Rules of Debate and Grounds for Defeat in Ancient India

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Project Data

In India, important questions and controversial philosophical and religious doctrines were debated in public discussions from the earliest times. In the course of history one hears again and again about arguments in which important teachers advocated their opinions and defeated opponents in verbal debate. Attempts must have been made to describe how such arguments were to be held, which rules they should follow and when a debater could be considered the winner or loser in a verbal fight. Presumably, lists of rules for professional debating emerged in different philosophical schools, and it seems probable that they were subsequently collected in manuals on debating. However, no such early manual has survived. Nevertheless, two sources, one of the most important medical works of the classical period, the Carakasaṃhitā, and the first and fifth chapters of the fundamental text of the Nyāya school of philosophy, the Nyāyasūtra, can give us a picture of the rules that were to be observed in actual arguments and an indication of what handbooks or manuals of debate may have contained.

The focus of the project is a comparison between the definitions and examples in the section on debate of the Carakasaṃhitā, based on selected manuscripts, and the debate-related passages of the Nyāyasūtra together with its earliest commentary, Pakṣilasvāmin’s Nyāyabhāṣya (5th cent. AD). The objective of the project is a concise historical study and a comparison of the earliest sources of directives for debating and grounds for defeat that is founded for the first time on a solid philological basis. It will include a systematic discussion of the earliest procedures of proof and refutation. These were the starting point of later speculations on logic in the different Indian philosophical tradition.

The project also includes a historical survey of the interpretations of these grounds for defeat in the Nyāya tradition from the 5th to the 11th centuries based on the four major Nyāya commentaries, on the other independent texts of the Nyāya tradition and a synopsis of the fragments of the so-called lost teachers of the Nyāya School.

Additionally, it is also intended to study Cakrapanidatta’s interpretations of the debate-related topics in his Āyurvedadīpikā with regard to his knowledge of the Nyāya tradition in order to illustrate the logical and epistemological knowledge of 12th-century physicians in India.

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