In 1929 Heidegger gave his Freiburg inaugural lecture entitled ‘What is Metaphysics?’ In it he announced: Das Nichts selbst nichtet, ‘The Nothing itself noths (or ‘nihilates’, or ‘nothings’). This soon earned Heidegger fame as a purveyor of metaphysical nonsense. In his 1931 paper, ‘Overcoming of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language’ Rudolf Carnap charged Heidegger with the offences of the whole metaphysical genre. His sentence has the same grammatical form as the sentence ‘The rain rains’ – a sentence which Carnap, or at least his translator, regarded as a ‘meaningful sentence of ordinary language’. But this harmless guise conceals severe logical blemishes. Heidegger treats the indefinite pronoun ‘nothing’ as a noun, as the ‘name or description of an entity’. (When he says ‘The nothing noths’ he surely does not mean ‘There is nothing that noths’ or ‘It is not the case that anything noths’.) He introduces the meaningless word ’to noth‘. He implies, and later affirms, the existence of the nothing, when the ‘existence of this entity would be denied in its very definition’. If all this were not enough, the sentence is meaningless, since it is neither analytic, nor contradictory, nor empirical. It is metaphysics, and metaphysics seriously damages our spiritual health.
Michael Inwood, Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford