Learning from India’s Nyaya Rhetoric: Debating Analogically through Vada’s Fruitful Dialouge
Over 2,500 years, philosophers in India refined a truth-centered and rhetorically egalitarian method of analogical debate: Nyaya vada, and its five-part expression, the ‘‘Nyaya method.’ According to Indian tradition, its practices emerged in the context of inter-scholar debates. However, most historical examples of Indian debate occur in mythical=religious dialogues between teacher and student, and currently Nyaya’s scholars focus on theory, neglecting social practice. While Indologists describe the ‘‘what’’ of Nyaya, their bias toward theory leaves its conversational uses unexplored. Comparative rhetoricians describe Indian rhetoric with Greek terminologies as points of reference, and miss Nyaya’s theoretical and practical debate tradition. This essay addresses this lack of social context and paucity of representation of Nyaya. It shows how informal debates in ancient literary=historical dialogues presage Nyaya’s formulation and traces Nyaya’s use in contemporary public examples, illustrating its rhetorical journey from discussions of scholars and kings, to academic formulization, to popular dialogic expression. Nyaya offers a clear alternative to Western confrontational rhetoric, and the presence of Indian ‘‘rhetorical’’ practice and theory undermines assumptions about ‘‘rhetoric’’ being uniquely Greek in origin, underscoring the need for comparative rhetorics.