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ON DARKNESS, SILENCE, AND THE NOUGHT T HE vocabulary of many languages lists a noun: " the " Nought, das Nichts, le neant. Thus it seems that, in some sense, that which is nothing must be something after all, else one could not give it a name. This apparent contradiction is one reason why the question of the Nought has recurred frequently in philosophical speculation. There are other reasons too. One is connected with the problem of a finite universe: if the universe has boundaries, and comprises by definition all that is, then it must be, one is forced to suppose , "surrounded" by the Nought. Here again, the Nought seems to become something. Within Christian philosophy the doctrine was and is that God created the world " out of nothing ." It is easy to conceive of the Nought, in this sentence, as a kind of material God used to make the world. In fact, such ideas were considered by earlier thinkers. There is, furthermore, the problem of evil. At least since St. Augustine, it has been a common doctrine that evil as such has no existence; it is purely negative, the privatio boni. What exists has goodness, and evil is the absence of a higher goodness which ought to exist here and there. But this absence of the desired or necessary good is intensely felt; it becomes the content of a positive experience, although it is" nothing." In recent times the problem of the Nought has come to the fore in the philosophy of "existentialism," particularly in the views of Martin Heidegger. Apart from the peculiar place the idea.of the Nought holds within the system of this thinker, it is the phenomenological analysis of dread, as given by him, which has made the Nought a topic of renewed discussion. Heidegger claims, herein obviously dependent on Kierkegaard, that in dread man has an experience of the Nought. It seems worth while to reconsider the problem. In so doing 515 516 RUDOLF ALLERS a promising approach may be furnished through a description of experiences the reports on which contain the word " nothing ." I shall try to clarify the meaning of some of such statements. In the field of sensory awareness only the two "higher" senses, sight and hearing, furnish experiences described by the term "nothing." In darkness and in silence we apparently become aware of" nothing." The precise meaning of this.statement , at first sight self-contradictory, will be investigated later. But there is no such experience in the fields of the other senses. We may disregard the senses of smell and taste, as well as that of temperature, because the " something " of which they render us cognizant hardly deserves to be called a" thing." The data provided by these senses (and one may add the sense of pain as well as somaesthesia) refer only to properties, not to things in the strict sense of the name. We know of course that some fragrance originates in a thing, which therefore we expect; but to become aware of the thing and not only of its fragrance we have to look. Taste tells us about things only in virtue of its data being referred to or associated with previous nongustatory experiences, again mostly of sight. The same is true of the sense of thermaesthesia. When we do not sense any temperature, or taste anything, or smell anything, we usually do not say that we are aware of "nothing." We may say so, eventually, when something is brought into contact with our tongue and proves to have no taste; but what we really mean is not that we are aware of the non-taste, but that we are not conscious of any gustatory experience. The statement does not refer to the objective, but only to the subjective side of our experience. We assert the absence of any experience belonging to the class of taste. The same applies to smell. With tactual and kinaesthetic data the same conditions prevail. There is no experience of the absence of weight, for instance, or of the fact that nothing touches us, or that we do not touch anything. If we lift a thing which has " no weight " we report not on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 515-572
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-15
Open Access
No
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