Perception – A source of knowledge
Knowledge is the basis of understanding everything about this existential phenomenon and beyond. It is a journey from known to the unknown that forms any philosophy. The Indian schools of philosophy have laid down six different ways to gain this knowledge.
1. Perception or Pratyaksha
2. Inference or Anumana
3. Verbal Testimony or Sabda/ Agama
5. Comparison or Upmana
6. Implication or Arthapati
7. Non-apprehension or Anupalabdhi
Let’s discuss perception in the present article.
Perception implies using the senses to perceive. This happens through a contact with the object and the sense organ. Thus, perception involved a sense organ, an object and a contact between them.
Five sense organs exist, namely, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Corresponding to these five sense organs, one can experience five types of perception, namely, visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactual.
Almost, all schools of Indian Philosophy accept perception as a reliable, and valid source or knowledge. The Carvaka accept only perception as a valid source of knowledge and refute others. They establish their stand by saying that one cannot establish an invariable unconditional concomitance relation (Vypati) between the perceived (hetu) and the unperceived (sadhya), that is the known and the unknown, respectively. To understand this better, let’s take an instance of a smoke and a fire. Vyapti cannot be established between the two, as we do not have knowledge of all cases of smoke and fire. Perception allows us to have knowledge of a specific smoke and associated fire. A particular case can not lead to a generalization, what is perceived at that particular instant is the only truth. The universal proposition theory will lead to a fallacy called illicit generalization.
According to them, inference as a source of valid knowledge is like taking a leap in the dark, from the perceived smoke and the unperceived fire.
To counter attack the Carvakas, The Jain’s propound that just as inference can go wrong sometimes, similarly perception can also go wrong, as it happens in the case of illusion and hallucinations. So, perception can not be termed as the only source of valid knowledge. The stance by Carvakas about perception being valid in every instance, makes them go towards inference.
The Sautantrika school of Buddhism puts forth their stance against the Carvakas saying that if an object exists, it is not the subject matter of perception. It is the mind that through its own consciousness infer the existence of external objects.
The Nyayas go a little further stating that taking perception as the only source of valid knowledge will make our lives limited and practical life difficult.