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Comparative Study of Indian and Western Philosophy

  • Philosophy is the root of all knowledge. It is considered as mother of all sciences. Philosophy has interpreted man and his various activities in a comprehensive manner. It helps to coordinate the various activities of the individuals and the society.
  • It helps us to understand the significance of all human experience.
  • “It explores the basic source and aims of life. It asks and tries to answer the deepest questions to life. It clarifies life and the basic values of life. This clarity is very essential because it provides us with the wisdom to face the challenges of life.
  • Wisdom is the supreme instrument in the hands of man in the struggle for his successful existence.


  • In the early phases of human life on this planet when man was struck with wonder or the natural phenomena or when he found complex ad conflicting phenomena in life and was filled with discontentment at the existing order of things, it was the beginning of philosophy.

The Vedas

  • The origin of Indian philosophy may be easily traced in the Vedas. The Vedas are the earliest available records of Indian literature.
  • The Upanishads are the foundation of Indian philosophy, which teach spiritual monism and mysticism.
  • The systems of Indian philosophy are systematic speculations on the nature of the Realty in harmony with the teachings of Upanishads, which contain various aspects of the truth. They aim at the knowledge of the Reality with a view to transforming and spiritualizing human life.
  • Philosophical knowledge does not aim at merely satisfying our theoretical and speculative interest, but also at realizing the highest truth in life

Dars’ana or vision of truth

  • Indian philosophy is intensely spiritual and emphasizes the need of practical realization of truth. As philosophy aims at knowledge of truth, it is termed in Indian literature, ‘the vision of truth’ (dars’ana).
  • The word ‘dars’ana’ means ‘vision’ and also the ‘instrument of vision’. It stands for the direct, immediate and intuitive vision of Reality, the actual perception of Truth , and also includes the means which lead to this realization.
  • ‘See the Self’ is the keynote of all schools of Indian Philosophy. And this is the reason why most of the schools of Indian Philosophy are intimately associated with religious sects.

The schools of Indian philosophy

The following are the major philosophical schools or systems (dars’anas).

  1. The Nyaya system of Aksapada Gautama
  2. The Vaise esika system of Maharshi kanada
  3. The Samkhya system of Kapila muni
  4. The Yoga system of Ptanjali
  5. The Mimamsa system of Jaimini
  6. The Vedanta system of Badarayana Vyas
  7. TheBauddha system of Guatama Buddha
  8. The Jaina system of Mahavira
  9. The Carvaka system of Carvaka

Classfication of the Indian Philosophical Schools:

Orthodox and Heterodox

  • The schools or systems of Indian philosophy are divided into two broad classes, namely, orthodox (astika, Vedic) and heterodox (nastika, Non-Vedic).
  • To the first group belong the six chief philosophical systems (popularly known as sad-darsana), namely, Mimamsa, Vedanta, Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisesika.
  • These are regarded as orthodox (astika), not because they believe in God, but because they accept the authority of the Vedas.
  • The Mimamsa and the Sankhya do not believe in God as the creator of the world, yet they are called orthodox (astika), because they believe in the authoritativeness of the Vedas.
  • Under the other class of Heterodox systems, the chief three are the schools of the Materialists like the Carvakas, the Bauddhas and the Jains. They are called heterodox because they do not believe in the authority of the Vedas.

Empiricism, Rationalism and Authoritarianism

The nine major systems of Indian Philosophy may be classified on the basis of sources of knowledge  ie. epistemology into three major groups- Empiricism, Rationalism and Authoritarianisn.

  1. Empiricism:
  • Those who hold that perception is the only source of knowledge are forced to deny the existence of God , soul, rebirth, hell and heaven.
  • This view is called Empiricism- Sense experience is the only source of knowledge. Charvaka holds this view.
  1. Rationalism:
  • Those who hold that we are entitled to believe in what is not directly perceived but which can be inferred from what is perceived.
  • This view is called, from the perception of smoke we are entitled to infere the existence of fire though we do not see fire, on the ground that wherever there is smoke there is fire.
  • The Nyaya-Vaisheshika, The Samkhya-yoga andBuddhism are rationalist schools
  • They accept perception and inference as the valid pramanas and regard inference as primary and sense perception as subordinate
  1. Authoritarianism
  • Perception and Inference based upon perception may be adequate to give us knowledge about the empirical world , but what about transcendent realities like souls, God, past birth, karma hell and heaven.
  • These objects are not knowable by these two pramanas. But they can be known through supra-sensuous experience to the mystics, prophets, saints, sees directly and to us through scriptures which are the records of such experience or revelations This is called Authoritarianism.
  • Of course, they accept other pramanas also. The remaining three schools of purva Mimamsa, Vedanta and Jainism belong to this category.

The Common Ideas in the System of Indian Philosophy

    1. The Reality of the world: All schools of Indian philosophy recognize the reality of the world. Even the Advaita Vedanta of Samkara regards the world as a mere appearance from the standpoint of the absolute. But it recognizes the empirical reality of the world-appearance.
    2. The reality of the self: The reality of the permanent self is generally admitted. Among the heterodox schools the Carvaka and Buddhist deny the reality of the permanent self.
    3. The law of Karma : All schools of Indian philosophy except the Carvaka believe in the law of Karma. As we sow, so we reap. There is no escape from the consequences of actions . Their fruits must be reaped in this life or in future life
    4. Transmigration: The idea of transmigration is common to all systems of Indian philosophy except the Carvaka school.
    5. Initial Pessimism and Ultimate Optimism: Indian philosophy is branded as pessimistic. Life is full of sufferings. But all kinds of pain can be destroyed in the state of liberation. So, Indian philosophy is characterised by initial pessimism and ultimate optimism.
    6. Bondage: Another common view held by all Indian thinkers except Carvaka school, is that ignorance of reality is the cause of our bondage and sufferings, and liberation from these cannot be achieved without knowledge of reality.
    7. Liberation: The idea of liberation is common to all the systems of Indian philosophy except the Carvaka school.
    8. The means to liberation: The different systems of Indian philosophy lay down the means to the attaintment of liberation.
    9. Pramanas: Indian philosophy is not dogmatic and uncritical. Every system of philosophy is based on epistemology or theory of knowledge.


  • Wonder is said to be the origin of philosophy. In the early human life on this planet, when man was struck with wonder at the natural phenomena or when he found complex and conflicting phenomena in life and was filled with discontentment at the existing order of things, it was the beginning of philosophy.
  • While the philosophy of Vedas began in wonder, the philosophy of Gautam Buddha began in discontentment with the miserable world.
  • In the West, the early beginning of philosophy was in wonder, while the modern Western philosophy had its origin in doubt.
  • These are some of the many problems taken at random, which we find agitating the human mind in every land, from the very dawn of civilization.
  • Western philosophy has removed more or less true to the etymological meaning of ‘philosophy’ in being essentially an intellectual quest for truth

The Development of Western Philosophy:

  • In the history of Western philosophy we find that as human knowledge about each of the different problems mentioned above began to grow, it became impossible for the same man to study everything about every problem.
  • Division of labour or specialization became necessary and a group of man devoted themselves to a particular problem or a few connected problems. There came into existence in this way the different special sciences.
  • Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Anatomy, Geology and similar sciences took up each a part or aspect of the world of nature.
  • Physiology, Anatomy and the other medical sciences devoted themselves to the different problems of the human body. Psychology began to study the problems of the human mind.
  • The detailed study of many of particular problems with which philosophical speculation originally started became thus the subject matter of the special sciences.
  • Philosophy then began to depend on the reports of the investigation made by the different sciences, tried to understand their meanings and implications critically , and utilized these results for understanding the general nature of the universe- man, nature and God.

Divisions of Western Philosophy

  • Historians of philosophy have divided Western Philosophy according to their convenience. We shall divide the Western Philosophy into Greek, Medieval, Modern, PostKantian, Metaphysicians and the 20th Century philosophy.

I. Greek Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy

It covers a period between 600-400 A.D. This period has three sections.

  1. Section I. Pre-Socratic Philosophy
  2. Section II. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
  3. Section III. Greco-Roman Philosophy
  1. Medieval Philosophy 400-1500 A.D
  2. Modern Philosophy (Bacon to Kant) Post-Kantian Philosophy.
  3. 20th Century Philosophy

Methods of Philosophy

  • A method for any science is a necessity. Method in philosophy is a systematic and consistent way of attaining philosophical knowledge. What our method is going to be largely determined by our attitude to philosophy.
  • Those who look upon philosophy as a universal science may think that a method of philosophy like a method of science is empirical.
  • Others looking upon philosophy as an intellectual pursuit may treat a method of reason as the method of philosophy.

The different methods of philosophy are as follows:


  • This method of thinking consists in assuming certain “fundamental principles as self-evident and axiomatic, without explanation or proof, and deducing conclusions from these unproved premises”.
  • It also carries on its investigations without a previous criticism of uses. In other words without criticizing the quality of knowledge and without determining how we know things, it at once hastens to interpret the objects of the world.
  • Hence in this method of thinking the mind is too busy with its objects to attend to itself.
  • Descartes, Spinoza and Leibnitz may be mentioned as belonging to this line of thinking.


  • According to Empiricism, all knowledge , whether scientific or philosophical, is entirely built up of sensations and materials derived from sensations.
  • It holds that the mind of every man at the time of birth is like a blank sheet of white paper (a tabula rasa) on which the impressions coming from the outside are imprinted in the form of experience.
  • Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume,Mill and Bain may be mentioned as the advocates of this school of thought.


  • It results from carrying empiricism to its most extreme and consistent form.
  • Because, if we once admit that we can have no genuine knowledge beyond what can be compounded out of the materials of sensations and feelings, it follows that we cannot have not only any understanding realities outside of and apart from our own sensations and feelings, but also any certain knowledge that such things exist as all.
  • Hence, our idea of substances, mind, matter and God cannot be known for certain to correspond to realities, existing independently of our ideas.
  • Not only can we know nothing about the real nature of such meta-physical or transcendental realities, but also we cannot even know for certain that they have any existence.
  • Hume, Mill, Bain, and Spencer are the advocates of this doctrine.
  • In its extreme form, skepticism denies the certainty of all knowledge.


  • Criticism is the method which bases all philosophical speculation upon a critical inquiry into the nature, origin and limits of knowledge.
  • According to this doctrine, the true philosophical method must be critical.
  • Before we enter into philosophy, we must hold a thorough inquiry into the antecedent conditions of knowledge and the precise filed and range of its operations.
  •  By thus ascertaining the scope of knowledge, criticism helps us in determining the range of philosophical investigations. Kant is a great advocate of critical method.


  • It is a method which consist in showing that sensations and feelings can only give the materials of knowledge and that such materials do not constitute knowledge unless they are interpreted by reason.
  • Hence, according to this method of thinking, knowledge is a product, not of experience alone, but of reason interpreting experience.
  • Thus, this form of thinking gives a prominent place to reason, and a subordinate one to sensations and feelings in the structure of knowledge.
  • The Criticism of Kant, then, is a form of Rationalism. Likewise some of the dogmatic systems may be regarded as forms of Rationalism.

Dialectical Method

  • According to Hegel, the proper method for philosophy is dialectic. This is a natural method of philosophical thinking.
  • It is a commonplace experience that when we think over a problem we arrive at certain positive facts. This is thesis.
  • Now, after some time we come to know some facts which are contradictory to the thesis; this is antithesis.
  • Thesis and antithesis cannot live together for long hence they are synthesized into a synthesis. This synthesis arrived through antithesis is more comprehensive than the original thesis.
  • Thus, knowledge grows in a dialectical process through thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis.

Modern Methods

  • The Pragmatists adopt the pragmatic method. The New Realists adopt the method of intellectual analysis.
  • Bergson adopts the method of intuition in regard to life, and of intellect in regard to matter.
  • The Logical Positivists adopt the method of linguistic analysis and empirical verification.
  • The naturalists adopt the naturalistic methods of observation and experiment. Croce and Gentile adopt the historical method

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