Why Is There Nothing Rather Than Something? An Essay in the Comparative Metaphysic of Nonbeing

  • Purushottama BilimoriaEmail author
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 30)


This essay in the comparative metaphysic of nothingness begins by pondering why Leibniz thought of the converse question as the preeminent one. In Eastern philosophical thought, like the numeral ‘zero’ (śūnya) that Indian mathematicians first discovered, nothingness as non-being looms large and serves as the first quiver on the imponderables they seem to have encountered (e.g., ‘In the beginning was neither non-being what nor being: what was there, bottomless deep?’ ṚgVeda X.129). The concept of non-being and its permutations of nothing, negation, nullity, etc., receive more sophisticated treatment in the works of grammarians, ritual hermeneuticians, logicians, and their dialectical adversaries variously across Jaina and Buddhist schools. The present analysis follows the function of negation/the negative copula, nãn, and dialetheia in grammar and logic, then moves onto ontologies of non-existence and extinction and further suggestive tropes that tend to arrest rather than affirm the inexorable being-there of something. (This chapter is to be read in tandem with two aligned papers that have appeared since the first publication of this chapter (see above), namely, ‘Thinking Negation in Early Hinduism and Classical Indian Philosophy’ (Bilimoria 2017); and ‘Negation (Abhāva), Non-existents, and a Distinctive Pramāṇa in the Nyāya-Mīmāṃsā’ (Bilimoria 2016)).

After a discussion of interests in being (existence), non-being and nothingness in contemporary metaphysics, the article examines Heidegger’s extensive treatment of nothingness in his 1929 inaugural Freiburg lecture, ‘Was ist Metaphysik?’, published later as ‘What is Metaphysics?’ The essay however distances itself from any pretensions toward a doctrine of ‘Metaphysical’ at ‘Nihilism’.


Non-being Nothingness Leibniz Heidegger Jaina Buddhist Nāgārjuna Mīmāṃsā Sylvan Noneism Nyāya Matilal 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Historical and Philosophical StudiesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Graduate Theological Union and University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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