Sunday, January 29, 2012

So, what exactly is "nothing?"

Heidegger begins with the question, "Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?" (102), and this essential question prevails throughout the text. Upon first glance, this question seems odd, for the answer seems obvious: if the world was full of nothing, we would not be here, and the world as we know it would not exist, of course. However, this answer is na├»ve in its attempt to answer such a profound, thought-provoking question. Isn’t “nothing” something? When I picture nothing in my mind, I simply think of the color black, but isn’t the color black something? The color black is considered something because human beings decide it is, in fact, something.

Human beings have the ability to question. It is from this ability that Heidegger’s overarching why-question originates. If humans did not have the ability or the intelligence to ask such questions, we would certainly live differently. In fact, Heidegger states that, “Philosophizing means asking: ‘Why are there beings at all, instead of nothing?’ Actually asking this means venturing to exhaust, to question thoroughly, the inexhaustible wealth of this question, by unveiling what it demands that we question” (106). So, if humans did not have the unique ability to ask questions, there would be no such thing as philosophy; things would simply exist as they are, and there would be no reason to discover why and how they exist the way they do. Without our innate ability to question, would there simply be no truths, no answers, and no reason to seek such in life? Perhaps human beings’ unique ability to question complicates life. Then again, some may argue it simplifies life since we can potentially discover the answer to all “why-questions,” as we have done by deciding that there is “anything at all, rather than nothing” in life. Overall, it seems that philosophical theories and speculations such as Heidegger’s about “Beings” and “Nothingness” derive from a dire need, simply unique to humans, to answer questions.


  1. I feel like you did an excellent job of describing the nature of human questioning without losing sight of the importance of the question in a way I was not so successful at. You make what I find an abysmal and answerless question feel lovely, meaningful and familiar.

    1. I'm utterly fascinated by what Heidegger does with the word "nothing" on page 114 of the reading. His repetition of the word "nothing," while reiterating the meaninglessness of the word "nothing" is wonderfully performative: it seems to me the meaning here lies not in the logic of these sentences, but rather in the way they self-deconstruct. This is a text that is doing something, rather than (or at least more than) saying something.

  2. Do you think it's interesting that Heidegger opens up the idea of "being" to more than humans when questioning, something important to his discussion of being, seems to be a purely human trait? On page 104, he says that we shouldn't focus "on the human being for what is this being, after all!" While I tend to agree with the idea that humans really seem to be the only species that inquires of the sake of inquiry (whereas animals question but possibly only to ascertain safety?), I wonder at Heidegger's insistence that we ignore the human being "cage".