"metaphysical" question. At the outset we attributed a twofold character to such questions: first, each metaphysical question always encompasses the whole of metaphysics; second, every metaphysical question in each case implicates the questioning Dasein in the question.

[16 {GA 9 119}] To what extent does the question concerning the nothing permeate and embrace the whole of metaphysics?

For a long time metaphysics has expressed the nothing in a proposition clearly susceptible of more than one meaning: ex nihilo nihil fit - from nothing, nothing comes to be. Although in discussions of the proposition the nothing itself never becomes a problem in its own right, the respective views of the nothing nevertheless express the guiding fundamental conception of beings. Ancient metaphysics conceives the nothing in the sense of non being, that is, unformed matter, matter that cannot take form as an in-formed being that would offer an outward aspect (εἶδος). To be in being is to be a self-forming form that exhibits itself as such in an image (as something envisaged). The origins, legitimacy, and limits of this conception of being are as little discussed as the nothing itself. On the other hand, Christian dogma denies the truth of the proposition ex nihilo nihil fit and thereby bestows on the nothing a transformed significance, the sense of the complete absence of beings apart from God: ex nihilo fit - ens creatum [From nothing comes - created being]. Now the nothing becomes the counterconcept to that which properly is, the summum ens, God as ens increatum. Here too the interpretation of the nothing indicates the fundamental conception of beings. But the metaphysical discussion of beings stays on the same level as the question of the nothing. The questions of being and of the nothing as such are not posed. Therefore no one is bothered by the difficulty that if God creates out of nothing precisely he must be able to comport himself to the nothing. But if God is God, he cannot know the nothing, assuming that the "Absolute" excludes all nothingness.

This cursory historical recollection shows the nothing as the counterconcept to that which properly is, i.e., as its negation. But if the nothing somehow does become a problem, then this opposition does not merely undergo a somewhat clearer determination; rather, it awakens for the first time the proper formulation of the metaphysical question concerning the being of beings. The nothing does not remain [17 {GA 9 120}] the indeterminate opposite of beings but unveils itself as belonging to the being of beings.

"Pure Being and pure Nothing are therefore the same." This proposition of Hegel's (Science of Logic, Book I: Werke, vol. III, p. 74) is correct. Being and the nothing do belong together, not because both - from the point of view of the Hegelian concept of thought - agree in their indeterminateness


Martin Heidegger (GA 9) What Is Metaphysics?