## The fundamental question of Metaphysics: Why something rather than nothing

• 5.2k
Why is there something rather than nothing? was labeled as the fundamental question of metaphysics by Martin Heidegger. The basic concern here seems to be a lack of an explanation for existence of the universe and all it contains for the other alternative nothingness is considered possible. In my own way, perhaps failing to achieve my goal, I will attempt to show that the belief that nothing is possible is wrong and in the process provide an "explanation" for why there is something rather than nothing?.

Firstly, the question itself indicates an absence of a reason for why nothing cannot exist i.e. nothingness is considered possible and ergo the need to explain why not nothing but something.

From my limited perspective and knowledge, the only impossibility that categorically excludes something from reality is logical impossibility. If something is logically impossible then it can't be true in any possible world.

Consider the idea of nothing which for this discussion, and hopefully staying true to the meaning as intended in the question, "why is there something rather than nothing?", will simply mean the state of nonexistence.

If we're in agreement so far let's take a simplified version of the universe as one with 3 objects A (5 cm long), B (3 cm long) and C (1 cm long). These 3 objects will represent everything in our universe and the length of these objects stand for any conceivable property of objects in our universe, the one we live in.

In this hypothetical universe it is ok to say:
1. object A is the longest

and

2. Object C is the shortest

Another way of expressing the above two statements is:

3. Nothing is longer than A

4. Nothing is shorter than C

Ergo, we can combine statements 3 and 4 as:

5. Nothing is longer than A which is longer than C which in turn is longer than nothing. In other words the following statement is true:

6. Nothing > A > C > Nothing (">" here means "longer than")

But from statement 6, what follows is:

7. Nothing > Nothing

We also know, from the law of identity that it is true that:

8. Nothing = Nothing

9. From 7 and 8 we get the contradiction (Nothing > Nothing AND Nothing = Nothing)

10. Ergo, the idea of nothing leads to a logical contradiction (9) and so is impossible. Nothing is impossible.

Let's now take absolute nothing.

The following is true of absolute nothingness:

11. Nothing is greater (in terms of nothingness) than nothing

12. From 11 we get Nothing > Nothing

13. From 8 and 12, we again get the logical contradiction: Nothing = Nothing AND Nothing > Nothing

14. Therefore, again, Nothing is logically impossible

15. Either something or nothing

16. Impossible that nothing (from 10 and 15)

17. So, there must be something rather than nothing.

Some may object that in statements such as "nothing is longer than A" and nothing is shorter than C" are just turns of phrases and in no way implies that nothing has length, let alone being shorter/longer. However, take a look at the following diagram for the 3 object universe I described:

|....................1cm.........3cm.................5cm...............|
Nothing........C.............B......................A........Nothing

Viewed as above, "nothing is longer than A" and "nothing is shorter than C" seems to have the literal meaning that nothing does possess length and that these lengths can be comparatively longer/shorter.
• 53
3. Nothing is longer than A

4. Nothing is shorter than C

If Nothing is understood to mean the state of nonexistence, then these 2 statements are false. For what they're claiming is that "The state of nonexistence is longer than A" and "The state of nonexistence is shorter than C". But that is not at all what we normally mean when we say such phrases. Rather, what we mean to say is that "No object is longer than A" and "No object is shorter than B".

11. Nothing is greater (in terms of nothingness) than nothing

I'm not exactly sure what this is supposed to mean. Could you elaborate on this?
• 5.2k
Imagine you have 3 objects A (5 cm long), B (3 cm long) and C (1 cm long) and you have a piece of paper with the following measurements: 0.5 cm, 1 cm, 3 cm, 5 cm, 9 cm. You have to match the measurements with the objects and if you're like most of us then what you'd be saying in your mind would be: "1 cm - C; 3 cm - B, 5 cm - A, 0.5 cm - nothing, 9 cm - nothing"

The thing you've done is matched each length to an object and while A, B and C were matched with the correct measurements, notice that you paired both 0.5 cm and 9 cm with nothing. In a sense then, both anything less than 1 cm and anything greater than 5 cm are nothing.

What is wrong in saying "nothing is greater than nothing"? Is it not true that there can be nothing more nothing than nothing? Doesn't this amount to saying nothing is greater than nothing? Apply the same principle I did with the objects in the previous 2 paragraphs: nothing matches with nothing and a greater nothing would, again, match with nothing.
• 53
if you're like most of us then what you'd be saying in your mind would be: "1 cm - C; 3 cm - B, 5 cm - A, 0.5 cm - nothing, 9 cm - nothing

I would say this in my head, but I would not thereby mean that the state of nonexistence is 0.5 or 9 cm long, since the state of nonexistence cannot have a length. Rather, I would be thinking that "There is no object in the universe which is either 0.5 or 9 cm".

What is wrong in saying "nothing is greater than nothing"? Is it not true that there can be nothing more nothing than nothing? Doesn't this amount to saying nothing is greater than nothing? Apply the same principle I did with the objects in the previous 2 paragraphs: nothing matches with nothing and a greater nothing would, again, match with nothing.

I don't know what is wrong with saying this, because as yet I don't have any idea what these statements are supposed to mean. I do not know how to interpret "There can be nothing more nothing than nothing."
• 5.2k
I would say this in my head, but I would not thereby mean that the state of nonexistence is 0.5 or 9 cm long, since the state of nonexistence cannot have a length. Rather, I would be thinking that "There is no object in the universe which is either 0.5 or 9 cm".

I agree that it's itself paradoxical that the property of length could be attributed to nothing for there's nothing there to which we may attach the property of length, and for that matter no property at all can be of nothing.

Let me ask you this then: to what would you assign, in the universe I described, lengths greater than 5 cm and less than 1 cm?
• 1.2k
Consider the idea of nothing which for this discussion, and hopefully staying true to the meaning as intended in the question, "why is there something rather than nothing?", will simply mean the state of nonexistence.

I think this statement already highlights the problem with the notion of "nothing" as an ontological category. You can only meaningfully talk about the nonexistence of something. Nothing is always a relative term, denoting the relative absence of something, whose attributes we know.

It seems to me the entire question of "why is there something rather than nothing" is just a result of a mistake in our reasoning. We tend to subconsciously reify categories and relational terms into ontological "things". In this case, we turned relative absence into it's own absolute thing "nothingness".
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• 3.1k
It seems to me the entire question of "why is there something rather than nothing" is just a result of a mistake in our reasoning. We tend to subconsciously reify categories and relational terms into ontological "things". In this case, we turned relative absence into it's own absolute thing "nothingness".

But you can just change the wording to ask, "Why does anything exist"? Which doesn't need to reference some ontological nothing.
• 1.2k
But you can just change the wording to ask, "Why does anything exist"? Which doesn't need to reference some ontological nothing.

True. But then we'd at least be able to evolve that question into a number of questions about specific things (since "anything" is again merely a category for "all individual things). We could ask of any one thing why it is, and why it is that specific way. And that kinda describes metaphysics in general.

So I guess if you leave the "nothingness" out of it, instead of a fundamental question, you have a fundamental descriptionn of metaphysics.
• 4k
May I remind you that a ham sandwich is better than nothing and nothing is better than God, therefore, a ham sandwich is better than god! Defining terms is not the only way to keep out of the pit of nonsense, but it's a start.
• 53
to what would you assign, in the universe I described, lengths greater than 5 cm and less than 1 cm?

No object in your universe has these lengths, so I would not assign them to anything. This doesn’t at all mean that I would assign them to the state of nonexistence.

It is now clear to me where your confusion lies. As Echarmion points out, you are equivocating Nothing as a state of nonexistence with Nothing as a quantifier. It is like the old joke:

“1. Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
2. A ham sandwich is better than nothing.
3. Therefore, a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.”

It is clear that ‘nothing’ in 1 is being used as a quantifier, while ‘nothing’ in 2 is being used to refer to a certain state of nonexistence.

Therefore, your argument does not work because it commits the Fallacy of Equivocation.
• 53

Speak of the devil :lol:
• 1.3k
1. object A is the longest

2. Object C is the shortest

3. Nothing is longer than A

4. Nothing is shorter than C

Ergo, we can combine statements 3 and 4 as:

5. Nothing is longer than A which is longer than C which in turn is longer than nothing. In other words the following statement is true:

6. Nothing > A > C > Nothing (">" here means "longer than")
You're erroneously treating "nothing" as a rigid referrent.

Consider Propositions 3 and 4:
3. Nothing is longer than A
This means: For all x: x<=A

4. Nothing is shorter than C
This means: For all y: y>=C

y and x are two different variables, having no mathematical or logical relation between them. In your proof, you conflate them (in effect).
• 825

You're argument is that the world is necessary, and you get there because you don't understand nothingness. The world is contingent and things exist because it's beautiful. Consciousness is intimately involved with beauty. Nothingness is not material nothingness
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• 5.2k
No object in your universe has these lengths, so I would not assign them to anything. This doesn’t at all mean that I would assign them to the state of nonexistence.

I was anticipating this response but suppose the scenario I presented to you, which I will not repeat here for brevity, was a homework assignment and your teacher specifically demands that you must find a match for each length (0.5 cm, 1 cm, 3 cm, 5 cm). To what would you assign 0.5 cm and 9 cm to?

If it's mandatory that each length be matched, the most logical option is to match both 0.5 cm and 9 cm to nothing. If you disagree then it is required of you to find something that matches these lengths and, of course, none exist.
• 884
May I remind you that a ham sandwich is better than nothing and nothing is better than God, therefore, a ham sandwich is better than god! Defining terms is not the only way to keep out of the pit of nonsense, but it's a start.
:yikes: What do you mean? Of course a ham sandwich is better than God - assuming you also have water to drink daily, you can live on 'nothing but ham sandwiches' indefinitely, but without a doubt after only a couple of months with 'nothing but God' you'd starve to death. Kosher ham or not, like the song says: 'all you need is ham / ham is all you need' ... :yum: :hearts:
• 53
If it's mandatory that each length be matched, the most logical option is to match both 0.5 cm and 9 cm to nothing. If you disagree then it is required of you to find something that matches these lengths and, of course, none exist.

-

As I explained above, you are equivocating on the use of the term ‘nothing.’ We can correctly say that these lengths match up to nothing in the quantificational sense, i.e. in the sense that no object possesses these lengths. But we cannot say that they match up to nothing in the ontological sense, i.e. in the sense that they match up to the state of nonexistence,

Do you not recognize these 2 very distinct senses of the word ‘nothing’?
• 5.2k
I think this statement already highlights the problem with the notion of "nothing" as an ontological category. You can only meaningfully talk about the nonexistence of something. Nothing is always a relative term, denoting the relative absence of something, whose attributes we know.

It seems to me the entire question of "why is there something rather than nothing" is just a result of a mistake in our reasoning. We tend to subconsciously reify categories and relational terms into ontological "things". In this case, we turned relative absence into it's own absolute thing "nothingness".

What do you mean? Take this universe (matter, energy in space-time) and begin with your idea of "relative" absence and suppose you have an anti-matter gun that annihilates matter. You shoot objects into oblivion one by one i.e. you cause relative absence of things. Ultimately, you would've destroyed everything after shooting yourself and programming the gun to take itself out. That which is left, after the gun self-destructs, is absolute nothing.
• 5.2k
As I explained above, you are equivocating on the use of the term ‘nothing.’ We can correctly say that these lengths match up to nothing in the quantificational sense, i.e. in the sense that no object possesses these lengths. But we cannot say that they match up to nothing in the ontological sense, i.e. in the sense that they match up to the state of nonexistence,

Do you not recognize these 2 very distinct senses of the word ‘nothing’?

I understand that nothing can't have properties and it is irrational to say it can for it leads to paradoxes and I respect your position that you would simply refuse to match 0.5 cm and 9 cm to anything at all.

However what I'm asking of you is very simple. If a match for 0.5 cm and 9 cm is mandatory and you are given two options - something or nothing. What would be the most logical match? It can't be something for there are no objects of given lengths. Ergo, 0.5 cm and 9 cm have to be matched with nothing. All I'm requesting you to do, after I take away the option of refusing to assign a match, is to find a match for 0.5 cm and 9 cm given the choices something and nothing.
• 53

You are still equivocating on the term 'nothing'. All I can do in response is to emphasize that I can only assign these to nothing in the quantificational sense, but not the ontological sense. Your argument conflates these 2 quite different meanings of the term.
• 5.2k
You are still equivocating on the term 'nothing'. All I can do in response is to emphasize that I can only assign these to nothing in the quantificational sense, but not the ontological sense. Your argument conflates these 2 quite different meanings of the term

So, in terms of quantity, you would assign 0.5 cm and 9 cm to nothing. It's the most logical choice, right?
• 53

Again, I would assign these to nothing in the quantificational sense, i.e. in the sense that I would not assign them to anything. But I would not assign them to nothing in the ontological sense, i.e. nothingness considered as a state of nonexistence. Your argument crucially depends upon an equivocation of these senses.

I will repeat the question from above: Do you, or do you not, recognize these 2 very distinct senses of the term?
• 5.2k
Again, I would assign these to nothing in the quantificational sense, i.e. in the sense that I would not assign them to anything. But I would not assign them to nothing in the ontological sense, i.e. nothingness considered as a state of nonexistence. Your argument crucially depends upon an equivocation of these senses.

I will repeat the question from above: Do you, or do you not, recognize these 2 very distinct senses of the term?

Bear with me. I'm slow-witted.

Firstly we have a 3-object universe (A = 5 cm, B = 3 cm and C = 1 cm)

You have to (mandatory it is) to match the measurements 0.5 cm, 1 cm, 3 cm, 5 cm and 9 cm with, there being only 3 possibilities: something, everything, nothing

The following matches are true: 1 cm - C, 3 cm - B and 5 cm - A. In other words the lengths 1 cm, 3 cm and 5 cm match with something.

We're left with 0.5 cm and 9 cm. Can either of them be matched with something? No.

Can either of them be matched with everything? No.

Can either of them be matched with nothing. No because nothing can't have a length.

So, 0.5 cm and 9 cm can't be matched with something, everything or nothing. What is not nothing, not something and also not everything. Nothing, of course. This process can be iterated to infinity and you will always have only nothing as the only logical option as a match for 0.5 cm and 9 cm or any length less than 1 cm and any length greater than 5 cm.
• 4k
Kosher ham or not, like the song says: 'all you need is ham / ham is all you need' ...
Virginia, me. But this has always reminded me of Mat. 4:4, on living on bread alone. Of course you can, but in the language, and compounded in the translation of "live" for the Gk. verb (ζήσεται), is an example of the Bible's ability to cram maximum ambiguity and misdirection into small compass. Already salted, best with a bit of Coleman's, and as much Chardonnay as possible.
• 5.2k
You're erroneously treating "nothing" as a rigid referrent.

Consider Propositions 3 and 4:
3. Nothing is longer than A
This means: For all x: x<=A

4. Nothing is shorter than C
This means: For all y: y>=C

y and x are two different variables, having no mathematical or logical relation between them. In your proof, you conflate them (in effect).

I'm examining a property, here length, which x and y can share.
• 53

Again, you are assigning these lengths to nothing in the quantificational sense, but not in the ontological sense.

To ask again, do you not recognize the distinction between these 2 senses of the term?
• 884
Already salted, best with a bit of Coleman's, and as much Chardonnay as possible.
:yum: :up: :party:
• 5.2k
Again, you are assigning these lengths to nothing in the quantificational sense, but not in the ontological sense.

To ask again, do you not recognize the distinction between these 2 senses of the term?

If I am equivocating then it implies that there must exist an ambiguity in the meaning of nothing. You seem to think that nothing has a quantitative and an ontological meaning and in my argument, although there's no need that it not be done, I haven't used zero (the quantitative aspect of nothing) and my focus has been purely on nonexistence (the ontological meaning).
• 53

If that's the case, then as I explained above, premises 3 and 4 are false. Because they both assert that the state of nonexistence has a length which can be compared to a given measure. Therefore, your argument cannot even get off the ground.

By the way, do you think that when people say things like "Nothing tastes better than fettuccine alfredo", they are really saying something like "The state of nonexistence tastes better than fettuccine alfredo?" Because it seems quite clear to me that what we actually mean when we say this is something like "There exists no object which tastes better than fettuccine alfredo."
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