing the history of Indian philosophy. Why is this so? The answer is that though primarily a work on ancient political economy, it contains in a very clear and systematic classification of the 'branches of knowledge' (vidya-s) of the age, indicating the place of philosophy in these. The main points that Kautilya makes while throwing light on the Indian philosophical situation existing in his times are:

First, he recognizes four distinct branches of knowledge and calls them anviksiki, trayi, varta, and dandaniti. There is no problem in translating the last two of the four terms Kautilya gives: varta may be rendered as 'science of agriculture'while 'dandaniti' as 'science of statecraft'. The first two terms (anviksiki and trayi) of Kautilya require some explaination.

Anviksiki is the old Indian term for logic. But the very concept of logic underlying it is not without interest. The grammarian Panini suggests that it is called anviksiki because it has for its object anviksa, literally 'after-knowledge' (anu + iksa). The more frequently used later word for 'after-knowledge' is anumana, by which is meant inference. In Nyaya sutra, Gotama explains why inference is called 'after-knowledge': inference presupposes perception i.e. is possible only on the basis of some previous perceptual experience. For understanding Kautilya, therefore, the main point to be noted is that anviksa being equivalent to anumana, the word anviksiki means for him what later comes to be known as anumana-vidya i.e. the science of inferential knowledge, which in its turns presupposes direct perceptual evidence or more simply direct experience. Hence, Kautilya does not allow within his conception of anviksiki any place for the alleged mystical, intuitive, or scriptural approach to reality. For him, anviksiki is essentially rational and the only data accepted by it for rational analysis are data furnished by direct experience.

By trayi Kautilya means theology of a special brand. The word literally means 'Three' and this is one of the typical forms in which the Veda is referred to in ancient Indian literature. Thus trayi specifically means Vedic theology, and not theology in any other form.

But the more important point about Kautilya is that from his standpoint anviksiki is to be clearly differentiated from trayi. What characterises anviksiki is its essential secularism; while trayi is of course Vedic theology. The two are thus different 'branches of knowledge'. Further, if we agree that by anviksiki Kautilya means 'philosophy' (which, as we shall see later, he surely does), then he is clearly making a clear cut distinction between philosophy and theology.

The result of such an understanding is that the Vedanta view, which is intended to be nothing but the systematisation of the 'knowledge-branch' of the Veda cannot be in Kautilya's assessment a philosophy in the strict sense. Likewise for the Mimansa, which is a rationalization of the 'ritual-branch' of the Veda. Both are evidently considered as belonging to trayi or theology. Significantly, even while giving a list of philosophical views accepted by him, Kautilya is completely silent on Vedanta and Mimansa; apparently even if Vedanta existed at that time as a school, Kautilya could easily view both Mimansa and Vedanta as belonging to Theology or trayi.

Hence the branches of knowledge acknowledged by Kautilya are broadly divided into two heads--non-secular and secular. The former means the study of scriptures, specifically the Veda.Along with economics and politics, philosophy belongs to the latter. Indeed, philosophy--understood essentially as anviksiki--cannot but belong to the category of secular branches of knowledge.

It has to be noted that even in Kautilya's time there is a formidable opposition to such a view of philosophy. His scheme of fourfold branches of knowledge is not accepted by others; of such rival views in circulation, the most interesting is attributed by Kautilya to the Manavas, literally 'the followers of Manu'. Modern scholars (especially PV Kane in his 'History of Dharmasastras') have already discussed the question of the possible relation of these 'followers of Manu' with the law codes later redacted as Manu Smriti, and the question need not be reopened right now.

What is to be noted is that the attitude to philosphy expressed in the Manu Smriti and by the 'followers of Manu' in Kautilya's text fully concur. Thus, according to Kautilya, the followers of Manu acknowledge only three branches of knowledge, namely trayi, varta and dandaniti. What they drop from the list is anviksiki or philosophy in Kautilya's sense. The followers of Manu refuse to admit it as an independent branch of knowledge. But why do they take such an attitude? Because, says Kautilya, in their understanding anviksiki is already included in trayi, and hence has no independence of its own. This means that philosophical activity, as far as it is approved by the followers of Manu, is already included in the study of the Veda: rational analysis has to be strictly subservient to the scriptures. Those who have read the Manu Smriti without bias may have seen how this view is worked out in that work and in allied literature, and what damage it caused for the Indian philosophical situation. Evidently, the view is in circulation long before the redaction of Manu Smriti in its present form and,moreover, from as early as the fourth century BC, it is associated with the name of Manu. Among the later philosophers, Adi Sankar in particular wants to rationalize this view with great enthuisasm (and, on occasions, abject servility).

But Kautilya himself has no sympathy for this view of the followers of Manu ;he disassociates himself from their views clearly and categorically. For him, trayi and anviksiki --theology and philosophy--as branches of knowledge are completely different. This means that though he does not question the scriptures and the importance of their study, the logical or rational approach to reality has an independent status. But more than this, he even goes to the extent of boldly proclaiming the supreme importance of logic and logic-oriented philosophy among all the branches of knowledge. As Kautilya himself says (Arthasastra i.2.2-3):

"Anviksiki is ever renowned as the lamp of all the branches of learning, the aid of all activities, and the basis of all virtue."


Incidentially, this bold defence of logic and rational thinking by Kautilya is not to be misunderstood. The section on 'branches of knowledge' of Arthasastra from which the quote enthuiastically praising logic is taken from is part of Kautilya's program of 'the training of the prince for the arduous task of rulership'; rational philosophy, explains Kautilya, is intended to strengthen danda or 'the rod' i.e. the coercive power necessary for the security and power of the state: anviksiki-trayi-vartanam yogaksema-sadhano dandhah. Hence, training in logic and rational thinking is not for the masses--Kautilya well recognizes the utitlity of superstition in policing a state. But upholders of political power must themselves be free from the spell of superstitions, according to Kautilya; they must be able to use cool and calculated logic for their own purposes and are hence expected to have a thorough training in logic and in rational thinking--anviksiki.

But which philosophies does Kautilya place under anviksiki?

According to Kautilya, under anviksiki are to be included only the Sankhya, Yoga, and Lokayata.

Kautilya's refusal to place Mimansa and Vedanta under Anviksiki is understandable--he evidently wishes to place them under trayi or theology. With respect to Budhism and Jainism, it appears that they do not yet aquire much importance in his time (admitting the traditional date of Kautilya) and Kautilya possibly ignores these. In any case, the Vedic theology is the only theology recognized by him.

Lokayata is an alternative name for Charvaka philosophy, and i have earlier argued that Sankhya is an athiestic, reason based philosophy. But what about Yoga? More importantly, why is Kautilya silent on the Nyaya-Vaisesika? The answer is that 'Yoga' is the earlier name for the Nyaya-Vaisesika. Vatsyayana refers to followers of Nyaya-Vaisesika as 'followers of Yoga' in his commentary to the Nyaya Sutra in at least one instance (on Nyaya sutra i.1.29).

Kuppuswami Sastri, writing in his 'Primer of Indian Logic' pg xiv comments:

"Kautilya's Arthasastra mentions the types of thoughts comprising anviksiki in the statement sankhyam yogo lokayatam cetyanviksiki (anviksiki comprises only of Sankhya, Yoga, and Lokayata)...In this extract from Kautilya, there is no specific mention of Nyaya and Vaisesika as such....Those who are sufficiently familiar with the use of the word yoga in its old sense of Vaisesika, as it is found used for instance in Vatsyayana's bhasya on i.1.29 are not likely to consider it a strained interpretation to take the word yoga, as used in Kautilya, in the sense of Vaisesika. In fact, according to Vachaspati Mishra's Tatparya Tika and the Bhasyacandra on bhasya i.1.29, the word yoga may be taken in the somewhat comprehensive sense of Nyaya including the Vaisesika. "

According to Sastri, the word Yoga also meant logic because it is a synonym for yukti or reasoning which is the special theme of the Nyaya-Vaisesika philosophy. Further to this, Phanibhusan Tarkavagisa (a 20th century Nyayayika) in his commentary to the Nyaya Sutra argues that the word yoga is a synonym of samyoga or conjunction: in his view, the Nyaya-Vaisesikas are called the followers of Yoga because in their view the universe results from the conjunction of the eternal atoms.

To sum up: Kautilya's use of the word anviksiki for philosophy and the sharp contrast he draws between anviksiki (logic and logic based philosophies) with trayi (theology) leads us to infer that rationalism and secularism characterise his philosophy proper. In philosophy proper he recognizes only three philosophies--Sankhya, Lokayata, and Nyaya-Vaisesika. Mimansa and Vedanta are not philosophy proper, according to Kautilya, but theology.

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