Philosophy of Proof

The Three Kinds of Proof

[The Three Proofs]
Figure 9: The Three Proofs

For knowledge to have any value, there must be a way to validate it.  Otherwise, it’s mere fantasy or error (vikalpa or viparyaya).  Fortunately, this problem was solved long ago.  The term “pramana” means “correct perception” or “proof.”  The three kinds of proof (trividha of pramana) are direct perception, inference, and testimony (pratyaksha, anumana, and shabda). [1]  They’re listed in order of importance, from greatest to least.

Direct Perception

[Direct Perception]
Figure 10: Detecting Proof

The most important proof is direct perception (pratyaksha).  Before we declare anything to be true, we must experience it for ourselves.  Direct perception born of union (yogaja) is primary (pradhanika). [2]  It consists of the knower, the known, and the knowledge (jna, jneya, and jnana).  They’re the agent, the object, and the action of direct perception (triputi of pratyaksha).  Knowledge being the union (samyoga) of the knower and the known.  Direct perception born of the senses (indriyaja) is secondary (apradhanika). [2]  It’s the apprehension of objects (adhyavasaya of vishayas) by the senses (indriyas).  Their immediate objects being the subtle elements (tanmatras).  For example, the object of hearing (shrotra) is sound (shabda).


Figure 11: A Smoky Mountain

The senses are fallible instruments, though, and the impressions (samskaras) they generate can’t be taken literally.  Instead, we must interpret them through inference (anumana), which is drawing logical conclusions based on available data.  Inference is of three kinds (trividha) and preceded by (purvaka) the middle term and the major term (linga and lingin). [3]  The three kinds being a priori, a posteriori, and generally seen (purvavat, sheshavat, and samanyatodrishta).  A priori inference is drawing conclusions before observation.  A posteriori inference is drawing conclusions after observation.  Generally seen inference is drawing general conclusions from particulars.  In other words, it’s generalization. 

In the following syllogism, fire is the major term and smoke is the middle term.  Notice how the middle term connects the major premise and the minor premise, but is absent in the conclusion.

  1. Major Premise: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
  2. Minor Premise: “The mountain is smoky.”
  3. Conclusion: “Therefore, the mountain is on fire.”


Figure 12: The Bhagavad Gita

Finally, the three kinds of testimony (trividha of shabda) are revelation, remembrance, and aphorisms (shruti, smriti, and sutras). [4]  They’re listed in order of importance, from greatest to least.  In this case, revelation refers to the Upanishads.  Remembrance refers to the Bhagavad Gita. [5]  And aphorisms refer to the Advaita Samkhya Sutras [6] and the Advaita Yoga Sutras [7].  But they only pertain to this particular tradition.  Part of spiritual maturity is studying other serious traditions and using our own discernment (viveka).


  1. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 2.1.
  2. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 2.2.
  3. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 2.3.
  4. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras 2.4.
  5. Vyasa. Bhagavad Gita.
  6. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Samkhya Sutras.
  7. Vyas, S. K. Advaita Yoga Sutras.