Vaada, Jalpa and Vitanda
Vaada is a debate between two persons of equal standing. The term Vaada by itself means a theory, doctrine or thesis. In the debate, the proponent who puts forward arguments in support of his doctrine (Vaada) is termed as Vadin. The opponent who refutes that theory through his counter-arguments is termed as Prati-vadin. Unlike in Samvada, there is no teacher-taught relationship here; nor is it a discourse.
Ideally, both the parties to the Vaada should have mutual regard, respecting each other’s learning and status; and should participate with an open mind in order to explore various dimensions of the subject on hand; to examine it thoroughly by applying the accepted norms of logic and reasoning (Tarka), supported by passages from texts of undisputed authority (Sabda Pramana). The principal aim of a wholesome Vaada is to resolve the conflict; and, to establish ‘what is true’. The proceedings of the Vaada should be characterized by politeness, courtesy and fair means of presenting the arguments. You might call it a healthy discussion.
Vatsayana in his commentary Nyāya Bhāṣya, says that congenial debate (Anuloma Sambasha) takes place when the opponent is not wrathful or malicious; but , is learned , wise , eloquent and patient ; is well versed in the art of persuasion ; and is gifted with sweet speech.
As regards the benefits ( Sambasha prashamsa or prayojana ) of such peaceful and congenial debates : If a learned person debates with another scholar, both versed in the same subject, it would increase the depth of their knowledge, clear misapprehensions, if any, and lead them to find certain minor details which hitherto might have escaped their attention . Besides, it would heighten their zeal to study further; and bring happiness to both.
But, in cases where two scholars hold contrary views, the Vadin and Prati-vadin will each try very hard to establish the doctrine which he believes is true; and to convince the other to accept its veracity through fair and effective presentation and arguments. At the same time, each is willing to understand and appreciate the arguments of the other; and accept any merit they might find in it. In case, one is in doubt or unable to respond satisfactorily , one can take a break to re-group his position or to re-examine the issue to see whether he can refute the opponent’s argument more effectively or put up a sounder defense.
And, if one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent is valid, he adopts it with grace. And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right. In any case, they accept the outcome of the debate, whatever be it; and, part their ways without rancor.
The Buddhist text Milinda Panha (Questions of Milinda) dated between second and first century BCE is said to be a record of the conversations that took place between the Indo-Greek king Menander I Soter (who is said to have ruled over the regions of Kabul and Punjab) and the Buddhist monk Nagasena.
At the outset, Nagasena remarks that the debate they would be having would be one between two wise men; and it would not be a debate for the King.
Then, King Menander enquires as to the distinction between the two.
Monk Nagasena explains:
When scholars debate, your Majesty, there is summing up and unraveling of a theory, convincing and conceding; there is also defeat, and yet the scholars do not get angry at all.
When the Kings debate, your Majesty, they state their thesis, and if anyone differs from them, they order him punished, saying ‘Inflict punishment upon him’.
Thus, in a good debate there could be defeat or censure or clincher (Nigraha-sthana) but no animosity.
[ Dr. Sangeetha Menon, in her scholarly article, though she writes about Saṁvāda, she is actually referring to Vada:
(Saṁ)vāda, is meant to lead to transforming experiences, in the process of which attempts are made jointly to (i) ascertain what is true knowledge, (ii) to understand new ideas, and, (iii) to understand the nature of the inquirer herself/himself.
(Saṁ) vāda plays a central role in understanding Indian philosophy as well as Indian psychology. It has references not only to logical and epistemological methods but also to states of mind which are important in the discussion about the primal nature of self. Hence, the discussions on metaphysical and ontological issues are always interrelated to understanding ethical, axiological, aesthetic and spiritual issues. There is a constant attempt to reconcile and integrate different experiences, and the existence of contradictions so as to generate worldviews based on an understanding of life with answers for fundamental questions about self-identity, nature of world, creation, purpose of life, nature of knowledge, value systems etc.
Apart from the content of the dialogue, the process of dialogue plays an important role in contributing to the well-being of the partners involved. It gives total and one-time attention to how world views are formed, how mental and physical discipline are significant to conceive an idea, how way of living is connected with the self-identity of the inquirer.
Being and Wellbeing In Upanishadic Literature by Dr. Sangeetha Menon ]
Nyaya Sutra in its First Book enumerates the steps or the categories (padartha) of the methods (Vadopaya) for structuring the argument and for presentation of the subject under debate, while the rest of the four Books expand on these steps. The Vada-marga (the stages in the course of a debate) is classified under sixteen steps:
1) Pramana (the means of knowledge); 2) Prameya (the object of right knowledge); 3) Samsaya (creating doubt or misjudgment ); 4) Prayojana (purpose); 5) Drshtanta ( familiar example); 6) Sidhanta ( established tenet or principle); 7) Avayava ( an element of syllogism); 8) Tarka ( reasoned argument); 9) Niranaya (deduction or determination of the question); 10) Vada (discussion to defend or to arrive at the truth); 11) Jalpa (wrangling or dispute to secure a win ); 12) Vitanda (quibble or mere attack); 13) Hetvabhasa (fallacy, erratic contrary , ill-timed challenges); 14) Chala (misleading or willfully misinterpreting the words); 15) Jati (futile objections founded on similarities or otherwise) and 16) Nigrahaslhana ( disagreement in principle or no purpose in arguing further or the point nearing defeat).
These sixteen steps are meant to ascertain and establish ‘what is true’ (yathartha).The first four steps deal, mainly, with logic; while the latter seven perform the function of preventing and eliminating the errors. Among the first fou; Pramana with its four reliable means of obtaining knowledge is of cardinal importance [ Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony)].
As said earlier, these sixteen categories are discussed in detail in four sections of the Nyaya Sutra. The Nyāya Sūtra (verse 1.1.2) declares that its goal is to study and describe the attainment of liberation from wrong knowledge, faults and sorrow, through the application of above sixteen categories of perfecting knowledge.
Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) states that Vaada, the good or honest debate, is constituted by the following characteristics:
1. Establishment of the thesis and refutation of the counter thesis should be based upon adequate evidence or means of knowledge (pramana) as well as upon proper reasoning (tarka). Pramana, the valid knowledge, is defined as the cognition of the objects as they actually are, free from misapprehension (tatha bhuta rtha jnanam hi pramanam uchyate); and, anything other than that is invalid A-pramana or Bhrama – the cognition of objects as they are not (atha bhuta rtha jnanam hi apramanam). Pramana stands both for the valid -knowledge, and for the instrument or the means by which such valid knowledge is obtained.
2. The conclusion should not entail contradiction with analytical or ‘accepted doctrine’;
3. Each side should use the well-known five steps (syllogism) of the demonstration (Sthapana) explicitly.
4. They should clearly recognize a thesis to be defended and a counter thesis to be refuted.
Nyaya Sutra (1.1.32 and 1.1.39) lays down a five-part syllogism for proper presentation of the elements of the arguments (Vaada). It states that any valid argument must include the following five factors, as they help to establish the object of right knowledge. These five steps also combine in themselves the four means of cognition: viz., Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sabda (reliable verbal testimony):
1. Pratijna – the proposition or the enunciation of the object – that needs to be proved in the light of the approved texts (Sabda)
2. Hetu – the reason or evidence through the vehicle of inference (Anumana); it furnishes a means to prove the proposition;
3. Udaharana – the citation of examples (well recognized, universally acceptable and independently verifiable) that illustrates (Pratyaksha) the common principle underlying the subject in question and the example . It provides the supporting reason or evidence;
4. Upanaya – the application (validity of the example cited- Upamana) evidencing that present thesis is essentially similar to example cited.
5. Niranaya – the conclusion eliminates all plausible contrary conclusions against the proposition; and re-states the proposition or the thesis as proved and established beyond doubt – derived by bringing together all the four means of right knowledge (proposition, reason, example and application)
Pratijna is enunciation of the thesis that is sought to be proved – (e.g. Purusha is eternal). Sthapana is establishing the thesis through a process employing reason (hetu), example (drstantha ) , application of the example( upanaya) and conclusion (nigamana) — (e.g. the statement – Purusha is eternal- has to be supported by valid reasoning (hetu)- because he is uncreated; by examples (drstantha) – just as the sky (Akasha ) is uncreated and it is eternal ; by showing similarity between the subject of the example and the subject of the thesis (Upanaya) – just as Akasha is uncreated a , so the Purusha is uncreated and eternal : finally establishing the thesis (Nigamana) –therefore Purusha is eternal.
Prativada is refuting the proposition or thesis put forth by the proponent. Thus when the proposition of the thesis Sthapana is Purusha is eternal, the Prati-stapana, the counter proposition, would be Purusha is non-eternal; because it is perceivable by senses and the jug which is perceivable by senses is non-eternal; Purusha is like the jug; therefore Purusha is non-eternal
At the commencement of the Vaada, the Judge or the arbiter (Madhyastha) lays down rules of the Vaada. The disputants are required to honor those norms and regulations. They are also required to adhere to permissible devices; and not to breach certain agreed limits (Vada maryada). For instance; in the case of debates where the Vadin and Prati-vadin both belong to Vedic tradition it was not permissible to question the validity of the Vedas or the existence of God and the Soul. And, any position taken during the course of Vaada should not contradict the Vedic injunctions.
In the case of the Vada where one belongs to Vedic tradition and the other to Non-Vedic traditions (say, Jaina or Bauddha) they had to abide by the rules and discipline specifically laid down by the Madyastha.
As mentioned earlier, according to Nyaya Sutra (1.2.1) Vaada comprises defense and attack (Sadhana and Upalambha). One’s own thesis is defended by means of genuine criteria of knowledge (Pramana) and the antithesis (opponent’s theory) is refuted by negative dialectics of Tarka (logic). But, when defense or attack is employed excessively, merely for the sake of scoring a win, then there is the risk of the debate degenerating into Jalpa.
It is said; Vaada and Jalpa are contrasting counterparts. In Vaada, the thesis is established by Pramana-s; and the anti-thesis is disproved by Tarka or different set of Pramana-s. Whereas in Jalpa, the main function is negation; the Pramana-s do not have much use here. Jalpa tries to win the argument by resorting to quibbling, such as Chala, Jati and Nigrahasthana. None of these can establish the thesis directly, because their function is negation. But, indirectly , they help to disprove anti-thesis. Thus, Jalpa in general is the dialectical aid for Vada (Nyaya Sutra: 4.2.50-51
[It is said; at times, the Madhyastha might allow or overlook ‘Jalpa-like’ tactics ‘for safeguarding the interests of truth, ‘just as a fence of thorny hedges is used to protect the farms’.]
It is at this stage in the Vaada that the Madyastha might intervene to ensure that the participants, especially the one who is at the verge of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) do not resort to tricks such as quibbling (Chala) , false rejoinder (Jati) etc.
The Madyastha may even call off the Vada; and award to the candidate who in his view performed better.
The Vada could be also treated as inconclusive (savyabhicara) and brought to an end if there is no possibility of reaching a fair decision; or the very subject to be discussed is disputed (Viruddha); or when arguments stray away from the subject that is slated for discussion (prakarana-atita) ; or when the debate prolongs beyond a reasonable (Kalatita).
In this context, it is said the debate could be treated as concluded and one side declared defeated: a) When a proponent misunderstands his own premises and their implications; b) when the opponent cannot understand the proponent’s argument; c) when either party is confused and becomes helpless; d) when either is guilty of faulty reasoning or pseudo-reasoning (hetvabhasa); because, no one should be allowed to win using a pseudo-reason; or e) when one cannot reply within a reasonable time.
When one party is silenced in the process, the thesis stays as proven. Hence, in Vaada, there is no explicit ‘defeat’ as such. The sense of defeat (Nigraha-sthana) becomes apparent when there are contradictions in logical reasoning (hetvabhasa); and the debate falls silent.
And, at the end, one of the two might be proven wrong; or both could be right. In any case, when one is convinced that the doctrine and the argument presented by the opponent are valid, he adopts it with grace. Ideally, whatever might be the outcome of a Vaada, it should be accepted; and, both – Vadin and Prati-vadin – should part their ways without rancor.
[The most celebrated Vaada is said to be the one that took place between the young monk Sri Sankara and the distinguished Mimamsa scholar, householder, Mandana Misra. Considering the young age of the opponent, Mandana Misra generously offered Sri Sankara the option to select the Madyastha (Judge) for the ensuing debate. Sri Sankara, who had great respect for the righteousness of Mandana Misra, chose his wife Bharathi Devi, a wise and learned person.
During the course of the lengthy debate when Mandana Misra seemed to be nearing Nigrahasthana (clincher) Bharathi Devi raised questions about marital obligations. Sri Sankara being a monk had, of course, no knowledge in such matters. He requested for and obtained a ‘break’ to study and to understand the issue. It is said; he returned after some time equipped with the newly acquired knowledge, renewed the Vaada and won it. Thereafter, Mandana Misra and Bharathi Devi accepted Sri Sankara as their teacher, with grace and respect.]
As per the classification made by Akshapada Gautama in his Nyaya Sutra (1.2.2), while Vaada is a ‘good’ or congenial debate ( anuloma sambasha or Sandhya sambasha), Jalpa along with Vitanda is treated as ‘bad’ or hostile argument (Vigrahya sambasha).
Jalpa is described as debate between two rivals who are desperate to win, by fair or foul means. It is characterized as clever or tricky disputation and a quarrelsome verbal fight that is often noisy.
Unlike Vaada which is an honest debate aiming to ascertain ‘what is true’, Jalpa is an argument where each strives to impose his thesis on the other. The question of ascertaining the ‘truth’ does not arise here. Each party to the Jalap is already convinced that his thesis is true and perfect; while that of the opponent is false and totally wrong. Each is not prepared to understand and appreciate the rival argument; but, is over anxious to ensure the opponent is ‘defeated’ and is made to accept his thesis. Even while it becomes apparent that one might be on the verge of defeat , he will not accept the position; instead , he will try to devise a strategy or will take a ‘break’ to gather some material or to concoct a fallacious argument to evade defeat and , if possible, to prove the other wrong.
Both the Vadin and the Prati-vadin work hard to establish their thesis through direct and indirect proofs. In Jalpa, the Pramana-s, the means of valid knowledge do not have much role to play. The arguments in Jalpa relay more on negation or negative tactics, such as: discrediting the rival argument, misleading the opponent or willfully misinterpreting rival’s explanations. The main thrust of the arguments in Jalpa is not so much as to establish the thesis directly, as to disprove or refute the rival’s thesis, through circumvention.
The reason why Jalpa is labeled as tricky is that apart from traditional means of proving one’s thesis and for refuting the opponent’s thesis, the debater can use elusive and distracting devices such as: quibbling or hair-splitting (Chala); inappropriate rejoinders (Jati), and any kind of ruse that tries to outwit and disqualify the opponent (nigrahasthana), circumvention, false generalization and showing the unfitness of the opponent to argue; without, however, establishing his own thesis.
Nyaya Sutra gives a fairly detailed treatment to the negative tactics of Jalpa. Nyaya Sutra (1.2.11-14; 5.1.1- 39; and 5.2.1-25) enumerates three kinds of quibbling (Chala); twenty-four kinds of inappropriate rejoinders (Jati); and twenty-two kinds of clinchers or censure-situations (Nigrahasthana).
It is said; such measures or tricks to outwit the opponent are allowed in Jalpa arguments, since the aim of the debate is to score a victory. However, those maneuvers are like double-edged swords; they cut both ways. Over-indulgence with such tactics is, therefore, rather dangerous. One runs the risk of being censured, decaled unfit and treated as defeated, if the opponent catches him at his own game.
Quibbling (Chala) is basically an attempt to misinterpret the meaning of an expression (Vak-chala); or, improperly generalize its meaning (samanya-chala); or by conflation of an ordinary use of a word with its metaphorical use (upacara-chala), with a view to derange the argument.
For instance; when one says: the boy has a nava kambala (= new) blanket; the other would look horrified and exclaim: why would a little boy need nava (=nine) blankets !
And, when one says: he is a hungry man (= purusha) , the other would generalize Man – Purusha as ‘ humans’ , and ask why are all the human beings hungry?
Similarly, term ‘mancha’ ordinarily means a cot; but, its metaphorical meaning could be platform or dais or the people sitting on it.
Improper rejoinder or futile rejoinder (Jati) is generally through falsifying the analogy given; and ridiculing it.
For instance; when one says: sound is impermanent because it is a product, such as a pot; the other would ignore the ‘impermanent’ property of the analogy (pot), but would pick up a totally un-related property of the analogy (say, the hollow space or emptiness in the pot) and say that a pot is filled with space (akasha) which is eternal, then how could you say that a pot is impermanent? And, further pot is not audible either.
Censures or the point at which the Jalpa could be force-closed (Nigrahasthana) by pointing out that the opponent is arguing against his own thesis ; or that he is willfully abstracting the debate; or to his inappropriate ways.
There are also some statements that defend the Jalpa-way of arguments.
One reason adduced for allowing in the debate the diverse interpretations of the terms is said to be the flexibility that the Sanskrit language has, where compound-words can be split in ways to suit one’s argument; where words carry multiple meanings; and where varieties of contextual meanings can be read into with change in structure of phrases, sentences and context of topics.
And, the other is that the ancient texts in Sutra format – terse, rigid and ambiguous – can be read and interpreted in any number of ways. Each interpretation can be supported by one or the other authoritative text. There is therefore, plenty of scope for legitimate disputation.
It is said; that Jalpa way of arguments is at times useful as a defensive measure to safeguard the real debate (Vada), ‘just as the thorns and branches are used for the protection of the (tender) sprout of the seed’.
It is also said that Jalpa-tactics might come in handy to a novice or an inexperienced debater. If such a person, without adequate skills, enters into a debate, he might not be able to come up with proper rejoinder at the right time to safeguard his thesis. In such a crisis, he may get away with such tricky debate. In any case, if the opponent is not quick witted, the (novice) debater may gain some time to think of the proper reason. Thus, he may even win the debate and the sprout of his knowledge would be protected.
However, this justification was not altogether acceptable.
The next question would be why would a debater resort to such tactics as quibbling and dishonest rejoinder? Or why would anyone waste his time and effort in learning those tactics?
Bimal Krishna Matilal in his The Character of Logic in India explains:
‘ Uddyotakara, in the beginning of his commentary on chapter five of the Nyaya Sutra explains that it is always useful to learn about these bad tricks, for at least one should try to avoid them in one’s own debate and identify them in the opponent’s presentation in order to defeat him. Besides, when faced with sure defeat, one may use a trick, and if the opponent by chance is confused by the trick, the debater will at least have the satisfaction of creating a doubt instead of courting sure defeat.
This last point was, however, a very weak defense; and not convincing at all , as the Buddhist scholar Dharmakirti (c. 600-660) elaborately pointed out in his book on debate, Vada-nyaya.’
The crucial difference between Vada and Jalpa appears to be that in the case of Vada the ‘truth’ is established by positive evidence; and, the invalid knowledge (A-pramana) masquerading as a good reason (that is, a hetvabhasa) is detected and eliminated. No one is really defeated and the truth is established.
In the case of Jalpa, it mainly depends on negation (which is non-committal) and on effective refutation of the proponent’s argument. There is no earnest effort to build positive irrefutable proof. And, the fear of defeat overhangs the whole proceedings.
The scholarly opinion is that the rejection or refutation of a position may not always amount to the assertion of a counter-position. And, determination and establishment of truth depends upon positive evidence; and not merely on refutation.
In Akshapada’s Nyaya-Sutra (1.2.3), Vitanda is classified as a ’bad’ or hostile argument (Vigrahya sambasha) or wrangling. In terms of merit, it is rated inferior to Jalpa, which also employs such trickery as quibbling and illegitimate rejoinder. While Jalpa tries to argue for the success of its thesis by whatever means, Vitanda does not seriously attempt to put up any counter-thesis. That is because, its debater has no thesis of his own to put forward. In other words, the debater here tries to ensure his victory simply by refuting or demolishing the thesis put forward by the other side, by browbeating or misleading or ridiculing the opponent. The whole purpose its exercise seems to be to prove the opponent wrong and incompetent; and to humiliate him. Vitanda is therefore termed as a destructive debate.
Vitanda is a ruthless debate, the major part of which is spent in denying the opponent’s views, in discrediting him or in quarrelling. Vaitandika, the one who adopts Vitanda style of argument, might at times pick up the opponent’s thesis (though he himself might not believe in it) and argue in its favor just to demonstrate that the opponent is not doing a ‘good job’; and rebuke him saying that his thesis might not be after all so bad, but he made it look worse by making a terrible mess of it.
Vaitandika makes it a point to disagree with the other, no matter what the other says. It is a way of saying: you are wrong, not because your statement by itself is wrong; but, it is wrong because you said it. He tries to effectively undermine the credibility of the opponent; and demonstrate to him that he is neither competent nor qualified to discuss the subtleties of the logic. Then he would shout:” go back and study for one more year at the feet of your teacher; you have done enough for today”.
What the Vaitandika says might be irrational or illogical; but, he tries to effectively silence the opponent. In such type of debates either ‘valid knowledge’ or ‘truth’ has no place.
In a Vitanda, where both the parties employ similar tactics, the debate would invariably get noisy and ugly. The Madhyastha or the Judge plays a crucial role in regulating a Vitanda. He has the hard and unenviable task of not merely controlling the two warring debaters and their noisy supporters, but also to rule on what is ‘Sadhu’ (permissible) or ‘A-sadhu’ (not permissible) and what is true (Sat) what is just a bluff (A-sat). And, when one debater repeatedly oversteps and breaches the accepted code of conduct, the Madyastha might have to disqualify him and award the debate to the other; or, he may even disqualify both the parties and scrap the event declaring it null and void.
Vatsayana, the commentator of the Nyaya Sutra finds the Vitanda debate irrational and rather pointless. He observes that it is unfair that a debater is simply allowed to get away with irresponsible statements, particularly when he is neither putting forward a thesis nor is defending one. In fact, most of the times, he has no position of his own, but attacks rabidly whatever the other debater utters. This is a travesty and abuse of the platform.
According to Vatsayana, the format of Vitanda is totally wrong. Vatsayana insists, whatever might be the tactics adopted by Vaitandika, he must be forced to specify his stand. And, when the opponent states his thesis, the Vaitandika must be asked either to accept it or oppose it. If he concedes, the debate is virtually over. And, if he argues against the thesis, he must argue logically, in which case he gives up his status of Vaitandika (refuter). And, if he does not choose either of the options then, his rationale should be questioned; or, the debate be brought to an end, if need be, by disqualifying him.
Vatsayana’s observations and recommendations are sound and healthy. But, sadly, they were hardly acted upon.
Sources and References:
By Mahamahopadyaya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana
The Character of Logic in India Edited by Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri, Heeraman Tiwari
The Nyâya Sûtras of Gotama by Nandalal Sinha
Hindu Philosophy by Theos Bernard
A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 By Surendranath Dasgupta
The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman
History of Indian philosophy: The philosophy of the Veda and of …, Volume 1 By Erich Frauwallner