Charvaka Philosophy: Epistemology and Metaphysics

Charvaka is a heterodox school of Indian Philosophy and is materialistic in nature. It believes that true knowledge can be achieved only when it is perceptible to our 5 senses and our mind. Therefore Charvaka accepts only ‘Pratyaksha’ (perception) as its epistemology. It rejects Anumana, Arthpati and Upmana because these epistemologies include pure ‘reasoning’ which is denied by Charvaka. However, it does accepts Shabda (authority/testimony) to some extent if and only if it is perceptible in nature i.e it accepts only Authorative epistemology of perceptible objects. The denial of Anuplabdhi ( non-existent/non-perception) is clear because Charvaka’s philosophy does not believe in what can’t be perceived. 

The criticisms to Charvaka’s Philosophy are many. First, due to Charvaka accepting only one source of knowledge (Pratyaksha), it restricts knowledge. Second, perception knowledge is not always valid knowledge. For e.g hallucinations and mirages. Third, to understand the objects we perceive we require the usage of inference no matter how small. Lastly, it is impossible to have a discussion and it stands impractical if we ignore the other 5 epistemologies.

Charvaka’s Metaphysics follows the logical consequence of it’s epistemology. There are 3 aspects to Charvaka’s metaphysics. 

1. Acceptance of 4 elements

Charvaka accepts only 4 elements out of the 5 i.e Air, Water, Fire and Earth. It rejects space because space can’t be perceived. Using the 4 elements Charvaka explains the creation of consciousness. It states that the 4 elements are independent and have a conscience of their own, due to which they come together and merge, leading to the creation of life or consciousness. 

2. Denial of God. 

Charvaka completely denies the existence of God. Charvaka states that God can’t be perceived and that which can’t be perceived does not exist. Secondly, Charvaka has already credited the 4 elements for the creation of life and therefore denies that God is the being responsible for creation. As for any other belief related to God, Charvaka states that it is purely based on human faith and has no proof. 

3. Denial of Soul

Since soul has a consciousness and Charvaka cannot deny consciousness Charvaka comes up with its own theory of soul. It denies the regularly accepted definition of soul i.e. soul is eternal and is a separate entity from human body. Charvaka says that soul is nothing but a body endowed with consciousness. Soul and body are one and inseparable. 

To this there rises a criticism that if body and soul are one then why is it that the body can be perceived but the soul cannot. Thus leading to the self-contradiction of Charvaka’s own soul theory.

Charvaka although a less known philosophy compared to others does stand with its own point. There are contradictions but what makes Charvaka a worthy philosophy is it’s courageous stance in an era where Vedas and Upanishads were everything. Charvaka has shown their strong views despite the heavy criticism. What makes interesting is their theory of Hedonism and pursuing what one wants for the satisfaction of their life. 

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