There in only ‘Philosophy:’ The case of Testimony

Reliability of a Speaker and Recognition of a Listener: Bocheński and Nyāya on the Relation of Authority


In the Nyāyasūtras (NS), the fundamental text of the Nyāya tradition, testimony is defined as a statement of a reliable speaker (āpta). According to the NS, such a speaker should possess three qualities: competence, honesty and desire to speak. The content of a discourse, including the prescriptions, is also considered reliable due to the status of a given author and the person that communicated it.

The Polish philosopher J.M. Bocheński similarly stresses the role of a speaker; he holds that an authoritative source (whose discourse is called testimony) should be competent and truthful. The conditions of trust and superiority also apply. According to Bocheński, being an authority entails a special relation—it has a subject, object and field. Notably, Bocheński develops his own typology of testimony by distinguishing between what he calls epistemic and deontic authority. He asks questions such as: Who can be the subject of an authoritative statement? Which features should the speaker possess? How is authority recognised? Is there a universal or an absolute authority? What is the field of authority? Moreover, which qualities should the listener possess?

The Nyāya philosophers, both the ancient ones, like Akṣapāda Gautama, Vātsyāyana, Vācaspati Miśra, and the contemporary scholars of Nyāya, such as B. K. Matilal and J. Ganeri, were also concerned with these issues.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the above points in a comparative manner. I will argue that both Bocheński’s and the Nyāya accounts share very similar perspectives and encounter analogous problems.


Nyāya; epistemology; epistemology of testimony; J.M. Bocheński; comparative philosophy

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