Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Logic of Science

Reviewed by Kuldip Dhiman
Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science
Sundar Sarukkai
PHISPC, Centre for Studies in Civilizations.
Pages 273. Rs 450.

The irresistible desire to know and to master the forces of Nature is a unique feature of the human mind. From prehistoric times, humans have employed various means to know and conquer Nature. Then, Galileo, Newton, Bacon, and others changed the way empirical knowledge was acquired. All dogma and other unreliable means were thrown out of the window and replaced with a more reliable and testable method of gaining knowledge. It was the birth of the scientific method, which, in the past four hundred years or so, has transformed the world beyond recognition.

So great has been the impact of science that to most people, all science now essentially means Western science. In Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science, Sundar Sarukkai tries to correct this erroneous view. While acknowledging the contributions of Western science, he shows that there was a vibrant scientific tradition and a philosophy of science in India, which had many aspects that resembled modern science.

What is science and upon what does it rest? The backbone of scientific method is logic, but according to Sarukkai, in the West, logic came first, then science, whereas in India science came first, then logic.

"The philosophy of science, based on Western philosophy and logic, is actually searching and demanding for logic in science. In contrast, Indian logicians were demanding that logic itself be scientific." The Western tradition of logic, which began with Aristotle, is about the right way of formulating arguments; it is about validity and invalidity of the conclusions, not about their truth as such.

"Logic in India," says Sarukkai, "arose out of two different traditions: one the tradition of debate and dialectics, and the other, the epistemological, empirical tradition, because of which the distinction between logic and epistemology, as in Western logic, is not made in Indian schools of logic." This means, that in Indian logic, an argument should be not only valid but also sound.

Thus, Indian logic, as exemplified by Nayaya, Navya-Nayaya, Buddhist, and Jaina schools is inseparable from truth, that is why pramana, (means of valid knowledge) was common to all Indian schools. What varied between them was the number and type of pramanas. Indian logical structure thus is quite close to the structure scientific explanation.

The early five-step Nayaya process, says Sarukkai, has a strong correlation with the deductive-nomological model of scientific explanation. He also compares syllogisms of Indian schools with Aristotelian syllogisms, and then explores the methods of classification, meaning, inference, definition, verification, and confirmation in both traditions.

We are told about the Buddhist logician Dignaga's concept of "limitation of verification", which is a presentiment of Karl Popper's concept of falsification. Since no amount of confirmation of a theory is enough, a good scientific theory should be open to falsification, in fact the more open it is to falsification, the stronger the theory becomes. Sarukkai also deals with the methods of deduction and induction in great detail, pointing out that Indian logicians did not make a clear distinction between them, raising doubts in many minds if Indian logic was really logic.

Another important way in which Indian logic differs from the Western is the rejection of empty terms indicating the close connection between epistemology and logic. An empty term is a set of imaginary entities like unicorns. In saying so, the author gives us the impression as if all Western logic is one unified tradition. George Boole, the 19th century logician, showed that traditional Western logic implied that Aristotle's propositions were not an empty class, and if we tried to strictly follow his classification, then we would have to leave out concepts that do not have existential import. If we did that, it would be at a very high cost, for then we would not be able to talk meaningfully about abstract entities.

Scientists and other theoreticians often wish to reason without making any presumptions about existence.

So if perception, proof, and truth are intrinsic to Indian logic, we could ask how would Indian logicians talk about propositions with empty terms? This is an issue that could also have been addressed, in this well-researched and interesting book.

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