ParmenidesOne of the earliest western philosophers to consider nothing as a concept was Parmenides (5th century BC) who was a Greek philosopher of the monist school. He argued that "nothing" cannot exist by the following line of reasoning: To speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists. Since we can speak of a thing in the past, it must still exist (in some sense) now and from this concludes that there is no such thing as change. As a corollary, there can be no such things as coming-into-being, passing-out-of-being, or not-being.
Parmenides was taken seriously by other philosophers, influencing, for ...view middle of the document...
He accepted the monist position that there could be no motion without a void. The void is the opposite of being, it is not-being. On the other hand, a thing that exists is an absolute plenum and there can be no motion in a plenum because it is completely full. But there is not one monolithic plenum, existence consists of a multiplicity of plenums. These are the invisibly small atoms of the atomists theory, later expanded more fully by Democritus (circa 460 BC – 370 BC). They are a necessary part of the theory to allow the void to exist between them. In this scenario macroscopic objects can come-into-being move through space and pass into not-being by means of the coming together and moving apart of their constituent atoms. The void must exist to allow this to happen or else the frozen world of Parmenides must be accepted.
Bertrand Russell points out that this does not exactly defeat the argument of Parmenides, but rather ignores it by taking the rather modern scientific position of starting with the observed data (motion etc.) and constructing a theory based on the data as opposed to Parmenides attempts to work from pure logic. Russell also observes that both sides were mistaken in believing that there can be no motion in a plenum, but arguably motion cannot start in a plenum. Cyril Bailey notes that Leucippus is the first to say that a thing (the void) might be real without being a body and points out the irony that this comes from a materialistic atomist. Leucippus is therefore the first to say that "nothing" has a reality attached to it.