Response to Philosophical Questions
Based on what I have learnt from SMS Chari's books, discussions with more learned Bhagavatas, listening to lectures of scholars and my secular education, I have attempted to answer the questions contained in Sriram's posting. Please feel free to expand on my answers and/or correct any erroneous statements that I may have made.
Q: What are the valid sources of knowledge for a Vis'istAdvaitan?
I have reworded your question to indicate that the topic of valid sources of knowledge is a philosophical topic; therefore, is better denoted by the label Vis'istAdvaita.
The term Vis'istAdvaita is used to refer to the dars'ana or system of thought (both theory and practice) that is ascribed to RamanujAcharya. The term Vaisnavism refers to the religion or practice component of Vis'istAdvaita. Since your question relates to the valid sources of knowledge, which is a topic of philosophy, it is better to use the more comprehensive term Vis'istAdvaita.
For a Vis'istAdavaitan there are only three valid sources of knowledge, namely S'abda (verbal testimony), pratyaksa (perception) and anumAna (inference). Other
dars'anas accept additional sources of knowledge, but according to the Vis'istAdvaita these other sources are simply subsets of the the three broad categories listed above.
The term abhAva, as I understand it, refers to a type of attribute accepted by the NyAya-Vais'esika darsana and does not have anything to do with pramanAs. Please correct me if have an incorrect/incomplete understanding of the term.
Vis'istAdvaita does not accept upamAna (knowledge derived by comparison) as a separate pramAna. According to Vis'istAdvaita, UpamAna is simply a subset of anumAna or S'abda.
Vis'istAdvaita does not accept arthApatti (formulating a hypothesis to account for an observation that conflicts with experience or what is known) as a separate pramAna. ArthApatti is no different than anumAna or inference.
Q: How do we know that there are truths that are beyond inference and perception? Are these truths simply based on faith? Have the advances of material science adversely affected the truths that are beyond inference and perception?
A: The only way to know about truths beyond inference and perception is through scripture (Upanishads, Gita, and bhrama-sUtrA, Smrtis etc.)
Scripture (primarily sruti) deals with VijnAna or spiritual science. Scripture defines and describes the tattvas (reals), which are beyond the scope of material science (or science of matter). The fact that the subject matter of vijnAna is not subject to empirical verification (verification using the indyiyas) does not make it inferior to material science. In fact, VijnAna is the ultimate science. The theory of VijnAna has to be verified through super-sensual experience. The theory/theories of vijnAna has/have been verified through experience by many great sages; we accept their confirmation as valid proof of the theory/ theories of VijnAna. This is no different than our acceptance of theories propounded by material science on the basis of experimental findings of a small subset of scientists.
The findings of science of matter do not have any bearing on VijnAna. VijnAna deals with issues that are beyond the realm of material science.
Science, whether it is material science or VijnAna, propounds theories that are based on assumptions or premises. Therefore, it is wrong to state that material science is devoid of belief. I will provide a detailed explanation of this in another post (later); that post will attempt to outline the relationship between theories of science and concepts of logic. Specifically, the post will highlight the difference between axiomatic truths and valid arguments. It will also highlight and discuss the difference between valid and persuasive arguments.