The Sanskrit term for philosophy is ‘darsan’ lit., seeing, that is vision, or view of Truth. The ultimate end of every school is man’s deliverance from all sufferings and attainment of abiding peace by true knowledge. However, each system has its own metaphysical, ontological and epistemological position and, therefore, the conception of true knowledge and liberation.

Madhavacarya’s Sarvadarshan-samgraha written in fourteenth century AD Trans. By E.B. Cowell and A.E. Gough, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1904) has discussed sixteen different Indian philosophical systems. Among these, twelve major schools of Indian philosophy are widely recognized. They form two groups:

Vedic systems: These systems accept the authority of the four sacred texts called Vedas that are supposed to be divine revelation of supra-sensuous knowledge. Such systems are called ‘astika’ and include:

Mimamsa (Purva Mimamsa)

Vedanta (Uttara Mimamsa)





Among these Vedic systems, Mimamsa and Vedanta are Sruti-pradhana i.e. primaruly dependent of Vedic authority while the other four systems are Yukti-pradhana i.e. primarily dependent on argument.

Non-vedic systems: These systems deny the authority of the Vedas. Such systems are called ‘nastika’ and include:

Lokayata (Carvaka) darshan (pure materialism)


Buddhism, which has four major subdivisions:

Vaibhasika (direct materialism)

Sautrantika (indirect materialism)

Yogacara (idealsim)

Madhyamika (nihilism)

Indian epistemology

According to Indian view, all knowledge is revelatory. Its function is to manifest the object of knowledge by removing the veil of unknown-ness from it without affecting it in any way. Thus, the knowledge presents but does not represent. Cogitation is not cognition. It is a wrong premise to start with that knowledge is constructive or interpretative by nature. If such a view is held, then it would follow that nothing can be known as it is and underlying knowledge is bound to remain hidden forever.

In all relational knowledge, four distinct factors are involved- the knower, the object known, the process of knowledge and the resulting knowledge. The process of knowledge involves the method that relates the knower self with the object of knowledge. Hicks George D. (Theroy of knowledge Vol. XIII, p. 449, Univ. of London, 1948) has pointed out that the knowledge exhibits two characteristics- a reference to a self that knows and reference to a reality other than the self. The former is no less a problem than the latter. The epistemological inquiry in the West, however, has been directed mainly towards the object of knowledge. The questions that mainly concern Indian epistemology are:

  • What is the nature of knowledge.
  • What is the origin of knowledge.
  • How does knowledge arise.
  • What are the instruments of knowledge.
  • How is the sense-object related to the cognizer.
  • What is the test of the validity of cognition.
  • What causes illusion.
  • How non-existent is known.
  • What is the way to the knowledge of the ultimate reality.

All the Indian philosophical systems have dwelt on these questions in detail.

Indian philosophers have dwelt in depth on the nature of prama (the valid cognition) and the praman (the methods of knowledge).



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