by Paul Austin Murphy (December 2018)



possible. The problem with this is that Chalmers distinguishes conceivability from imaginability. That is, even if we can’t construct mental images of nothing (or nothingness), we can still conceive of nothing (or nothingness). I, for one, can’t even conceive of nothing (or nothingness).


But can other people conceive of nothing? Do we even have intuitions about nothing or about the notion of nothingness?


Being and Nothingness.)


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The very idea of nothing also seems bizarre. It arises at the very beginning of philosophy and religion. After all, how did God create the world out of nothing? Did God Himself come from nothing? Indeed what is nothing (or nothingness)?


Not surprisingly, then, Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798)—in conversation with a priest—had this to say on the subject:


. . . while the earth, suspended in air, stood firmly at the center of the universe that God had created out of nothingness. When I said to him, and proved to him, that the existence of nothingness was absurd, he cut me short, calling me silly.


How did God create the world out of nothing?


Does this mean, then, that God created the universe out of Himself, not out of nothing?





Thus the term “not-being” also has its own problems:


i) What is being?

ii) How can there be non-being?







ii) To speak of a thing, is to speak of a thing which exists.

iii) When one speaks of “nothing”, one speaks of it as if it is something which exists.


What about the events in the past or the past itself? The positions are very similar.



What about change, which Parmenides similarly rejects? This rejection of change is strongly connected to his rejection of the past. The argument is this:


ib) then only the present exists.

iia) And if only the present exists,

iib) then there can be no change from past to present (or present to future).

iii) Therefore there can be no change at all.


Logical Form and Content


He wrote:


Although these opinions seem to follow logically in a dialectical discussion, yet to believe them seems next door to madness when one considers the facts.


Nonetheless, Parmenides does seem to be on fairly safe ground. After all, Roy A. Sorenson defines a paradox


as an argument from incontestable premises to an unacceptable conclusion via an impeccable rule of inference.


Similarly, Roger Scruton says that paradoxes


begin from intuitively acceptable premises and derive from them a contradiction—something that cannot be true.


rather than logical validity and soundnessthat problems arise.


even if they are backed up with logical argumentsare also philosophical (or ontological) in nature.


Leucippus on the Void


Is the void “non-being” or is it something else? Why was the void seen as being “the opposite of being”?


“body with extension” (to use Cartesian terminology).


If the void is non-being, then it throws up many problems. Leucippus , for one, realised that there could be no motion without a void. However, if the void is nothing, then how can something move in it? How can something move in nothing? Or how can some thing move in something which is not a thing?


Democritus (circa 460 BC – 370 BC) seems to have taken this idea of multiple plenums further. He believed that the void exists between things or objects.


Prima facie, the idea of multiple plenums sounds similar to the idea of multiple spaces. However, the idea of a multiplicity of plenums was seemingly contradicted when Isaac Newton propagated the idea of absolute space—as opposed to (relative) spaces (i.e., in the plural).


Science and Empiricism


“receptacle” which acquires objects or in which objects can move.


Bertrand Russell—over two thousand years later—also offers us a good take on this.


Russell and Quine on Nothing


this remarkable passage:


“ontological slums” (as Quine put it) of Alexius Meinong. However, this semantic philosophy (as I said) simply seems like a stipulation (or a normative position) designed to solve various philosophical problems.


‘On What There Is’, he firstly dismisses Bertrand Russell’s position. Quine, however, puts Russell’s position in the mouth of McX and uses the word “Pegasus” rather than the word “God”.


Quine wrote:



x doesn’t exist (or have being), then that name must be a “disguised description”. (In the case of the name “Pegasus”, the description would be “the fictional horse which has such and such characteristics”.)




Does all this therefore mean that anything goes when it comes to nothing or nothingness?


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