18 December 2010

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Rather interesting discussion in the book at the moment about whether nothingness is real or whether it is just a by-product of our way of thinking. I.e. we go somewhere and there is a quilt hanging on a wall, but next time we go it is gone, we need a word or a concept to describe the lack of the quilt. 

For some reason it made me think back to that idea from theological thinking about evil. I think it was Augustine who said there was no such thing as evil it was merely an absence of goodness.  In this case both evil and nothingness are concepts we have thought up to describe something we have noticed.

Discussion is ongoing but it seems that Sartre thinks that nothingness is real. I’d be quite happy with it just being a concept, but I shall persevere and see what else he has to say on the topic.

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4 responses »

  1. I suppose in the same way you might ask if zero is a real number (technically it is, according to the mathematical definition of ‘real numbers’). You can’t exactly count zero, but you don’t get very far in maths without it.

    • The question is are any numbers real? There may be confusion about zero being just a construct, but there is a temptation to say that all numbers are. I.e. the number two is just an expression of all our experiences of one thing with another thing, and the whole of mathmatics just an expression of the ability of the human brain to recognise repeated patterns.

      • But mathematics arises naturally from the principles of logic (if I undeerstand correctly, and I probably don’t, this was demonstrated by Bertrand Russell). If there is no logic, then we can make no conclusions about anything.

      • I haven’t read Russell so I’m not sure what he has to say about mathematics but from my brief sojourn into logic:
        things are logically true if they are a) true by definition i.e. all husbands are men or b) the conclusion follows unavoidably from the premises and the premises are true.

        a is usually considered not very useful because you can define anything as anything. I could say Mary is a husband because she lives with Jill and fulfills all the criteria of a husband and, if I can convince everyone to change the definition, all husbands are men no longer remains true.

        b is a little more tricky because firstly you have to prove that the premises are true and secondly the way you usually prove that the conclusion follows unavoidably from the premises is by looking for counterexamples to that argument structure. i.e. the argument all As are B, all Cs are B, therefore all Cs are As is generally taken to be false because arguments of that structure are obviously false i.e. all quilts (As) are made of fabric (B), All shirts (Cs) are made of fabric (B), therefore all shirts (Cs) are quilts (As).

        Logic rests on either definitions or knowing. When we are doing logic we already assume that we can know things about the world i.e. 1+1 is 2, that shirts are not quilts. I think what Sartre is trying to establish with all this talk about being and nothingness is knowing, because without it we have no logic, and as you say without logic everything falls.

        You can blame Descartes for this one. His idea that you could doubt everything except I think, still challenges philosophers even after all this time.

        Sorry that got rather long.

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