Lokayata/Carvaka - A Philosophical Inquiry

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About the Book Philosophy in the Indian tradition is often believed to be essentially religious in character. Even schools like Nyaya and Buddhism correlate their logic and epistemology with a transcendent religious goal. Yet, there exists a purely secular and rational exercise within the Indian philosophical traditions-the Lokayata/ Carvaka school of philosophy. Owing to a lack of substantial literary sources, Lokayata has received only scant attention from scholars till no...
About the Book

Philosophy in the Indian tradition is often believed to be essentially religious in character. Even schools like Nyaya and Buddhism correlate their logic and epistemology with a transcendent religious goal. Yet, there exists a purely secular and rational exercise within the Indian philosophical traditions-the Lokayata/ Carvaka school of philosophy.

Owing to a lack of substantial literary sources, Lokayata has received only scant attention from scholars till now. This book is the first attempt to examine the philosophical energies inherent in the scattered Lokayatal Carvaka literature. Through a critical analysis firmly grounded in textual evidence, the author presents a systematic philosophical development of the pluralistic interpretation of this school.

Claiming that the diversity in the Lokayata school is greater and much more complex than generally imagined, the book explores the cognitive scepticism of Jayarasi, the extreme empiricism popularly attributed to Carvaka, and the mitigated empiricism in its two versions: positivist and common-sense oriented. It discusses these in a wider philosophical perspective in terms of their implications and their Western parallels.

About the Author

2. Pradeep P. Gokhale is Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Research professor, Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, India. He is also former Professor, Department of Philosophy, Savitribai Phule Pune University, India. His Previous publications include Hetubindu of Dharmakirti; A Point on Probans (1997) and inference and Fallacies Discussed in Ancient Indian Logic with Special Reference to Nyaya and Buddhism (1992)


In my college days, when I was studying selected chapters of the Sarvadaranasangraha (SDS) of Sayana-Madhava as a part of the course curriculum for the 'Entrance to Sastra' examination of Tilak Maharashtra University, I was fascinated by Carvaka-darsana due to its critical and down-to-earth approach. My heretic temperament was boosted by the reading of Carvaka-darsana from SDS and from a short but exhaustive discussion in Marathi written by Sadashiv Athavale on the history and philosophy of Carvakas. In the days of my post-graduate studies, I presented a paper on Carvaka-darsana in a regional seminar which was presided over by the late Pandit Laxman Shastri Joshi, who in his presidential speech drew the attention of the audience to an important text, the Tattvopaplavasimha of Jayarasibhatta. Though the text was very difficult for me at that time, stimulated by Pandit Joshi's speech, I read a few parts of it, tried to make sense of them, and wrote an article on the text. Though eventually I worked on many other issues in classical Indian philosophy, my personal philosophical affiliation remained Lokayata/Carvaka for many years. The only addition that took plan: in the course of time was because of Vipassana meditation and the interest developed in Ambedkar studies due to which I started calling myself a secular Buddhist and also an Ambedkarite Buddhist. However, this did not amount to a deviation from Carvaka affiliation, rather an extension of it. The traditional pandits are generally satisfied with a singularist understanding of the Carvaka position as found in SDS. Among the historians of Lokayata, however, both the singularist and pluralist tendencies are seen. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, through his Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Materialism and many other writings, developed a singularist account of Lokayata-darsana (which differed from the traditional singularist account in some important respects). Ramkrishna Bhattacharya follows the same tradition as that of Chattopadhyaya with a shift of emphasis from Lokayata to Carvaka. He finds discontinuity and disinterestedness between earlier and later Lokayata, but greater unity and integrity in Carvaka as the materialist philosophy. I was brought up in the Carvaka tradition through Sadashiv Athavale's book mentioned previously, which was based on his independent research, not falling in Chattopadhyaya's line. His approach on Carvaka was pluralist. He looked at Carvaka mainly as a representative of freedom of thought and expression' and materialism was just one of its offshoots, where the possibility of scepticism as another offshoot was not ruled out. Basically I am following this line of thought.

For me, the Carvaka or Lokayata perspective was largely a rebellion against otherworldly and ritualistic tendencies in Indian tradition and it was quite natural that this perspective could have assumed various philosophical forms.

As a free thinker I could easily imagine that a rebellion need not stick to a specific ideology, ontology, or epistemology. So I did not feel like adhering to a specific narrow interpretation of Carvaka-darsana, At the same time, although I had my own intellectual choice of epistemology, ontology, and axiology from the different versions available in Carvaka literature, I did not want to colour my interpretation of historical Carvaka by my choices. Hence my understanding of the historical Carvaka remained pluralist as against singularist. Instead of attributing a single philosophical position to Carvakas, I thought it appropriate to study different philosophical positions in their own right which might have been presented by different rebel philosophers who either took pride in associating themselves with the Lokayata or Carvaka or Barhaspatya tradition or to whom such an association was attributed by their opponents. The result is a book where I have tried to present separately the major philosophical positions that have been attributed to Carvakas as a whole or to specific schools of Carvakas.

focused study of the philosophical elements in the Lokayata/ ka school is relevant today not just because it is one of the schools Indian philosophy, or even because it is a comparatively neglected disrespected school, but rather because it is a school which carries true philosophical spirit to its greatest extent. All other schools accept certain authentic texts as their own, not to be questioned, but to dogmatically adhered to. They believe in life after death and also goal of life, termed differently as moksa (emancipation), apavarga goal beyond the three goals/) nirvana (extinction or cessation of cravings), kaivalya (isolatedness), and svarga (heaven), explained in otherworldly and/or trans-empirical terms. All these schools in this carried a religious dogma with them that could not be challenged reason, however influential it may be in the respective school. But if the true philosophical spirit lies in a tendency to question and examine all types of dogmas and religious beliefs, then the Lokayata/Carvaka I carried it. It is for this reason that the study of the philosophical avenues the school opens becomes important.

of course I do not want to belittle the importance of tracing Lokayata and Carvaka thought historically. Lokayata scholarship for the one and a half centuries has concentrated on this single project of collecting references pertaining to Lokayata and Carvaka and arranging them historically and consistently. J. Muir, Rhys Davids, G. Tucci, Stcherbatsky, D. R. Shastri, Gopinath Kaviraj, Eric Frauwallner, Walter Ruben, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Eli Franco, and Ramkrishna Bhattacharya, among others, have contributed to the activity. Some scholars read the references without any particular bias whereas some read them with an interpretative bias. But in spite such idiosyncratic differences, Lokayata scholarship remains largely historical in nature. One can say that with the works of the last scholars mentioned, the historical studies in Carvaka have almost reached a point of saturation.


1Unity and Diversity in the Lokayata/Carvaka Perspective1
2Scepticism in Carvaka-darsana23
3Extreme Empiricism in Carvaka-darsana49
4Mitigated Empiricism in Carvaka-darsana86
5Aspects of Materialism in Carvaka-darsana121
6Carvaka on Values149
7Revisiting Indian Philosophy through a Carvaka Perspective180
Bibliography with Abbreviations207
About the Author223

Sample Pages

Item Code: NAL254 Author: Pradeep P. Gokhale Cover: Hardcover Edition: 2015 Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi ISBN: 9780199460632 Language: English Size: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch Pages: 239 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 425 gms
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