Indian Philosophy – Nyaya Fallacies

The Nyaya Sutra also lists fallacies, forms of mistakes in debate that sound solid but have flaws, much as the Nyaya say we could see a post in the dark and mistake it for a man.  The Sutra warns us, much like Aristotle, that debate is about winning, but if we make arguments that are faulty, called clinchers by translators, cheap-shots, and if we point out faults that aren’t there in our opponent, called quibbles, nit-picking, we risk losing the debate if anyone notices, and we shouldn’t make them in the first place if we want to not only win, but be right.

For fallacies, the Sutra includes silence (which would lose a debate indeed), changing the thesis, contradicting the thesis, evasion (in one commentary, it is translated, I am called by nature… and then, we hear screeching tires outside), meaningless or incoherent speech (Chomsky gave the example for linguistics of Colorless sleep furiously green, which he thinks is meaningless), repetition (rather than additional argument where it is needed), overlooking the fallacies in an opponent’s argument (which could be pointed out by others), and my personal favorite, sharing the fault, pointing out a fault in an opponent that is also a fault in one’s own argument, or a fault in everyone (such as, My opponent is putting forward a mere mortal point of view).

The Sutra gives three types of quibbling, which correspond to the three uses of words, thing, form and class.  Vatsyayana give us examples for each, as he does with his commentary for everything in the Sutra.  For quibbling over words used for things, he says someone could say they had a new (nava) blanket, and someone else could misunderstand the individual word and think they claimed they had nine (also nava) blankets, and point out the false fallacy.  For quibbling over form, someone could say, The stands cry out, and someone could foolishly say that stands can’t cry, as they don’t have feelings, but they are wrong.  I have mistaken this for scaffolds, and thus the hangman rather than parade crowds, due to an earlier translation.  For quibbling over class, someone could say, All Brahmins are educated, possibly to construct an example of a Nyaya syllogism for your assignment, and someone else could wrongly object, Not all Brahmins are educated, because some are only three years old, and just learning to talk!