Syadvada: The theory of conditioned prediction forming one of the pillars of Jainism’s seven-valued logic

Syadvada is the theory of conditioned prediction whose first part is derived from the Sanskrit word syat meaning “perhaps”. This theory along with six others forms the basis of the seven-valued logic system of Jainism.

According to Jainism, the theory of Syadvada is a conditioned response either yes or no to any state or proposition. This usage has historic precedents in Hinduism and Buddhism as well. According to Charitrapragya, Syadvada means multiple possibilities to any proposition with a seven-fold predication.

The theory states that all knowledge claims must be qualified in many ways because the reality is many-sided. It is done in a very systematic manner in later Jain texts through Saptibhanginaya or the theory of the sevenfold scheme. These Saptibhangi were first formulated in Jainism around the 5th or 6th century CE by Svetambara scholar Mallavadin. These are

  1. Affirmation: Known as Syad-Asti and means “in some ways, it is”
  2. Denial: Known as Syan-Nasti. It means “in some ways, it is not”
  3. Joint but successive affirmation and denial: Known as Syad-Asti-Nasti. This means “in some ways it is, and it is not”
  4. Joint and simultaneous affirmation and denial: Known as Syad-Asti-Avaktavyah which means “in some ways it is, and it is indescribable”
  5. Joint and simultaneous affirmation and denial: It is known as Syan-Asti-Avaktavyah which means “in some ways it is not, and it is indescribable”
  6. Joint and simultaneous affirmation and denial: Also known as Syad-Asti-Nasti-Avaktavyah and it means “in some ways it is, it is not, and it can not be described
  7. Joint and simultaneous affirmation and denial: Also known as Syad-Avaktavyah and this means “in some ways it is indescribable”

Each of the above seven predicates put forward the Jain viewpoint of a multifaceted reality from the perspective of time, space, substance, and mode. The phrase Syat shows the standpoint of expression- affirmation with regard to own substance (dravya), place (kshetra), time (kala), and being (bhava) and negation with regard to other substance (dravya), place (kshetra), time (kala), and being (bhava).

The following examples will illustrate the theory better. So, for a jar in regard to a substance (dravya), it simply is earthen; it simply is not wooden. In regard to a place (kshetra)- room, it simply is; terrace, it simply is not. In regard to time (kala)- summer, it simply is; winter, it simply is not and in regard to being (bhava)- brown, it simply is; white, it simply is not. The word simply is used to exclude a sense not approved by the nuance i.e for avoiding the meaning not intended.

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