, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 509–530 | Cite as

Why Is There Nothing Rather Than Something?

An Essay in the Comparative Metaphysic of Nonbeing
  • Purushottama BilimoriaEmail author


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 nor being: what was there, bottomless deep?' RgVeda 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. 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 Nihilism.


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


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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Australia as represented by the University of Melbourne 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SHAPS/SophiaUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Deakin UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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