Nothing: The contradiction at the heart of being




Act I: Absences
In Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre tells us a story.1 He has arranged to meet Pierre in a bar at 16.00. Pierre is always punctual. Jean-Paul arrives late. He enters the bar; Pierre is not there. At once Jean-Paul experiences his absence. He does not have to reason: ‘The things in the bar are: a table, a chair, Simone… Pierre is not a table; Pierre is not a chair; Pierre in not Simone;… Ergo Pierre is not in the bar.’ The absence of Pierre is immediate. He has a direct phenomenological awareness of an absence.
Or again: I visited my old family home immediately after the death of my mother. The place was exactly the same as it always was. But now there was nobody there. She was absent; and her absence was palpable.
Perhaps most of us have experienced this kind of absence. But the absences in question here are absences of particular things, Pierre and my mother. There is also an absolu…

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[Revised entry by Kenny Easwaran, Alan Hájek, Paolo Mancosu, and Graham Oppy on December 8, 2023. Changes to: Main text]...