[lit-ideas] Re: The nothing noths

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
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  • Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2015 05:24:45 -0500

Actually, the nothing does not JUST noth. The nothing noths itself.  

Or, to echo Heidegger, "Das Nichts selbst nichtet". 

A little  context.

Heidegger writes:

"The turning away, however, is as such  an expelling of be-ing as a whole 
that lets it slip out of one's grasp. The  whole rejecting expulsion of 
be-ing as a whole that is slipping away, which is  the way dread closes in on 
existence, is the essence of no-thing: nihilation  [die Nichtung]. Neither is 
it an annihilation of being nor does it come from  negation. Nor can 
nihilation be accounted for by annihilation or  negation."

It is then that Heidegger concludes,  metaphysically:

"No-thing nihilates of its own."

In the vernacular  that irritated Carnap: 

"Das Nichts selbst nichtet." 
The questions raised by McEvoy are super-important. What kind of statements 
 are metaphysical statements? (The elucidation of this belongs to 
'philosophical  eschatology').
If you defend a dogma (of the analytic-synthetic distinction) there are at  
least a few variants to McEvoy's alternatives below. Yes, they can be 
analytic  and a priori, but they can also be synthetic a priori. (Grice's 
favourite  example: "Nothing can be green and red [not read] all over."). We 
Sir  Freddie, who quotes Heidegger's "Nothing" claims denied the possibility 
of this  type of statement. Later on, philosophers like Donnellan (who wrote 
his Cornell  PhD dissertation under Max Black on the foundations of 
necessary truths in the  work of C. I. Lewis) and Kripke will add further 
subcategories: necessary a  posteriori, for example, or a statement of identity 
is merely contingent,  and so on. 
Grice also mentions that the keywords in philosophical eschatology are  
METAPHOR and ANALOGY. So perhaps Heidegger was speaking either metaphorically,  
or engaging in an analogical sort of reasoning, which would rely on a  
'proportion' of metaphysical concepts. Finally, Grice would say that, as in  
topology, often in metaphysics, being 'interesting' may pay better than being  
boringly true. 
(I'm sure Heideggerian get a lot of excitement out of Heidegger's  
metaphysical claims that cannot just be encapsulated in 'having grasped a  
it seems to be more like an illumination of some special sort). And yes,  
'observation' may play a minimal role here, unless we involve intuition. After  
all, there is phenomenological background to Heidegger's thought, and his  
intuitions or introspections about 'Nothing' may STILL count as 
'observational'  (in the 'sense' of, say, Russell's acquaintance with his own 
In any case, I'm fascinated that Heidegger, from the passages where "Das  
Nichts selbst nichtet" occurs, was SO into 'science': he just thought that  
Science ignored nothing, which coming from a religious thinker as he was may  
implicate he could have studied the problem in the history not just of  
philosophy but of science. In one of my posts on this thread, I notice that the 
 vacuum, and how nature abhors it, may be a scientific counterpart of 
Heidegger's  'question'.
What I'm also fascinated with, as J. L. Scherb is, is how Carnap preferred  
to see Heidegger's question (and statement) as a pseudo-statement, 
violating the  grammar of German. I suppose Carnap was being jocular in that 
Heidegger is not  committing a _solecism_, so there must be something more to 
Carnap's view.  McEvoy is of the idea that Carnap's views on language and the 
language of  science were pretty narrow; but he made an influential point, and 
years, nay  decades, later, D. P. Henry and J. L. Scherb were still taking 
Carnap's  'linguistic' approach seriously, as perhaps Heidegger himself 

In a message dated 2/24/2015 10:55:59 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
"Popper [...] claim[s] [that metaphysical  statements are unfalsifiable]. 
It is part of his 'demarcation criterion' between  science and metaphysics: 
it amounts to saying that metaphysical statements are  distinct from 
empirical/scientific statements and that the difference lies in  whether they 
falsifiable by 'observation'. This claim leaves open that  metaphysical 
statements may be 'falsifiable' in some other sense. To take [one]  examples: 
Nichts nichtet", if interpreted to mean "Das Nichts immer  nichtet", would 
be falsified by a "Nichts" that failed to "nichtet". ... But we  have to ask 
whether [this] counterexample[... is] 'observable' in a scientific  sense: 
it seems highly unlikely: neither the "Nichts" nor its "nichet" is  
observable in scientific terms. ... If Heidegger defends his "Nichtet" thesis 
way of analytic or definitional argument that renders the claim tautological,  
... it is irrefutable; but as a tautology [like "All tables are tables"] it 
is  without substantive interest - including metaphysical interest. If 
defended as a  substantive claim, it may be falsifiable in some sense [as 
indicated above] but  still metaphysical because not falsifiable by 
That it is  unfalsifiable by observation is a logical weakness. ... "Das 
Nichts nichtet"  [may be] taken to mean "There exists a "Nichts" that on at 
least one occasion  "nichtet"", ... a positive existential statement. ... It is 
doubtful H intended  his "Nichts" thesis to amount merely to a positive 
existential statement of this  sort. [H's example] show[s] the usefulness of 
Popper's demarcation criterion  rather than offering anything significant that 
undermines its usefulness as a  logical tool."

Well, Popper (like Carnap) would have read Heidegger in  German, and so 
they would know what Heidegger was _meaning_.

On the other  hand, Sir Freddie Ayer (who hated "The Nothing noths") relied 
on a, I grant, bad  English translation ("The Nought noughts" sounds 

What is also  perhaps unfalsifiable is Grice's remark, slightly out of the 
blue, that either  for this or for that, Heidegger was (at the time of 
Grice's lecturing), "the  greatest living philosopher". 

--- SOME CONTEXT FOR HEIDEGGER'S CLAIM,  "Das Nichts selbst nichtet".

Heidegger writes in "What is metaphysics",  section II: "Nothing": 

"How do things stand with this no-thing  [Nichts]?"

"Is it an accident that we speak quite automatically in this  way?"

"Is it then only a manner of speaking—and nothing  more?"

"But why do we trouble ourselves about this no-thing?"

"In  fact, no-thing is indeed turned away by science and given up [on] as 
the null  and void [das Nichtige]."

"But if we give up no-thing in such a way, do  we not indeed accept it?"

"But can we talk about an acceptance if we  accept nothing [nichts]?"

"Yet maybe all this back and forth has already  turned into empty verbal 

"Science must then renew its  seriousness and assert its soberness in 
opposition to this, so that it has only  to do with being."

"No-thing—what can it be for science except a horror  and a phantasm? 

If science is right, then one thing is for certain:  science wants to know 
nothing of no-thing."

"In the end, this is the  scientifically strict comprehension of no-thing."

"We know it in wanting  to know nothing about the nothing."

"Science wants to know nothing of  no-thing."

"But even so it is nonetheless certain that, when it attempts  to talk 
about its own essence it calls on no-thing for help."

"It claims  for its own what it has rejected."

"What sort of conflicted essence  unveils itself here?"

"Reflection on our present life as one determined  by science finds us in 
the midst of a conflict."

"In the dispute a  question has already presented itself."

"The question merely needs to be  articulated."

"How do things stand with no-thing?"

"The  development of the question about no-thing must put us in the 
position to be  clear about whether it is
possible or impossible to answer this  question."

"No-thing has been admitted."

"With overweening  indifference toward it, science commends it as what "is 
not a  given."

"All the same, we will try to speak about no-thing."

"What  is no-thing?"

"Our first approach to this question already shows us  something unusual 
about it."

"From the outset in asking this question we  posit no-thing as something 
that "is" such and such, as being."

"But  plainly it has in fact been distinguished from just that."

"The question  about no-thing—what and how it, no-thing, is—turns what is 
being questioned into  its opposite."

"The question robs itself of its own  object."

"Accordingly, every answer to this question is impossible from  the outset."

"For it necessarily starts out in the form: no-thing "is"  this or that."

"Question and answer alike are themselves just as  nonsensical with respect 
to no-thing."

"But such a dismissal doesn't have  to come from science."

"The commonly referred to ground rule of all  thinking (the principle of 
avoiding contradiction), everyday "logic" puts down  this question."

"For thinking, which in essence is always thinking about  something, would 
be working against its own nature in thinking about  no-thing."

"Because we keep on failing to make no-thing as such into an  object, we 
have already come to the end of our question about no-thing, on the  
assumption that "logic" is the highest authority on this question, that the  
intellect is the means and thinking the way to grasp no-thing in an original 
and to decide about its disclosure."

"But can the rule of "logic" be  challenged?"

"Isn't the intellect really lord and master in this question  about 

"After all, only with its help can we determine no-thing  at all and 
formulate it as a problem, even if only as one that eliminates  itself."

"For no-thing is the negation of the generality of being, simply  not being.

"Yet with that we subsume no-thing under the higher  determination of the 
not-like and therewith, so it seems, the  negated."

"But under the ruling and never challenged doctrine of "logic,"  negation 
is a specific mental act."

"How then can we with the question of  no-thing, and indeed with the 
question about its questionability, hope to bid  adieu to the intellect?"

"Are we that certain about what we presuppose  here?"

"Does the not ["das Nicht"], negativity [die Verneintheit], and  hence 
negation have about it a higher
determination under which no-thing, as  a particular species of the 
negated, falls?"

"Is there no-thing only  because there is the not, i.e., negation?"

"Or is it the other way  around?"

"Is there negation and the not only because there is  no-thing?"

"This has not been decided; indeed not once has the question  been 
expressly raised."

"We maintain that no-thing is more original than  the not and negation."

"If our thesis is correct, the possibility of  negation as a mental act, 
and therewith the intellect itself, depends in some  way upon no-thing."

"What hope is there then to decide about  this?"

"Does the seeming absurdity of the question and answer regarding  no-thing 
rest solely on the blind single-mindedness of our far-ranging  intellect?"

"However, if we do not allow ourselves to be led astray by  the formal 
impossibility of the question about no-thing and still confront the  question, 
we must then at the very least satisfy what is still as the basic  
requirement of the possible development of any question."

"If no-thing is  to be questioned in the way questioning works, then it 
must itself be given in  advance."

"We must be able to encounter it."

"How do we go after  no-thing?"

"How do we find no-thing?"

"In order to find something,  must we not already know that it is there at  


"First and foremost, a person is able to look for  something only if he has 
already anticipated the actual presence of what is  being sought."

"But what is sought here is no-thing. In the end, is there  seeking without 
some anticipation, a seeking to which a proper finding  belongs?"

"Be that as it may, we know no-thing even if only as that which  we 
casually talk about day in and day out."

"Without further ado, we can  work out a definition of this pale no-thing, 
which in all the colourlessness of  self-evidence so inconspicuously hangs 
around our talk."

"No-thing is the  complete negation of the generality of being."

"In the end, isn't this  characteristic of nothing a sign of the only 
direction from which it can  encounter us?"

"Generality of being must be given beforehand in order to  be made invalid 
as such by negation, in which no-thing itself then must manifest  itself."

"But even if we ignore the questionability of the relation  between 
negation and no-thing, how should we as finite essences, make the whole  of 
in its generality accessible in itself and to ourselves in  particular.

"If need be, we can think of the whole of be-ing as an idea,  and then 
negate what has been thus thought up and "think" of it as negated. In  this way 
we do reach the formal concept of a "thought up" no-thing, but never  
no-thing itself."

"But no-thing is nothing, and no difference can prevail  between the 
thought up no-thing and real no-thing, unless no-thing represents  something 
than the complete absence of difference.

But real  no-thing itself, isn't it once again that concealed and absurd 
concept of an  actual no-thing [eines seienden Nichts]?"

"For one last time now the  objections of our intellect would call a halt 
to our search, the legitimacy of  which can be demonstrated only through a 
fundamental experience of  nothing."

"As surely as we never get a sure grasp of the generality of  be-ing in 
itself, just as surely do we all the same find ourselves somehow  placed in the 
midst of the generality of bare being."

"In the end, there  continues to be an essential difference between getting 
a grasp of the whole of  being in itself and finding oneself in the midst 
of being as a  whole."

"The former is impossible in principle."

"The latter  happens all the time in our existence."
"Of course, it looks just as though in our everyday comings and goings we  
were holding fast to only just this or that [kind of] being, as though we 
were  lost in this or that realm of being. But no matter how fragmented the 
daily  round may seem, it always maintains being in the unity of a "whole" 
although  only in the shadows."
"Even then and precisely just then, when we are not especially busy with  
things, this "as a whole" overcomes us; for example, in genuine boredom. This 
is  a long way off far off when this or that book or
play, job or leisure  activity, is boring. It breaks out when "it's boring" 
Profound boredom, like a  silent fog insinuating itself in the depths of 
existence, pulls things, others  and oneself into it altogether with 
remarkable indifference. Such boredom  reveals being as a whole. Another 
of such revelation lies concealed  in our joy in the present existence, not 
merely the person, of someone we  love."

Being attuned in such a way that we "are" one way or another, we find  
ourselves in the midst of
being as a whole being attuned by it. 
"Not only does the situatedness of mood disclose being as a whole in its  
own way, but this disclosing, far from being a mere incident, is at the same  
time the fundamental event of our being there" (which is the title of a 
novel --  now a film with Peter Sellars). 

----- THE CENTRAL PASSAGE regarding the 'nichtet' is as per below. If  
'selbst' is understood as objective, it may mean that the nothing noths itself. 
Of course, 'itself' is a trick. "The fish itself did it" (Wanda, suppose) 
does  not involve this objective use of 'itself': 'itself' is merely 
emphatic. So  there is an ambiguity here. Grice said,
"Avoid ambiguity".

But since he also said that Heidegger was the greatest living  philosopher, 
once can pardon one ambiguity ("or two" as Geary colloquially adds)  to the 
greatest living philosopher (as Heidegger was when Grice said that -- in  
Grice's view -- He never liked Sartre, much).

Heidegger writes:

"The turning away, however, is as such an  expelling of be-ing as a whole 
that lets it slip out of one's grasp. The whole  rejecting expulsion of 
be-ing as a whole that is slipping away, which is the way  dread closes in on 
existence, is the essence of no-thing: nihilation [die  Nichtung]. Neither is 
it an annihilation of be-ing nor does it come from  negation. Nor can 
nihilation be accounted for by annihilation or  negation."

"No-thing nihilates of its own."

In the vernacular that  irritated Carnap: 

"Das Nichts selbst nichtet." 

In the fifth  edition (1949), Heidegger slightly changed his mind slightly, 
or rather refined  his prose. 

"als Nichten west, währt, gewährt das Nichts."

i.e.  "in the way nihilating makes be, sustains, gives (up) no-thing]." 

I have to grant that there is sermon quality (Protestant sermon) in the  
quality of Heidegger's dicta. He was after all lecturing to philosophy 
students,  and it would be good to know what kind of 'dialogue' Heidegger 
from  his students. 

Teaching is not of course essential to being a philosopher, and it is  when 
we do NOT Heidegger as teaching (or preaching) that his statements (like  
"Das Nichts selbst nichtet") should be considered, eschatologically, almost.  
This may be an individual act: and each reader will derive from it whatever 
 implicature whom Grice called "the greatest living philosopher" is aiming  


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