So for example a sentence like "Things only exist conventionally, about their ultimate status, nothing can literally be said." If read as written, can the "nothing" be interpreted as a reification of nihilism? Does "nothing", as a linguistic term, carry within it an implied essence - one of inherent absence - one that makes what seems like negation in the above statement, actually a positive statement? And would substituting "nothing" with "no-thing" avoid this at all?

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    Yes, the issue is known as Plato's beard, see philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/31058/… It can not be resolved by linguistic substitutions because meaningfully asserting non-existence genuinely involves conceptualizing something non-existent in one form or another.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 3:07

2 Answers 2


It is greater than God and more evil than the devil. The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat it you’ll die. What is it?

... I hate riddles like that. Because the whole point of a riddle is "fit something into this odd set of rules," and there isn't anything that fits into this odd set of rules, and the only answer is to give up. And that's supposed to be clever.

So... yes, it's easy for people to think that "nothing" is an affirmative type of thing... But if you're worried about that, just be conscious of what you're saying when you say it, and what others are saying when you say it. I think that actual problems with the word "nothing" will be rare, but hey, you might catch some weird issues.

  • Upvote +1, nice illustration.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 21:54

It is one of the severest traps of language to reify the negation.

Because reification prompts the question whether a new object has been created, e.g., which object is nothing = no-thing?

Sometimes the error continues when asking for properties or possible actions of the new object. The best-known example is Heidegger's nothingness. Aside: I know than fans of Heidegger do not share my assessment:-)

To defuse the problem one can always keep the negation as negation. In the example above nothing can literally be said then transformes into it is not possible to say a single word.

  • As Peter Bieri put it in an inofficial post-colloquial dinner: Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (Being an Time) is one of the, if not the most overrated philosophical texts of all time. =)
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 11:11

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