The Void stands for nothingness. It simply points towards an empty space having no tangible object in it. It is simply “nothing”.
Firstly it looks foolish to think about Void and then to think about its existence. Means when we have to think that can nothing exists? But in Philosophy the standard of dealing with the questions remain always different, and same in the case of Void.
The problem was introduced by the Pre-Socratics (1). With Thales the investigations started to find the reality. Thales perceived the reality as Water. All things came from water and then return to it. And from here the problem of Substance started, that what is ultimate substance by which world is formed. Anaximander another philosopher of the same school considered “infinite matter” to be the basic principle of all things. Then came the Anaximenes, and according to him “Air” is that basic principle.
This introduction was necessary because it would give us an idea regarding the main problem. If the basic principle is absolute as the Miletus School tell us then why is this change and becoming, which we observe in our daily life? How is it possible that a thing remaining in itself same is also the cause of the change? Here we are encountered with the problem of Becoming. That is how an entity undergoes change? How it becomes that, which it wasn’t? There are three schools of thoughts who tried to solve the problem. These are Eleatic School, Heraclitus System and Atomist School.
We will focus on Eleatic School due to the limitations of the question. Becoming is simply the combination of being and non-being (2). Becoming involves the change and change involves the Void or empty space (Aristotle refused this but it is coming later). So operation of being in “not-being” results in becoming or change. A thing, suppose “A” becomes “B” which it wasn’t? So you notice that becoming “B” is simply mixture of not-being (B was “not-being” when “A” was “A”.) So for Becoming, not-being or Void is presupposed. Now are able to understand the arguments given against the existence of Void.
Our first philosopher is Parmenides. He is among the influential philosophers of Pre-Socratic era. He wrote his works in the form of poem, some of that’s fragments exists. He emphasized on being. According to him, whatever exists “must be absolutely or not at all.” Thus to exist is simply to be. He maintained that something is or not. Thus the concept of becoming was absurd for him. You can’t say that a thing came-into –being from non-being. Because you can’t say about anything that it ever had non-being. Because if you can think of it, then it already exists. So there is no process of change because there is no “not-being”. Thus Parmenides rejected the existence of Void on the basis of his stress on very sharp interpretation of being. According to him we can only think of a thing which is. So we can’t think of change or becoming because it involves thinking a thing is “noting”. Being simply is (3). The change we saw in our everyday life but Parmenides countered the observation by his distinction between appearance and reality. Thus change is illusion. Opinion and truth another important distinction is there made by him. Opinion is based on observation by sensation and thus presents change. But Truth is based on activity of reason which tells us that reality is one. Parmenides distinction of appearance and reality can be easily seen in Plato’s system of Ideals and Matter. Parmenides stress on being and its unchangeable nature can be seen in Plato’s ideals and then in Aristotelian’s Forms.
Then came Zeno, a disciple of Parmenides. Zeno worked on the main thesis of his master that reality is one and is unchangeable. He answered the critique of Parmenides by atomists and presented his own thoughts in the form of Paradoxes. These paradoxes are one of the masterpieces of the human intellect and show that idea of change and thus of Void is wrong. I will present his a paradox of Achilles and Tortoise. In the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, Achilles is in a footrace with the tortoise. Achilles allows the tortoise a head start of 100 meters, for example. If we suppose that each participant starts running at some constant speed (one very fast and one very slow), then after some finite time, Achilles will have run 100 meters, bringing him to the tortoise’s starting point. During this time, the tortoise has run a much shorter distance, say, 10 meters. It will then take Achilles some further time to run that distance, by which time the tortoise will have advanced farther; and then more time still to reach this third point, while the tortoise moves ahead. Thus, whenever Achilles reaches somewhere the tortoise has been, he still has farther to go. Therefore, because there are an infinite number of points Achilles must reach where the tortoise has already been, he can never overtake the tortoise. The notable thing in this paradox is that Zeno demonstrate that if we divide the space till infinite then motion is impossible. Actually the division of the space into infinite atoms which can’t be furthers divided is the main thesis of atomist school to whom Zeno is answering. Thus for making motion possible you have to abandon the division and thus void, as void was supposed to exist between two atoms which enable atoms to moves. This paradox not only rejects the motion but also void and claims that reality is one, indivisible, unchangeable and motionless. Eleatic School produced another philosopher who carries on the thesis of Parmenides and Zeno against motion, void and becoming that’s Melissus of Samos who was the third and last member of the ancient school of Eleatic philosophy. His main claim is also that the reality is changeless and motionless. It can’t be created nor be destroyed. Due to the problem of limitation of the question I will present only his argument on Void. He argues that a thing can be empty or full. To be empty is to be nothing and nothing doesn’t exist. But the reality exists and thus it is not empty. If it is not empty, then is full. Motion can occur in emptiness and the one is full and thus not empty. So is motionless and full. So no motion and no Void exist (4).
The clash of Eleatic and Atomists on Void was due to the question of motion. So they either hold seat of motion with void (atomist) or motionless and without void (Eleatic). Aristotle changed the whole discussion by presenting his view of motion that motion needs a mover and concept of Void can’t justify the motion. Void was no more needed to explain motion. According to Aristotle, medium of movement resists the movement and thus makes the speed slower. But a thing moving in Void will face no resistance as noting is inside void, so its speed will be unlimited. It will exist on every point of the void at the same time and as this is illogical so Void can’t exist.(5)
1. Metaphysics: The Basic Works of Aristotle (Edited and with an introduction by Richard McKeon) Published by Random House New York
2. Being, not being and becoming: A Lecture. Webpage
3. Philosophy, History and Problems by Samuel Encoh Stumph (Pre-Socratic)
4. A history of Greek Philosophy Vol. 1 by Eduard Zeller (Eleatic School Page 627)
5. Metaphysics: The Basic Works of Aristotle (Edited and with an introduction by Richard McKeon) Published by Random House New York