What are the statements of the sentence :

Everything is too much, nothing is too little. "Alles ist zuviel, nichts zu wenig."

In German there are several interpretations:

  1. That everything is too much and nothing to little so something in between is probably okay.
  2. Nothing (as Object seen) is to little so it can be much more of "nothing" and everything is to much, so, refere to 1. there's a need to get less of "everything".

But what happens if we turn it around:

Everything is too little, nothing is too much. "Alles ist zuwenig, nichts zu viel."

  1. The first interpretation would be that erverything is not enough but nothing is already to much. So it seems like a conflicted statement.
  2. But if nothing is too much there is much space for somthing so it seems that there is a need to be not only much more of something but much more of everything (what is not enough for one time).

So where doese this confusion about "Nothing" & "Everything" comes from ? Is it the language or the logic behind. Is there a model for this kind of ambiguity ?

  • Since "nothing is too less" is ungrammatical in English, it doesn't have an interpretation. Do you want to change that to "little"?
    – user6726
    Jan 8 '15 at 16:29
  • Your interpretations of the two sentences are very hard to understand. Can you try to explain them further?
    – Joe
    Jan 10 '15 at 2:54
  • I can't think of a brief way of answering the question. I recommend you google for "quantifier scope ambiguity".
    – prash
    Jan 11 '15 at 1:27

"Everything" almost never literally means "everything", it is limited by some domain of discourse.

"Everything is too much" is a bit odd and requires certain contexts, like, there is a presupposed collection of items to be acted on, and you could be suggesting acting on a proper subset of those things. "Nothing is too little", paired with that, is weird, unless there is some supposition that the lot has to be dealt with as a whole. It could be an indirect way of saying "You should pick just a few items". (You also have to filter out the extraneous interpretation "everything is too small"). So the first sentence could stand elliptically for "Giving everything would be too much to give, but giving nothing would be giving too little".

"Everything is too little" only makes sense (again, filtering out the "small" readings) if you are denying that there has to be a limit on the collection that you're drawing from, that is, reject the presupposition. So, if you were planning on giving away your cash to charity, I could be saying "Not even all your cash is sufficient, you should also give away your house and your stocks", i.e. go beyond the presupposed "everything". You can then assert that more emphatically, by saying that there is should be no limit, that there exists no thing that would be too much for that purpose.

I think we need a bit more exegesis on the interpretation of the German sentences. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it sounds like German is the same. So this is probably a matter of the pragmatic logic behind saying such things (i.e. why the heck would you ever talk like that).


Here's my take:

Everything = the entire set of things

Everything would not be used in English to mean "any given thing", because that notion is already occupied by the word anything

Nothing = the empty set of things

No-thing = it cannot be for any given thing that that thing (universal negation in predicate logic, although I'm not sure contextually if it applies here only to real things or imagined things as well; I guess it depends on a level of fantasy engagement)

So take the example...

  1. The entire set of things is too much, the empty set of things is too little, so some amount in-between is okay.

  2. The entire set of things is too much, it cannot be for any given thing that that thing is too little, so there's a need to get as little or less than the least thing.


  1. The entire set of things is too little, the empty set of things is too much, so there is a contradiction (even if the entire set were the empty set).

  2. The entire set of things is too little, it cannot be for any given thing that that thing is too much, so this is a redundant statement saying we need more than the entire set of things.

(It might be redundant in a different way, in the case where everything represents the set of all real things, and no-thing could be a huge imagined object that is never big enough, no matter how big it is imagined to be)

I believe Nichts means nothing as well as no-thing, and Alles has only the sense of everything, so there would seem to be a direct parallel in the logic.

One more weird interpretation is coming to mind: the case where "nothing" and "everything" are partitioned. Like in the Never-Ending Story, the bigger the Nothing got, the smaller everything else got. In that case, there's no contradiction to "Everything is too little, Nothing is too much", because nothing is itself a thing, I guess.

The pop philosopher Slavoj Zizek likes to retell a nothing-as-something joke: A guy walks into a café. "I'd like a coffee without cream". "Sorry, we're out of cream, can I get you a coffee without milk instead?"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.