Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Graham Priest on nothing to say.
For Heidegger, nothing is a thing, and a very important one at that. It sometimes enjoys the honour of taking a definite article, the nothing; and it even does things: nothing nihilates (1977b: 105). This will strike many contemporary philosophers as a simple confusion. In modern logic, nothing’ is a quantifier phrase. not a noun phrase. Nothing is not there fore a substantive. Heidegger was criticized on just this point in a very famous attack by Camap. Referring to What is Metaphysics?’, Carnap says
The construction of sentence (I) [‘We seek the Nothing’] is simply based on the mistake of employing the word ‘nothing’ as a noun, because it is customary in ordinary language to use it in this form in order to construct a negative existential statement . . . . In a correct language, on the other hand, it is not a particular name, but a certain logical form of the sentence that serves this purpose.
But Heidegger is not confused. He is well aware that ‘nothing’ may be a quantifier. It may also function, however, as a perfectly legitimate noun phrase. For example, in his essay ‘The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic’, he says
‘Thinking about nothing’ is ambiguous. First of all, it can mean ‘not to think.’ But logic as the science of thinking obviously never deals with not thinking. Secondly, it can mean ‘to think nothingness’, which nonetheless means to think ‘something’. In thinking of nothingness, or in the endeavour to think ‘it’, I am thoughtfully related to nothingness, and this is what thinking is about.
And Heidegger is right about this. ‘Nothing’ can be used as a substantive. If this is not clear, merely ponder the sentence ‘Heidegger and Hegel both talked about nothing, but they made different claims about it’. ‘Nothing’ cannot be a quantifier here.

Pp. 241-2
From "Heidegger and the Grammar of Being".
Priest's correct insofar that H & H comments on "nothing", used as a noun (or nothingness) are not meaningless, but I don't think that quite refutes Carnap's logical point on..negation (ie denial...~(A & ~A))--also realized in computing via logic gates,etc. Could we have both accounts? Not sure. Nothing as a vacuum could be said to exist--Hegel's first philosophy sounds something like that IIRC. At least it would take up space. Nothing-speak somewhat figurative, with religious/metaphorical hints--nothing as ...emptinesss,void (ala zensters)...or possibly ...an opposing force...evil, in a manichean sense, Death itself, or absence (Nada who art Nada, Nada be thy name---Hemingway the filosophe!--). Carnap would probably scoff and call it literary..and unverifiable.
My first struggle with nothing as a positive something came when studying Sartre. It took me many readings of his chapter on the nothing before I could manage to think of it positively.

But my understanding remained metaphysical, which may be MH's ultimate issue with Sartre. And then I found my way to MH. His complex understanding includes at least 4 maybe 5(?) different versions of nothing, only one of which fits Carnap's requirement.
I agree with the notions of rigorous logic. I write programs where I expect it from the machine - no ambiguity, thank you.

But that's insufficient for most of the decisions I need to make through out the day. Something may need to be A to one group and ~A to another, and it takes rhetoric to make both groups happy with semi-A.
Thanks for this--I hadn't seen it yet!
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