The Seven Valued Logic

Jain philosophers developed a system to argue certain points called seven-valued logic. Under this system, statements are assigned to various predicates or truth values depending on what is essentially empirical evidence obtained about each. Can you determine the truth about something, can’t you, or do you simply not have enough information to make a determination one way or another? It’s more complicated than that, but the system of seven-valued logic has been around since at least the fifth century.

Some current-day logic and rhetoric is enough to hurt the brain. In many cultures, it’s better to have rules and guidelines to argue a point, whether valid or invalid, and seven-valued logic is a way of doing that. Then again, the seven predicates of Jain logic might further confuse those who haven’t studied the religion. The system helps determine whether statements are logical by first determining whether or not each is true, false, or unassertible. Essentially, what are the conditions under which you know something is true or false?

Jains believe in a theory of pluralism, which is a philosophical concept centered on the belief that there is more than one possible reality. In the realm of logic, pluralism means that logic isn’t simple or singular. In other words, there can be more than one logical possibility about a given statement. Many different truths can exist depending on how a particular point is argued. What one person believes to be correct may deviate substantially from what another person believes to be correct.

This belief by itself does make logical sense. The purpose behind seven-valued logic is to prove the existence of multiple views. A single statement about a red ball won’t provide a view of that ball that captures its reality perfectly for anyone. The ball may be red, round, or imperfect, but a hundred other statements may be made, either correct or incorrect. It’s impossible to know the truth about the ball because no one statement can describe it in full. A Jain will often detail seven-valued logic by telling a story about a blind man who tries to describe various realities of an elephant.

Part of this system of beliefs is based on the idea that you cannot perfect your knowledge of the reality in which you reside without first achieving liberation by perfecting your soul. The literal blind man is a metaphor for the fact that we are, all of us, blind to the realities of our universe. We can’t know it all; it’s impossible.