Like the Epicureans of Greece, the Carrvakas in India have been more hated than understood. 'Carvaka' in the mind of people at large is a term of reproach.
But it is useful for a student of philosophy to remember as well what Indian philosophy owes to the Carvaka. Scepticism or agnosticism is only the expression of a free mind that refuses to accept traditional wisdom without a thorough criticism.
Philosophy, as critical speculation, claims to live chiefly on free thought and the more it can satisfy the skeptic, the sounder can it hope to be.
By questioning the soundness of popular notions, the sceptic sets new problems, by the solution of which philosophy becomes richer.
Kant, one of the greatest philosophers of the West, recognised his debt to scepticism when he declared: 'The scepticism of Hume roused me from my dogmatic slumber.'
And we may say that the Carvaka similarly saved Indian philosophy from dogmatism to a great extent. As noted already, every system of Indian thought tried to meet the Carvaka objections and made the Carvaka a touchstone of its theories.
The value of the Carvaka philosophy, therefore, lies directly in supplying fresh philosophical problems and indirectly in compelling other thinkers to give up dogmatism, and become critical and cautious in speculation as well as in the statement of views.
Finally, it may be noted that the contribution of Carvaka epistemology is not insignificant. The criticism of inference put in the mouth of the Carvaka by his opponents reminds us of similar criticism made in modern times against the soundness of deductive logic.
The Carvaka view that no inference can yield certain knowledge is the view of many contemporary Western thinkers like the pragmatists and logical positivists.
What has made the Carvakas most disreputable to people is perhaps their ethics of pleasure. Pursuit of pleasure is not by itself an object of condemnation: pleasure, in some form, is recognized as desirable by other philosophers as well.
It is condemned only when the nature of pleasure is coarse and the pleasure is wanted only for one's own self. It is true that some Carvakas advocate a life of gross sensual pleasure.
But a distinction found sometimes between the cunning (dhurta) and cultured (susiksita) Carvakas makes it likely that the Carvakas were not all of the same gross, uncultured type.
There is evidence that the materialists devoted themselves also to the pursuit of more refined pleasures by cultivating, for example, the fine arts, the number of which is as large as sixty-four (catuh-sasti-kalah), according to Vatsyayana, a recognised hedonist and author of the famous Kama-sutra. All materialists were not egoistic hedonists.
Egoistic hedonism in its gross form is not compatible with social discipline. Life in society is impossible if man does not sacrifice a part of his pleasures for others. Some Carvakas, we are told, regard the king as God.
This implies their great faith in the necessity of society and its head. This view is further strengthened when we find that political philosophy and economy (dandamti and vartta) came to be incorporated at some stage in the philosophy of the Lokayatikas.
It would appear from these facts that there were among the materialists of ancient India, as cultured thinkers as we find among the positivists of modern Europe or the followers of Democritus in ancient Greece.
The best positive evidence of refined hedonism is found in the ethical philosophy propounded by Vatsyayana in the second chapter of the Kama-sutra. It is here that we find a great hedonist himself stating and defending his own views.
Though Vatsyayana believes in God and in life after death and, therefore, is not a materialist in the ordinary sense, yet he may be regarded as one.
According to a wider sense of the term, namely, one who tries to explain 'higher phenomena by lower ones 'Vatsyayana admits three desirable ends of human life (purusartha), namely, dharma, artha and kama (virtue, wealth and enjoyment) which should be cultivated harmoniously.
His materialist tendency consists in holding that dharma and artha are to be treated only as means to enjoyment, which is, therefore, the supreme end.
The element of refinement in his hedonism consists in his emphasis on self- control (brahmacarya) and spiritual discipline (dharma), as well as urbanity (nagarikavrtti), without which human enjoyment of Pleasure is reduced to the level of beastly enjoyment. He shows that all physical enjoyment (Kama) is ultimately reducible to the
The date of Vatsyayana, according to some, is near about the beginning of the Christian era, and Vatsyayana tells us that he is only summarising the views of a long line of previous writers, about a dozen in number, whose works are not available now.
This shows the great antiquity of his line of thought. Vide James, Pragmatism, sspatasya anupaghatakarii seveta,' Kdma-sut gratification of the five senses.
He further asserts that the satisfaction of the senses is nec.essary for the very existence of the body (sarirasthiti), like the satisfaction of hunger.
But he also maintains that the senses must be educated, disciplined and cultured through training in the sixty-four fine arts.
This training should be given only after a person has devoted the earlier part of his life to absolute self-continence and study of the Vedas and the other subsidiary branches of learning.
He points out that without culture, human enjoyment would be indistinguishable from beastly pleasures.
To the impatient hedonist who would not forgo present comfort and would not undergo any toil for future enjoyment in this life, Vatsyayana points out that such an attitude would be suicidal.
For, this would prevent a man even from the toil of cultivation and sowing seeds in the hope of the future enjoyment of a crop.
In favour of the regulation of desire for enjoyment, he points out, with historical examples, that inordinate desire, inconsistent with the principles of dharma and wealth, leads to ruin and annihilates the chances of all enjoyment.
In support of scientific study of the conditions and means of enjoyment, he urges, like a modern scientific man, that some science is at the root of every successful practice; and that though all persons may not study science, they are benefited by the ideas which unconsciously and indirectly filter down to the masses, among which the few scientists live.
We find then, that Vatsyayana represents Indian hedonism at its best. It is perhaps to thinkers of this kind that the name cultured hedonists' (susiksita-carvaka) was applied.
In the early Buddhist scriptures also we come across short references to some sceptics, agnostics, sophists and materialists whom Buddha had to confront, and who may be regarded as cunning (dhurta) Carvakas.
In the Samannaphala-sutta are mentioned: (a) one Purana Kassapa who denies moral responsibility, virtue and vice; (b) one Makkhali Gosala who denies free will, and the possibility of moral effort (c) one Ajita jesakambali who teaches the material origin and destructibility of man, the futility of good action and the impossibility of knowledge and (d) one Sanjaya Belatthiputta who would neither affirm, nor deny, nor affirm and deny at the same time, nor even admit that he neither affirms nor denies, anything.
In a recently discovered manuscript called Tattvopaplavasimha (now available in print in Gaekwad's Oriental Series) we have an interesting specimen of Indian absolute scepticism.
The author, Jayarasi, probably of the eighth century A.D., is believed to be a Carvaka (or Lokayatika) of an extreme type.
He carries the scepticism of the ordinary Carvaka to its logical conclusion by challenging the validity of perceptual knowledge and refusing to accept the existence of even the physical elements.
With a relentless destructive dialectic he exposes the defects of all the usually accepted sources of knowledge.
He concludes, like an anti-intellectualist pragmatist that even on the denial of all theoretical principles and doctrines, practical life will go on as ever with unreflective ease.