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Samanya Lakshana Pratyaksha In Hindu Philosophy

 In Hindu philosophy, Samanya lakshana pratyaksha is one of the alaukika pratyaksha – non-sensual perception of things. Alaukika pratyaksha is perception through extraordinary (in contrast to the ordinary) channels, i.e. not through the senses. This concept seems to be the contribution of the Naiyayikas (logicians), beginning with Gangesha Upadhyaya. Three kinds of extraordinary perception have been identified – samanya lakshana pratyasatti, jnana lakshana pratyasatti and yogaja.

Samanya lakshana pratyaksha kind of perception refers to inductive generalizations like ‘all men are mortal’. Induction generally follows the principle of the leap from the observed character of a few objects to all the rest of the objects of that class though unobserved. But this leap is unjustified because it is not safe or reasonable to exceed the evidence. At the most it is only a conjecture for which there may not be any warrant. Yet experiences are guided only by such generalizations.

It is here that the samanya-lakshana of the Naiyayikas claims to offer a solution to the problem of induction. When we perceive a particular pot, for example, we perceive at the same time in and through it, its class-character (samanya lakshana) of pot-ness (i.e. what it is to be a pot) and thereby perceive (pratyasatti) all the pots that there are, were, and will be. This is because a universal inheres in the particular by an inseparable relation (samanya). This perception is alaukika (extraordinary) because all the pts in the world are not given in normal sense-contact but are perceived in an intuition of pots as a class through the knowledge of ‘what it is to be a pot’ seen normally in the particular object identified as a pot.

As Vishvanatha in his Bhasha-pariccheda puts it, the knowledge of the universal is the medium of sense-contact by which we have a perception of all pots when one pot is perceived (asattir asrayanam tu samanya jnanam). This, however, does not make the knower of a pot, cloth, etc., omniscient because the other members of a class of pots, cloths, etc., are known through this extraordinary contact, only as a ‘class’ but not with their specific individual properties and with their mutual differences.

According to Gangesha, without this extraordinary perception we cannot –

  1. Get any inductive generalization like ‘all cases of smoke are cases of fire’ as such generalizations are given not constructed by inference.
  2. We cannot entertain even a doubt whether all cases of smoke are cases of smoke are cases of fire if we do not perceive in this way all the cases of smoke in their essential character.
  3. We cannot make negative judgments of mutual difference like ‘this is not a cow’ since to know a particular cow is to know all the cows in this non-sensuous way.
  4. We cannot aim at pleasure and work for it unless we know, by experiencing one instance of pleasure, all similar pleasure as a class.