12345...10...


nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Nihilism, (from Latin nihil, nothing), originally a philosophy of moral and epistemological skepticism that arose in 19th-century Russia during the early years of the reign of Tsar Alexander II. The term was famously used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the disintegration of traditional morality in Western society. In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.

The term is an old one, applied to certain heretics in the Middle Ages. In Russian literature, nihilism was probably first used by N.I. Nadezhdin, in an 1829 article in the Messenger of Europe, in which he applied it to Aleksandr Pushkin. Nadezhdin, as did V.V. Bervi in 1858, equated nihilism with skepticism. Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov, a well-known conservative journalist who interpreted nihilism as synonymous with revolution, presented it as a social menace because of its negation of all moral principles.

It was Ivan Turgenev, in his celebrated novel Fathers and Sons (1862), who popularized the term through the figure of Bazarov the nihilist. Eventually, the nihilists of the 1860s and 70s came to be regarded as disheveled, untidy, unruly, ragged men who rebelled against tradition and social order. The philosophy of nihilism then began to be associated erroneously with the regicide of Alexander II (1881) and the political terror that was employed by those active at the time in clandestine organizations opposed to absolutism.

If to the conservative elements the nihilists were the curse of the time, to the liberals such as N.G. Chernyshevsky they represented a mere transitory factor in the development of national thoughta stage in the struggle for individual freedomand a true spirit of the rebellious young generation. In his novel What Is to Be Done? (1863), Chernyshevsky endeavoured to detect positive aspects in the nihilist philosophy. Similarly, in his Memoirs, Prince Peter Kropotkin, the leading Russian anarchist, defined nihilism as the symbol of struggle against all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and artificiality and for individual freedom.

Fundamentally, 19th-century nihilism represented a philosophy of negation of all forms of aestheticism; it advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism. Classical philosophical systems were rejected entirely. Nihilism represented a crude form of positivism and materialism, a revolt against the established social order; it negated all authority exercised by the state, by the church, or by the family. It based its belief on nothing but scientific truth; science would be the solution of all social problems. All evils, nihilists believed, derived from a single sourceignorancewhich science alone would overcome.

The thinking of 19th-century nihilists was profoundly influenced by philosophers, scientists, and historians such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, Henry Buckle, and Herbert Spencer. Since nihilists denied the duality of human beings as a combination of body and soul, of spiritual and material substance, they came into violent conflict with ecclesiastical authorities. Since nihilists questioned the doctrine of the divine right of kings, they came into similar conflict with secular authorities. Since they scorned all social bonds and family authority, the conflict between parents and children became equally immanent, and it is this theme that is best reflected in Turgenevs novel.

See the original post here:

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Existential nihilism – Wikipedia

Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. According to the theory, each individual is an isolated being born into the universe, barred from knowing “why”, yet compelled to invent meaning.[1] The inherent meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism, where one can potentially create their own subjective “meaning” or “purpose”. Of all types of nihilism, existential nihilism has received the most literary and philosophical attention.[2]

The idea that meaning and values are without foundation is a form of nihilism, and the existential response to that idea is noting that meaning is not “a matter of contemplative theory,” but instead, “a consequence of engagement and commitment.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, the author of Being and Nothingness, wrote in his essay Existentialism and Humanism, “What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him as not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself.” Here it is made clear what is meant by Existentialists when they say meaning is “a consequence of engagement and commitment”.

The theory purports to describe the human situation to create a life outlook and create meaning, which has been summarized as, “Strut, fret, and delude ourselves as we may, our lives are of no significance, and it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found.”[3] Existential nihilists claim that, to be honest, one must face the absurdity of existence, that he/she will eventually die, and that both religion and metaphysics are simply results of the fear of death.[2]

According to Donald A. Crosby, “There is no justification for life, but also no reason not to live. Those who claim to find meaning in their lives are either dishonest or deluded. In either case, they fail to face up to the harsh reality of the human situations”.[3]

Existential nihilism has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition since the Cyrenaics, such as Hegesias of Cyrene. During the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist’s perspective through Macbeth’s mindset in the end of the eponymous play. Arthur Schopenhauer, Sren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche further expanded on these ideas, and Nietzsche, particularly, has become a major figure in existential nihilism.

The atheistic existentialist movement spread in 1940s France. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus discussed the topic. Camus wrote further works, such as The Stranger, Caligula, The Plague, The Fall and The Rebel.[1] Other figures include Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. In addition, Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning life’s work The Denial of Death is a collection of thoughts on existential nihilism.

The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified “Yes,” advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism.

See the article here:

Existential nihilism – Wikipedia

Nihilism – definition of nihilism by The Free Dictionary

In the penultimate verse he makes known his discovery concerning the root of modern Nihilism and indifference,–i.But there was also about him an indescribable air which no mechanic could have acquired in the practice of his handicraft however dishonestly exercised: the air common to men who live on the vices, the follies, or the baser fears of mankind; the air of moral nihilism common to keepers of gambling hells and disorderly houses; to private detectives and inquiry agents; to drink sellers and, I should say, to the sellers of invigorating electric belts and to the inventors of patent medicines.Moral nihilism or the notion “that nothing is morally good, bad, wrong, right, etc ” is another of countless issues.In doing so, Rosen steers the Oakeshottian “conversation of mankind” away from the shores of nihilism to which it has devolved under the superbia of the voice of technology.Philosophy in a Meaningless Life: A System of Nihilism, Consciousness and RealityNihilism is not confined to German and French thought.The black-and-white polish of “Concrete Night” is as sleek and lovely as it was in “3 Rooms,” but this mawkish bummer about an ill-used teenage boy wandering around a surreally forbidding Helsinki is marred by a facile nihilism that trivializes the urban alienation it seeks to illuminate.PROVOCATIVE A frightening journey into nihilism in the OutbackFrom big brother to Big Brother; nihilism and literature in Britain, America, France and Australia in the age of screens.Love of tradition is love of reality, of life, and of being, while faith in “progress” amounts to the pursuit of a mirage, leading sooner or later to despair and nihilism.The concept of therapeutic nihilism and discreet euthanasia such as the controversial Liverpool pathways are causing much debate in the UK.Bloom’s warning about the pernicious influence of German nihilism, relativism, and historicism on American academic education took its cue from their critical analysis in the writings of his teacher Leo Strauss.

Read this article:

Nihilism – definition of nihilism by The Free Dictionary

Nihilism – Philosophy – AllAboutPhilosophy.org

Nihilism Abandoning Values and KnowledgeNihilism derives its name from the Latin root nihil, meaning nothing, that which does not exist. This same root is found in the verb annihilate — to bring to nothing, to destroy completely. Nihilism is the belief which:

Nihilism A Meaningless WorldShakespeares Macbeth eloquently summarizes existential nihilism’s perspective, disdaining life:

Nihilism Beyond NothingnessNihilism–choosing to believe in Nothingness–involves a high price. An individual may choose to feel rather than think, exert their will to power than pray, give thanks, or obey God. After an impressive career of literary and philosophical creativity, Friedrich Nietzsche lost all control of his mental faculties. Upon seeing a horse mistreated, he began sobbing uncontrollably and collapsed into a catatonic state. Nietzsche died August 25, 1900, diagnosed as utterly insane. While saying Yes to life but No to God, the Prophet of Nihilism missed both.

Beyond the nothingness of nihilism, there is One who is greater than unbelief; One who touched humanity (1 John 5:20) and assures us that our lives are not meaningless (Acts 17:24-28).

Continue reading here:

Nihilism – Philosophy – AllAboutPhilosophy.org

Urban Dictionary: Nihilism

Contrary to popular definitions, Nihilism is not synonymous with cynicism or despair. Instead, Nihilism is a worldview in which one believes only in what one’s observations and experiences seem to prove true, and that which can be otherwise proven true. That said, Nihilism varies according to the nature of the individual nihilist, but there are a few key ideas which are kept by nearly all of them: 1. The beginning of the universe was, within certain parameters, a basically random event, and the same holds for all events occuring since. It follows, then, that final purpose in things is false. Life, then, is an end-in-itself.2. There exists no absolute truth regarding the value of any deed over another, such as right vs. wrong. Value systems, ethical codes, etc. are thus of no use to the Nihilist, except if they serve his best interests, increase their quality of life, or if they simply fall in line with what behavior would come naturally.3. From the above it follows that responsibility, obligation, and the like are also falsehoods. Nihilists are thus inclined to ignore or sneer at societal norms and conditioned mentalities.4. The first priority of every nihilist is his own well-being, satisfaction, and survival, and every action is ultimately done in the name of these things. However, he does not consciously pursue these ends; instead, he acts upon what feels natural and makes sense to him, and these naturally result. However, the above assumes that the Nihilist is in unity with himself, and possesses an undamaged psyche. In reality, some people are self-destructive by nature, and, if they took up a Nihilistic worldview, would seem to have a death-wish as the motive behind their actions. Since self-destructive individuals are common in modern society, this is probably how Nihilism has come to be seen as another word for despair.

Read this article:

Urban Dictionary: Nihilism

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

2 a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility

b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

Read this article:

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

Nihilism – Wikipedia

Nihilism (; from Latin nihil, meaning ‘nothing’) is the philosophical viewpoint that suggests the denial or lack of belief towards the reputedly meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.[1] Moral nihilists assert that there is no inherent morality, and that accepted moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist.

The term is sometimes used in association with anomie to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realising there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.[2]

Nihilism has also been described as conspicuous in or constitutive of certain historical periods: for example, Jean Baudrillard and others have called postmodernity a nihilistic epoch;[3] and some religious theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that postmodernity[4] and many aspects of modernity[5] represent a rejection of theism, and that such rejection of theistic doctrine entails nihilism.

Nihilism has many definitions, and thus can describe multiple arguably independent philosophical positions.

Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that posits that concrete objects and physical constructs might not exist in the possible world, or that even if there exist possible worlds that contain some concrete objects, there is at least one that contains only abstract objects.

Extreme metaphysical nihilism is commonly defined as the belief that nothing exists as a correspondent component of the self-efficient world.[6] The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines one form of nihilism as “an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.”[7] A similar skepticism concerning the concrete world can be found in solipsism. However, despite the fact that both deny the certainty of objects’ true existence, the nihilist would deny the existence of self whereas the solipsist would affirm it.[8] Both these positions are considered forms of anti-realism.

Epistemological nihilism is a form of skepticism in which all knowledge is accepted as being possibly untrue or as being unable to be confirmed true.

Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism) is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist (not only objects in space, but also objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts), and only basic building blocks without parts exist, and thus the world we see and experience full of objects with parts is a product of human misperception (i.e., if we could see clearly, we would not perceive compositive objects).

This interpretation of existence must be based on resolution. The resolution with which humans see and perceive the “improper parts” of the world is not an objective fact of reality, but is rather an implicit trait that can only be qualitatively explored and expressed. Therefore, there is no arguable way to surmise or measure the validity of mereological nihilism. Example: An ant can get lost on a large cylindrical object because the circumference of the object is so large with respect to the ant that the ant effectively feels as though the object has no curvature. Thus, the resolution with which the ant views the world it exists “within” is a very important determining factor in how the ant experiences this “within the world” feeling.

Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism.

Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong.

Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human construction and thus artificial, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. As an example, if someone kills someone else, such a nihilist might argue that killing is not inherently a bad thing, or bad independently from our moral beliefs, because of the way morality is constructed as some rudimentary dichotomy. What is said to be a bad thing is given a higher negative weighting than what is called good: as a result, killing the individual was bad because it did not let the individual live, which was arbitrarily given a positive weighting. In this way a moral nihilist believes that all moral claims are void of any truth value. An alternative scholarly perspective is that moral nihilism is a morality in itself. Cooper writes, “In the widest sense of the word ‘morality’, moral nihilism is a morality.”[9]

Political nihilism follows the characteristic nihilist’s rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions; in this case the necessity of the most fundamental social and political structures, such as government, family, and law. An influential analysis of political nihilism is presented by Leo Strauss.[10]

The Russian Nihilist movement was a Russian trend in the 1860s that rejected all authority.[11] After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Nihilists gained a reputation throughout Europe as proponents of the use of violence for political change.[citation needed] The Nihilists expressed anger at what they described as the abusive nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church and of the tsarist monarchy, and at the domination of the Russian economy by the aristocracy. Although the term Nihilism was coined by the German theologian Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431818), its widespread usage began with the 1862 novel Fathers and Sons by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev. The main character of the novel, Eugene Bazarov, who describes himself as a Nihilist, wants to educate the people. The “go to the people be the people” campaign reached its height in the 1870s, during which underground groups such as the Circle of Tchaikovsky, the People’s Will, and Land and Liberty formed. It became known as the Narodnik movement, whose members believed that the newly freed serfs were merely being sold into wage slavery in the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and that the middle and upper classes had effectively replaced landowners. The Russian state attempted to suppress the nihilist movement. In actions described by the Nihilists as propaganda of the deed many government officials were assassinated. In 1881 Alexander II was killed on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms.

The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[12] and in particular Immanuel Kant’s “critical” philosophy to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilismand thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, “The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichte’s idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichtes absolutization of the ego (the ‘absolute I’ that posits the ‘not-I’) is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God.”[13] A related but oppositional concept is fideism, which sees reason as hostile and inferior to faith.

With the popularizing of the word nihilism by Ivan Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called the Nihilist movement adopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing “that then existed found favor in their eyes”.[14]

Sren Kierkegaard (18131855) posited an early form of nihilism, which he referred to as leveling.[15] He saw levelling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where the individual’s uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in her existence can be affirmed:

Levelling at its maximum is like the stillness of death, where one can hear one’s own heartbeat, a stillness like death, into which nothing can penetrate, in which everything sinks, powerless. One person can head a rebellion, but one person cannot head this levelling process, for that would make him a leader and he would avoid being levelled. Each individual can in his little circle participate in this levelling, but it is an abstract process, and levelling is abstraction conquering individuality.

Kierkegaard, an advocate of a philosophy of life, generally argued against levelling and its nihilistic consequences, although he believed it would be “genuinely educative to live in the age of levelling [because] people will be forced to face the judgement of [levelling] alone.”[16] George Cotkin asserts Kierkegaard was against “the standardization and levelling of belief, both spiritual and political, in the nineteenth century,” and that Kierkegaard “opposed tendencies in mass culture to reduce the individual to a cipher of conformity and deference to the dominant opinion.”[17] In his day, tabloids (like the Danish magazine Corsaren) and apostate Christianity were instruments of levelling and contributed to the “reflective apathetic age” of 19th century Europe.[18] Kierkegaard argues that individuals who can overcome the levelling process are stronger for it, and that it represents a step in the right direction towards “becoming a true self.”[16][19] As we must overcome levelling,[20] Hubert Dreyfus and Jane Rubin argue that Kierkegaard’s interest, “in an increasingly nihilistic age, is in how we can recover the sense that our lives are meaningful”.[21]

Note, however, that Kierkegaard’s meaning of “nihilism” differs from the modern definition, in the sense that, for Kierkegaard, levelling led to a life lacking meaning, purpose or value,[18] whereas the modern interpretation of nihilism posits that there was never any meaning, purpose or value to begin with.

Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture. Though the notion appears frequently throughout Nietzsche’s work, he uses the term in a variety of ways, with different meanings and connotations. Karen Carr describes Nietzsche’s characterization of nihilism “as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value (or need) and how the world appears to operate.”[22] When we find out that the world does not possess the objective value or meaning that we want it to have or have long since believed it to have, we find ourselves in a crisis.[23] Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of physiological decadence,[clarification needed] nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age,[24] though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome.[25] Though the problem of nihilism becomes especially explicit in Nietzsche’s notebooks (published posthumously), it is mentioned repeatedly in his published works and is closely connected to many of the problems mentioned there.

Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. This observation stems in part from Nietzsche’s perspectivism, or his notion that “knowledge” is always by someone of some thing: it is always bound by perspective, and it is never mere fact.[26] Rather, there are interpretations through which we understand the world and give it meaning. Interpreting is something we can not go without; in fact, it is something we need. One way of interpreting the world is through morality, as one of the fundamental ways that people make sense of the world, especially in regard to their own thoughts and actions. Nietzsche distinguishes a morality that is strong or healthy, meaning that the person in question is aware that he constructs it himself, from weak morality, where the interpretation is projected on to something external.

Nietzsche discusses Christianity, one of the major topics in his work, at length in the context of the problem of nihilism in his notebooks, in a chapter entitled “European Nihilism”.[27] Here he states that the Christian moral doctrine provides people with intrinsic value, belief in God (which justifies the evil in the world) and a basis for objective knowledge. In this sense, in constructing a world where objective knowledge is possible, Christianity is an antidote against a primal form of nihilism, against the despair of meaninglessness. However, it is exactly the element of truthfulness in Christian doctrine that is its undoing: in its drive towards truth, Christianity eventually finds itself to be a construct, which leads to its own dissolution. It is therefore that Nietzsche states that we have outgrown Christianity “not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close”.[28] As such, the self-dissolution of Christianity constitutes yet another form of nihilism. Because Christianity was an interpretation that posited itself as the interpretation, Nietzsche states that this dissolution leads beyond skepticism to a distrust of all meaning.[29][30]

Stanley Rosen identifies Nietzsche’s concept of nihilism with a situation of meaninglessness, in which “everything is permitted.” According to him, the loss of higher metaphysical values that exist in contrast to the base reality of the world, or merely human ideas, gives rise to the idea that all human ideas are therefore valueless. Rejecting idealism thus results in nihilism, because only similarly transcendent ideals live up to the previous standards that the nihilist still implicitly holds.[31] The inability for Christianity to serve as a source of valuating the world is reflected in Nietzsche’s famous aphorism of the madman in The Gay Science.[32] The death of God, in particular the statement that “we killed him”, is similar to the self-dissolution of Christian doctrine: due to the advances of the sciences, which for Nietzsche show that man is the product of evolution, that Earth has no special place among the stars and that history is not progressive, the Christian notion of God can no longer serve as a basis for a morality.

One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche calls passive nihilism, which he recognises in the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s doctrine, which Nietzsche also refers to as Western Buddhism, advocates a separating of oneself from will and desires in order to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterises this ascetic attitude as a “will to nothingness”, whereby life turns away from itself, as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears inconsistent:[33]

A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: the pathos of ‘in vain’ is the nihilists’ pathos at the same time, as pathos, an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists.

Nietzsche’s relation to the problem of nihilism is a complex one. He approaches the problem of nihilism as deeply personal, stating that this predicament of the modern world is a problem that has “become conscious” in him.[34] Furthermore, he emphasises both the danger of nihilism and the possibilities it offers, as seen in his statement that “I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!”[35] According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure.[24]

He states that there is at least the possibility of another type of nihilist in the wake of Christianity’s self-dissolution, one that does not stop after the destruction of all value and meaning and succumb to the following nothingness. This alternate, ‘active’ nihilism on the other hand destroys to level the field for constructing something new. This form of nihilism is characterized by Nietzsche as “a sign of strength,”[36] a willful destruction of the old values to wipe the slate clean and lay down one’s own beliefs and interpretations, contrary to the passive nihilism that resigns itself with the decomposition of the old values. This willful destruction of values and the overcoming of the condition of nihilism by the constructing of new meaning, this active nihilism, could be related to what Nietzsche elsewhere calls a ‘free spirit'[37] or the bermensch from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Antichrist, the model of the strong individual who posits his own values and lives his life as if it were his own work of art. It may be questioned, though, whether “active nihilism” is indeed the correct term for this stance, and some question whether Nietzsche takes the problems nihilism poses seriously enough.[38]

Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche influenced many postmodern thinkers who investigated the problem of nihilism as put forward by Nietzsche. Only recently has Heidegger’s influence on Nietzschean nihilism research faded.[39] As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsches thought.[40] Given the importance of Nietzsches contribution to the topic of nihilism, Heidegger’s influential interpretation of Nietzsche is important for the historical development of the term nihilism.

Heidegger’s method of researching and teaching Nietzsche is explicitly his own. He does not specifically try to present Nietzsche as Nietzsche. He rather tries to incorporate Nietzsche’s thoughts into his own philosophical system of Being, Time and Dasein.[41] In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (194446),[42] Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsches nihilism as trying to achieve a victory through the devaluation of the, until then, highest values. The principle of this devaluation is, according to Heidegger, the Will to Power. The Will to Power is also the principle of every earlier valuation of values.[43] How does this devaluation occur and why is this nihilistic? One of Heidegger’s main critiques on philosophy is that philosophy, and more specifically metaphysics, has forgotten to discriminate between investigating the notion of a being (Seiende) and Being (Sein). According to Heidegger, the history of Western thought can be seen as the history of metaphysics. And because metaphysics has forgotten to ask about the notion of Being (what Heidegger calls Seinsvergessenheit), it is a history about the destruction of Being. That is why Heidegger calls metaphysics nihilistic.[44] This makes Nietzsches metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.[45]

Heidegger, in his interpretation of Nietzsche, has been inspired by Ernst Jnger. Many references to Jnger can be found in Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche. For example, in a letter to the rector of Freiburg University of November 4, 1945, Heidegger, inspired by Jnger, tries to explain the notion of God is dead as the reality of the Will to Power. Heidegger also praises Jnger for defending Nietzsche against a too biological or anthropological reading during the Third Reich.[46]

Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche influenced a number of important postmodernist thinkers. Gianni Vattimo points at a back-and-forth movement in European thought, between Nietzsche and Heidegger. During the 1960s, a Nietzschean ‘renaissance’ began, culminating in the work of Mazzino Montinari and Giorgio Colli. They began work on a new and complete edition of Nietzsche’s collected works, making Nietzsche more accessible for scholarly research. Vattimo explains that with this new edition of Colli and Montinari, a critical reception of Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche began to take shape. Like other contemporary French and Italian philosophers, Vattimo does not want, or only partially wants, to rely on Heidegger for understanding Nietzsche. On the other hand, Vattimo judges Heidegger’s intentions authentic enough to keep pursuing them.[47] Philosophers who Vattimo exemplifies as a part of this back and forth movement are French philosophers Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida. Italian philosophers of this same movement are Cacciari, Severino and himself.[48] Jrgen Habermas, Jean-Franois Lyotard and Richard Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.[49]

Postmodern and poststructuralist thought has questioned the very grounds on which Western cultures have based their ‘truths’: absolute knowledge and meaning, a ‘decentralization’ of authorship, the accumulation of positive knowledge, historical progress, and certain ideals and practices of humanism and the Enlightenment.

Jacques Derrida, whose deconstruction is perhaps most commonly labeled nihilistic, did not himself make the nihilistic move that others have claimed. Derridean deconstructionists argue that this approach rather frees texts, individuals or organizations from a restrictive truth, and that deconstruction opens up the possibility of other ways of being.[50] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for example, uses deconstruction to create an ethics of opening up Western scholarship to the voice of the subaltern and to philosophies outside of the canon of western texts.[51] Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a ‘responsibility to the other’.[52] Deconstruction can thus be seen not as a denial of truth, but as a denial of our ability to know truth. That is to say, it makes an epistemological claim compared to nihilism’s ontological claim).

Lyotard argues that, rather than relying on an objective truth or method to prove their claims, philosophers legitimize their truths by reference to a story about the world that can’t be separated from the age and system the stories belong toreferred to by Lyotard as meta-narratives. He then goes on to define the postmodern condition as characterized by a rejection both of these meta-narratives and of the process of legitimation by meta-narratives.

“In lieu of meta-narratives we have created new language-games in order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth.”[citation needed]

This concept of the instability of truth and meaning leads in the direction of nihilism, though Lyotard stops short of embracing the latter.[citation needed]

Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard wrote briefly of nihilism from the postmodern viewpoint in Simulacra and Simulation. He stuck mainly to topics of interpretations of the real world over the simulations of which the real world is composed. The uses of meaning were an important subject in Baudrillard’s discussion of nihilism:

The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifferenceall that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.

In Nihil Unbound: Extinction and Enlightenment, Ray Brassier maintains that philosophy has avoided the traumatic idea of extinction, instead attempting to find meaning in a world conditioned by the very idea of its own annihilation. Thus Brassier critiques both the phenomenological and hermeneutic strands of Continental philosophy as well as the vitality of thinkers like Gilles Deleuze, who work to ingrain meaning in the world and stave off the threat of nihilism. Instead, drawing on thinkers such as Alain Badiou, Franois Laruelle, Paul Churchland, and Thomas Metzinger, Brassier defends a view of the world as inherently devoid of meaning. That is, rather than avoiding nihilism, Brassier embraces it as the truth of reality. Brassier concludes from his readings of Badiou and Laruelle that the universe is founded on the nothing,[53] but also that philosophy is the “organon of extinction,” that it is only because life is conditioned by its own extinction that there is thought at all.[54] Brassier then defends a radically anti-correlationist philosophy proposing that Thought is conjoined not with Being, but with Non-Being.

The term Dada was first used by Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara in 1916.[55] The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists.[56] The Dada Movement began in the old town of Zrich, Switzerland known as the “Niederdorf” or “Niederdrfli” in the Caf Voltaire.[57] The Dadaists claimed that Dada was not an art movement, but an anti-art movement, sometimes using found objects in a manner similar to found poetry.

The “anti-art” drive is thought[by whom?] to have stemmed from a post-war emptiness.[citation needed] This tendency toward devaluation of art has led many[who?] to claim that Dada was an essentially nihilistic movement.[citation needed] Given that Dada created its own means for interpreting its products, it is difficult to classify alongside most other contemporary art expressions. Due to perceived ambiguity, it has been classified as a nihilistic modus vivendi.[56]

The term “nihilism” was actually popularized by Ivan Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons, whose hero, Bazarov, was a nihilist and recruited several followers to the philosophy. He found his nihilistic ways challenged upon falling in love.[58]

Anton Chekhov portrayed nihilism when writing Three Sisters. The phrase “what does it matter” or variants of this are often spoken by several characters in response to events; the significance of some of these events suggests a subscription to nihilism by said characters as a type of coping strategy.

The philosophical ideas of the French author, the Marquis de Sade, are often noted as early examples of nihilistic principles.[59]

Read the original:

Nihilism – Wikipedia

Nihilism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. In the 20th century, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Mid-century, for example, the existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt its destructive potential. By the end of the century, existential despair as a response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference, often associated with antifoundationalism.

It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization. As he predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 20th century has been pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror. Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could–at a terrible price–eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind.

“Nihilism” comes from the Latin nihil, or nothing, which means not anything, that which does not exist. It appears in the verb “annihilate,” meaning to bring to nothing, to destroy completely. Early in the nineteenth century, Friedrich Jacobi used the word to negatively characterize transcendental idealism. It only became popularized, however, after its appearance in Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (1862) where he used “nihilism” to describe the crude scientism espoused by his character Bazarov who preaches a creed of total negation.

In Russia, nihilism became identified with a loosely organized revolutionary movement (C.1860-1917) that rejected the authority of the state, church, and family. In his early writing, anarchist leader Mikhael Bakunin (1814-1876) composed the notorious entreaty still identified with nihilism: “Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life–the passion for destruction is also a creative passion!” (Reaction in Germany, 1842). The movement advocated a social arrangement based on rationalism and materialism as the sole source of knowledge and individual freedom as the highest goal. By rejecting man’s spiritual essence in favor of a solely materialistic one, nihilists denounced God and religious authority as antithetical to freedom. The movement eventually deteriorated into an ethos of subversion, destruction, and anarchy, and by the late 1870s, a nihilist was anyone associated with clandestine political groups advocating terrorism and assassination.

The earliest philosophical positions associated with what could be characterized as a nihilistic outlook are those of the Skeptics. Because they denied the possibility of certainty, Skeptics could denounce traditional truths as unjustifiable opinions. When Demosthenes (c.371-322 BC), for example, observes that “What he wished to believe, that is what each man believes” (Olynthiac), he posits the relational nature of knowledge. Extreme skepticism, then, is linked to epistemological nihilism which denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this form of nihilism is currently identified with postmodern antifoundationalism. Nihilism, in fact, can be understood in several different ways. Political Nihilism, as noted, is associated with the belief that the destruction of all existing political, social, and religious order is a prerequisite for any future improvement. Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today.

Max Stirner’s (1806-1856) attacks on systematic philosophy, his denial of absolutes, and his rejection of abstract concepts of any kind often places him among the first philosophical nihilists. For Stirner, achieving individual freedom is the only law; and the state, which necessarily imperils freedom, must be destroyed. Even beyond the oppression of the state, though, are the constraints imposed by others because their very existence is an obstacle compromising individual freedom. Thus Stirner argues that existence is an endless “war of each against all” (The Ego and its Own, trans. 1907).

Among philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche is most often associated with nihilism. For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it. Penetrating the faades buttressing convictions, the nihilist discovers that all values are baseless and that reason is impotent. “Every belief, every considering something-true,” Nietzsche writes, “is necessarily false because there is simply no true world” (Will to Power [notes from 1883-1888]). For him, nihilism requires a radical repudiation of all imposed values and meaning: “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” (Will to Power).

The caustic strength of nihilism is absolute, Nietzsche argues, and under its withering scrutiny “the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and ‘Why’ finds no answer” (Will to Power). Inevitably, nihilism will expose all cherished beliefs and sacrosanct truths as symptoms of a defective Western mythos. This collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose will be the most destructive force in history, constituting a total assault on reality and nothing less than the greatest crisis of humanity:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

Since Nietzsche’s compelling critique, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Convinced that Nietzsche’s analysis was accurate, for example, Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1926) studied several cultures to confirm that patterns of nihilism were indeed a conspicuous feature of collapsing civilizations. In each of the failed cultures he examines, Spengler noticed that centuries-old religious, artistic, and political traditions were weakened and finally toppled by the insidious workings of several distinct nihilistic postures: the Faustian nihilist “shatters the ideals”; the Apollinian nihilist “watches them crumble before his eyes”; and the Indian nihilist “withdraws from their presence into himself.” Withdrawal, for instance, often identified with the negation of reality and resignation advocated by Eastern religions, is in the West associated with various versions of epicureanism and stoicism. In his study, Spengler concludes that Western civilization is already in the advanced stages of decay with all three forms of nihilism working to undermine epistemological authority and ontological grounding.

In 1927, Martin Heidegger, to cite another example, observed that nihilism in various and hidden forms was already “the normal state of man” (The Question of Being). Other philosophers’ predictions about nihilism’s impact have been dire. Outlining the symptoms of nihilism in the 20th century, Helmut Thielicke wrote that “Nihilism literally has only one truth to declare, namely, that ultimately Nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless” (Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature, with a Christian Answer, 1969). From the nihilist’s perspective, one can conclude that life is completely amoral, a conclusion, Thielicke believes, that motivates such monstrosities as the Nazi reign of terror. Gloomy predictions of nihilism’s impact are also charted in Eugene Rose’s Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (1994). If nihilism proves victorious–and it’s well on its way, he argues–our world will become “a cold, inhuman world” where “nothingness, incoherence, and absurdity” will triumph.

While nihilism is often discussed in terms of extreme skepticism and relativism, for most of the 20th century it has been associated with the belief that life is meaningless. Existential nihilism begins with the notion that the world is without meaning or purpose. Given this circumstance, existence itself–all action, suffering, and feeling–is ultimately senseless and empty.

In The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Futility of Life (1994), Alan Pratt demonstrates that existential nihilism, in one form or another, has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition from the beginning. The Skeptic Empedocles’ observation that “the life of mortals is so mean a thing as to be virtually un-life,” for instance, embodies the same kind of extreme pessimism associated with existential nihilism. In antiquity, such profound pessimism may have reached its apex with Hegesias of Cyrene. Because miseries vastly outnumber pleasures, happiness is impossible, the philosopher argues, and subsequently advocates suicide. Centuries later during the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist’s perspective when, in this famous passage near the end of Macbeth, he has Macbeth pour out his disgust for life:

Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more; it is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.

In the twentieth century, it’s the atheistic existentialist movement, popularized in France in the 1940s and 50s, that is responsible for the currency of existential nihilism in the popular consciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre’s (1905-1980) defining preposition for the movement, “existence precedes essence,” rules out any ground or foundation for establishing an essential self or a human nature. When we abandon illusions, life is revealed as nothing; and for the existentialists, nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom but also existential horror and emotional anguish. Nothingness reveals each individual as an isolated being “thrown” into an alien and unresponsive universe, barred forever from knowing why yet required to invent meaning. It’s a situation that’s nothing short of absurd. Writing from the enlightened perspective of the absurd, Albert Camus (1913-1960) observed that Sisyphus’ plight, condemned to eternal, useless struggle, was a superb metaphor for human existence (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942).

The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified “Yes,” advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism. In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism.

Camus, like the other existentialists, was convinced that nihilism was the most vexing problem of the twentieth century. Although he argues passionately that individuals could endure its corrosive effects, his most famous works betray the extraordinary difficulty he faced building a convincing case. In The Stranger (1942), for example, Meursault has rejected the existential suppositions on which the uninitiated and weak rely. Just moments before his execution for a gratuitous murder, he discovers that life alone is reason enough for living, a raison d’tre, however, that in context seems scarcely convincing. In Caligula (1944), the mad emperor tries to escape the human predicament by dehumanizing himself with acts of senseless violence, fails, and surreptitiously arranges his own assassination. The Plague (1947) shows the futility of doing one’s best in an absurd world. And in his last novel, the short and sardonic, The Fall (1956), Camus posits that everyone has bloody hands because we are all responsible for making a sorry state worse by our inane action and inaction alike. In these works and other works by the existentialists, one is often left with the impression that living authentically with the meaninglessness of life is impossible.

Camus was fully aware of the pitfalls of defining existence without meaning, and in his philosophical essay The Rebel (1951) he faces the problem of nihilism head-on. In it, he describes at length how metaphysical collapse often ends in total negation and the victory of nihilism, characterized by profound hatred, pathological destruction, and incalculable violence and death.

By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence. This perspective is derived from the existentialists’ reflections on nihilism stripped of any hopeful expectations, leaving only the experience of sickness, decay, and disintegration.

In his study of meaninglessness, Donald Crosby writes that the source of modern nihilism paradoxically stems from a commitment to honest intellectual openness. “Once set in motion, the process of questioning could come to but one end, the erosion of conviction and certitude and collapse into despair” (The Specter of the Absurd, 1988). When sincere inquiry is extended to moral convictions and social consensus, it can prove deadly, Crosby continues, promoting forces that ultimately destroy civilizations. Michael Novak’s recently revised The Experience of Nothingness (1968, 1998) tells a similar story. Both studies are responses to the existentialists’ gloomy findings from earlier in the century. And both optimistically discuss ways out of the abyss by focusing of the positive implications nothingness reveals, such as liberty, freedom, and creative possibilities. Novak, for example, describes how since WWII we have been working to “climb out of nihilism” on the way to building a new civilization.

In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists. The philosophical, ethical, and intellectual crisis of nihilism that has tormented modern philosophers for over a century has given way to mild annoyance or, more interestingly, an upbeat acceptance of meaninglessness.

French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is. Since human beings participate in only an infinitesimal part of the whole, they are unable to grasp anything with certainty, and absolutes are merely “fictional forms.”

American antifoundationalist Richard Rorty makes a similar point: “Nothing grounds our practices, nothing legitimizes them, nothing shows them to be in touch with the way things are” (“From Logic to Language to Play,” 1986). This epistemological cul-de-sac, Rorty concludes, leads inevitably to nihilism. “Faced with the nonhuman, the nonlinguistic, we no longer have the ability to overcome contingency and pain by appropriation and transformation, but only the ability to recognize contingency and pain” (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, 1989). In contrast to Nietzsche’s fears and the angst of the existentialists, nihilism becomes for the antifoundationalists just another aspect of our contemporary milieu, one best endured with sang-froid.

In The Banalization of Nihilism (1992) Karen Carr discusses the antifoundationalist response to nihilism. Although it still inflames a paralyzing relativism and subverts critical tools, “cheerful nihilism” carries the day, she notes, distinguished by an easy-going acceptance of meaninglessness. Such a development, Carr concludes, is alarming. If we accept that all perspectives are equally non-binding, then intellectual or moral arrogance will determine which perspective has precedence. Worse still, the banalization of nihilism creates an environment where ideas can be imposed forcibly with little resistance, raw power alone determining intellectual and moral hierarchies. It’s a conclusion that dovetails nicely with Nietzsche’s, who pointed out that all interpretations of the world are simply manifestations of will-to-power.

It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization. As he predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 20th century has been pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror. Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could–at a terrible price–eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind:

I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength. It is possible. . . . (Complete Works Vol. 13)

Alan PrattEmail: pratta@db.erau.eduEmbry-Riddle UniversityU. S. A.

Link:

Nihilism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Nihilism Synonyms, Nihilism Antonyms | Thesaurus.com

1817, “the doctrine of negation” (in reference to religion or morals), from German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil “nothing at all” (see nil), coined by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819). In philosophy, an extreme form of skepticism (1836). The political sense was first used by German journalist Joseph von Grres (1776-1848). Turgenev used the Russian form of the word (nigilizm) in “Fathers and Children” (1862) and claimed to have invented it. With a capital N-, it refers to the Russian revolutionary anarchism of the period 1860-1917, supposedly so called because “nothing” that then existed found favor in their eyes.

Read the rest here:

Nihilism Synonyms, Nihilism Antonyms | Thesaurus.com

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

2 a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility

b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

See original here:

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

Existential nihilism – Wikipedia

Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. According to the theory, each individual is an isolated being born into the universe, barred from knowing “why”, yet compelled to invent meaning.[1] The inherent meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism, where one can potentially create their own subjective “meaning” or “purpose”. Of all types of nihilism, existential nihilism has received the most literary and philosophical attention.[2]

The idea that meaning and values are without foundation is a form of nihilism, and the existential response to that idea is noting that meaning is not “a matter of contemplative theory,” but instead, “a consequence of engagement and commitment.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, the author of Being and Nothingness, wrote in his essay Existentialism and Humanism, “What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him as not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself.” Here it is made clear what is meant by Existentialists when they say meaning is “a consequence of engagement and commitment”.

The theory purports to describe the human situation to create a life outlook and create meaning, which has been summarized as, “Strut, fret, and delude ourselves as we may, our lives are of no significance, and it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found.”[3] Existential nihilists claim that, to be honest, one must face the absurdity of existence, that he/she will eventually die, and that both religion and metaphysics are simply results of the fear of death.[2]

According to Donald A. Crosby, “There is no justification for life, but also no reason not to live. Those who claim to find meaning in their lives are either dishonest or deluded. In either case, they fail to face up to the harsh reality of the human situations”.[3]

Existential nihilism has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition since the Cyrenaics, such as Hegesias of Cyrene. During the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist’s perspective through Macbeth’s mindset in the end of the eponymous play. Arthur Schopenhauer, Sren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche further expanded on these ideas, and Nietzsche, particularly, has become a major figure in existential nihilism.

The atheistic existentialist movement spread in 1940s France. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus discussed the topic. Camus wrote further works, such as The Stranger, Caligula, The Plague, The Fall and The Rebel.[1] Other figures include Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. In addition, Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning life’s work The Denial of Death is a collection of thoughts on existential nihilism.

The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified “Yes,” advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism.

Read more:

Existential nihilism – Wikipedia

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Nihilism, (from Latin nihil, nothing), originally a philosophy of moral and epistemological skepticism that arose in 19th-century Russia during the early years of the reign of Tsar Alexander II. The term was famously used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the disintegration of traditional morality in Western society. In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.

The term is an old one, applied to certain heretics in the Middle Ages. In Russian literature, nihilism was probably first used by N.I. Nadezhdin, in an 1829 article in the Messenger of Europe, in which he applied it to Aleksandr Pushkin. Nadezhdin, as did V.V. Bervi in 1858, equated nihilism with skepticism. Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov, a well-known conservative journalist who interpreted nihilism as synonymous with revolution, presented it as a social menace because of its negation of all moral principles.

It was Ivan Turgenev, in his celebrated novel Fathers and Sons (1862), who popularized the term through the figure of Bazarov the nihilist. Eventually, the nihilists of the 1860s and 70s came to be regarded as disheveled, untidy, unruly, ragged men who rebelled against tradition and social order. The philosophy of nihilism then began to be associated erroneously with the regicide of Alexander II (1881) and the political terror that was employed by those active at the time in clandestine organizations opposed to absolutism.

If to the conservative elements the nihilists were the curse of the time, to the liberals such as N.G. Chernyshevsky they represented a mere transitory factor in the development of national thoughta stage in the struggle for individual freedomand a true spirit of the rebellious young generation. In his novel What Is to Be Done? (1863), Chernyshevsky endeavoured to detect positive aspects in the nihilist philosophy. Similarly, in his Memoirs, Prince Peter Kropotkin, the leading Russian anarchist, defined nihilism as the symbol of struggle against all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and artificiality and for individual freedom.

Fundamentally, 19th-century nihilism represented a philosophy of negation of all forms of aestheticism; it advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism. Classical philosophical systems were rejected entirely. Nihilism represented a crude form of positivism and materialism, a revolt against the established social order; it negated all authority exercised by the state, by the church, or by the family. It based its belief on nothing but scientific truth; science would be the solution of all social problems. All evils, nihilists believed, derived from a single sourceignorancewhich science alone would overcome.

The thinking of 19th-century nihilists was profoundly influenced by philosophers, scientists, and historians such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, Henry Buckle, and Herbert Spencer. Since nihilists denied the duality of human beings as a combination of body and soul, of spiritual and material substance, they came into violent conflict with ecclesiastical authorities. Since nihilists questioned the doctrine of the divine right of kings, they came into similar conflict with secular authorities. Since they scorned all social bonds and family authority, the conflict between parents and children became equally immanent, and it is this theme that is best reflected in Turgenevs novel.

More here:

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

2 a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility

b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

Read more:

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

Existential nihilism – Wikipedia

Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. According to the theory, each individual is an isolated being born into the universe, barred from knowing “why”, yet compelled to invent meaning.[1] The inherent meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism, where one can potentially create their own subjective “meaning” or “purpose”. Of all types of nihilism, existential nihilism has received the most literary and philosophical attention.[2]

The idea that meaning and values are without foundation is a form of nihilism, and the existential response to that idea is noting that meaning is not “a matter of contemplative theory,” but instead, “a consequence of engagement and commitment.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, the author of Being and Nothingness, wrote in his essay Existentialism and Humanism, “What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him as not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself.” Here it is made clear what is meant by Existentialists when they say meaning is “a consequence of engagement and commitment”.

The theory purports to describe the human situation to create a life outlook and create meaning, which has been summarized as, “Strut, fret, and delude ourselves as we may, our lives are of no significance, and it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found.”[3] Existential nihilists claim that, to be honest, one must face the absurdity of existence, that he/she will eventually die, and that both religion and metaphysics are simply results of the fear of death.[2]

According to Donald A. Crosby, “There is no justification for life, but also no reason not to live. Those who claim to find meaning in their lives are either dishonest or deluded. In either case, they fail to face up to the harsh reality of the human situations”.[3]

Existential nihilism has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition since the Cyrenaics, such as Hegesias of Cyrene. During the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist’s perspective through Macbeth’s mindset in the end of the eponymous play. Arthur Schopenhauer, Sren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche further expanded on these ideas, and Nietzsche, particularly, has become a major figure in existential nihilism.

The atheistic existentialist movement spread in 1940s France. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus discussed the topic. Camus wrote further works, such as The Stranger, Caligula, The Plague, The Fall and The Rebel.[1] Other figures include Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. In addition, Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning life’s work The Denial of Death is a collection of thoughts on existential nihilism.

The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified “Yes,” advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism.

More:

Existential nihilism – Wikipedia

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Nihilism, (from Latin nihil, nothing), originally a philosophy of moral and epistemological skepticism that arose in 19th-century Russia during the early years of the reign of Tsar Alexander II. The term was famously used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the disintegration of traditional morality in Western society. In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.

The term is an old one, applied to certain heretics in the Middle Ages. In Russian literature, nihilism was probably first used by N.I. Nadezhdin, in an 1829 article in the Messenger of Europe, in which he applied it to Aleksandr Pushkin. Nadezhdin, as did V.V. Bervi in 1858, equated nihilism with skepticism. Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov, a well-known conservative journalist who interpreted nihilism as synonymous with revolution, presented it as a social menace because of its negation of all moral principles.

It was Ivan Turgenev, in his celebrated novel Fathers and Sons (1862), who popularized the term through the figure of Bazarov the nihilist. Eventually, the nihilists of the 1860s and 70s came to be regarded as disheveled, untidy, unruly, ragged men who rebelled against tradition and social order. The philosophy of nihilism then began to be associated erroneously with the regicide of Alexander II (1881) and the political terror that was employed by those active at the time in clandestine organizations opposed to absolutism.

If to the conservative elements the nihilists were the curse of the time, to the liberals such as N.G. Chernyshevsky they represented a mere transitory factor in the development of national thoughta stage in the struggle for individual freedomand a true spirit of the rebellious young generation. In his novel What Is to Be Done? (1863), Chernyshevsky endeavoured to detect positive aspects in the nihilist philosophy. Similarly, in his Memoirs, Prince Peter Kropotkin, the leading Russian anarchist, defined nihilism as the symbol of struggle against all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and artificiality and for individual freedom.

Fundamentally, 19th-century nihilism represented a philosophy of negation of all forms of aestheticism; it advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism. Classical philosophical systems were rejected entirely. Nihilism represented a crude form of positivism and materialism, a revolt against the established social order; it negated all authority exercised by the state, by the church, or by the family. It based its belief on nothing but scientific truth; science would be the solution of all social problems. All evils, nihilists believed, derived from a single sourceignorancewhich science alone would overcome.

The thinking of 19th-century nihilists was profoundly influenced by philosophers, scientists, and historians such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, Henry Buckle, and Herbert Spencer. Since nihilists denied the duality of human beings as a combination of body and soul, of spiritual and material substance, they came into violent conflict with ecclesiastical authorities. Since nihilists questioned the doctrine of the divine right of kings, they came into similar conflict with secular authorities. Since they scorned all social bonds and family authority, the conflict between parents and children became equally immanent, and it is this theme that is best reflected in Turgenevs novel.

See the rest here:

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

2 a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility

b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

Read the original post:

Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

Nihilism – Wikipedia

Nihilism (; from Latin nihil, meaning ‘nothing’) is the philosophical viewpoint that suggests the denial or lack of belief towards the reputedly meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism, which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.[1] Moral nihilists assert that there is no inherent morality, and that accepted moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism may also take epistemological, ontological, or metaphysical forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or reality does not actually exist.

The term is sometimes used in association with anomie to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realising there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.[2]

Nihilism has also been described as conspicuous in or constitutive of certain historical periods: for example, Jean Baudrillard and others have called postmodernity a nihilistic epoch;[3] and some religious theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that postmodernity[4] and many aspects of modernity[5] represent a rejection of theism, and that such rejection of theistic doctrine entails nihilism.

Nihilism has many definitions, and thus can describe multiple arguably independent philosophical positions.

Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that posits that concrete objects and physical constructs might not exist in the possible world, or that even if there exist possible worlds that contain some concrete objects, there is at least one that contains only abstract objects.

Extreme metaphysical nihilism is commonly defined as the belief that nothing exists as a correspondent component of the self-efficient world.[6] The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines one form of nihilism as “an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.”[7] A similar skepticism concerning the concrete world can be found in solipsism. However, despite the fact that both deny the certainty of objects’ true existence, the nihilist would deny the existence of self whereas the solipsist would affirm it.[8] Both these positions are considered forms of anti-realism. (see also: Psychosis)[9]

Epistemological nihilism is a form of skepticism in which all knowledge is accepted as being possibly untrue or as being unable to be confirmed true.

Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism) is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist (not only objects in space, but also objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts), and only basic building blocks without parts exist, and thus the world we see and experience full of objects with parts is a product of human misperception (i.e., if we could see clearly, we would not perceive compositive objects).

This interpretation of existence must be based on resolution. The resolution with which humans see and perceive the “improper parts” of the world is not an objective fact of reality, but is rather an implicit trait that can only be qualitatively explored and expressed. Therefore, there is no arguable way to surmise or measure the validity of mereological nihilism. Example: An ant can get lost on a large cylindrical object because the circumference of the object is so large with respect to the ant that the ant effectively feels as though the object has no curvature. Thus, the resolution with which the ant views the world it exists “within” is a very important determining factor in how the ant experiences this “within the world” feeling.

Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism.

Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong.

Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human construction and thus artificial, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. As an example, if someone kills someone else, such a nihilist might argue that killing is not inherently a bad thing, or bad independently from our moral beliefs, because of the way morality is constructed as some rudimentary dichotomy. What is said to be a bad thing is given a higher negative weighting than what is called good: as a result, killing the individual was bad because it did not let the individual live, which was arbitrarily given a positive weighting. In this way a moral nihilist believes that all moral claims are void of any truth value. An alternative scholarly perspective is that moral nihilism is a morality in itself. Cooper writes, “In the widest sense of the word ‘morality’, moral nihilism is a morality.”[10]

Political nihilism follows the characteristic nihilist’s rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions; in this case the necessity of the most fundamental social and political structures, such as government, family, and law. An influential analysis of political nihilism is presented by Leo Strauss.[11]

The Russian Nihilist movement was a Russian trend in the 1860s that rejected all authority.[12] After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Nihilists gained a reputation throughout Europe as proponents of the use of violence for political change.[citation needed] The Nihilists expressed anger at what they described as the abusive nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church and of the tsarist monarchy, and at the domination of the Russian economy by the aristocracy. Although the term Nihilism was coined by the German theologian Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431818), its widespread usage began with the 1862 novel Fathers and Sons by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev. The main character of the novel, Eugene Bazarov, who describes himself as a Nihilist, wants to educate the people. The “go to the people be the people” campaign reached its height in the 1870s, during which underground groups such as the Circle of Tchaikovsky, the People’s Will, and Land and Liberty formed. It became known as the Narodnik movement, whose members believed that the newly freed serfs were merely being sold into wage slavery in the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and that the middle and upper classes had effectively replaced landowners. The Russian state attempted to suppress the nihilist movement. In actions described by the Nihilists as propaganda of the deed many government officials were assassinated. In 1881 Alexander II was killed on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms.

The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[13] and in particular Immanuel Kant’s “critical” philosophy to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilismand thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, “The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichte’s idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichtes absolutization of the ego (the ‘absolute I’ that posits the ‘not-I’) is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God.”[14] A related but oppositional concept is fideism, which sees reason as hostile and inferior to faith.

With the popularizing of the word nihilism by Ivan Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called the Nihilist movement adopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing “that then existed found favor in their eyes”.[15]

Sren Kierkegaard (18131855) posited an early form of nihilism, which he referred to as leveling.[16] He saw levelling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where the individual’s uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in her existence can be affirmed:

Levelling at its maximum is like the stillness of death, where one can hear one’s own heartbeat, a stillness like death, into which nothing can penetrate, in which everything sinks, powerless. One person can head a rebellion, but one person cannot head this levelling process, for that would make him a leader and he would avoid being levelled. Each individual can in his little circle participate in this levelling, but it is an abstract process, and levelling is abstraction conquering individuality.

Kierkegaard, an advocate of a philosophy of life, generally was an opponent and argued against levelling and its nihilist consequence, although he believed it would be “genuinely educative to live in the age of levelling [because] people will be forced to face the judgement of [levelling] alone.”[17] George Cotkin asserts Kierkegaard was against “the standardization and levelling of belief, both spiritual and political, in the nineteenth century [and he] opposed tendencies in mass culture to reduce the individual to a cipher of conformity and deference to the dominant opinion.”[18] In his day, tabloids (like the Danish magazine Corsaren) and apostate Christianity were instruments of levelling and contributed to the “reflective apathetic age” of 19th century Europe.[19] Kierkegaard argues that individuals who can overcome the levelling process are stronger for it and that it represents a step in the right direction towards “becoming a true self.”[17][20] As we must overcome levelling,[21] Hubert Dreyfus and Jane Rubin argue that Kierkegaard’s interest, “in an increasingly nihilistic age, is in how we can recover the sense that our lives are meaningful”.[22]

Note however that Kierkegaard’s meaning of “nihilism” differs from the modern definition in the sense that, for Kierkegaard, levelling led to a life lacking meaning, purpose or value,[19] whereas the modern interpretation of nihilism posits that there was never any meaning, purpose or value to begin with.

Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture. Though the notion appears frequently throughout Nietzsche’s work, he uses the term in a variety of ways, with different meanings and connotations. Karen Carr describes Nietzsche’s characterization of nihilism “as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value (or need) and how the world appears to operate.”[23] When we find out that the world does not possess the objective value or meaning that we want it to have or have long since believed it to have, we find ourselves in a crisis.[24] Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of physiological decadence,[clarification needed] nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age,[25] though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome.[26] Though the problem of nihilism becomes especially explicit in Nietzsche’s notebooks (published posthumously), it is mentioned repeatedly in his published works and is closely connected to many of the problems mentioned there.

Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. This observation stems in part from Nietzsche’s perspectivism, or his notion that “knowledge” is always by someone of some thing: it is always bound by perspective, and it is never mere fact.[27] Rather, there are interpretations through which we understand the world and give it meaning. Interpreting is something we can not go without; in fact, it is something we need. One way of interpreting the world is through morality, as one of the fundamental ways that people make sense of the world, especially in regard to their own thoughts and actions. Nietzsche distinguishes a morality that is strong or healthy, meaning that the person in question is aware that he constructs it himself, from weak morality, where the interpretation is projected on to something external.

Nietzsche discusses Christianity, one of the major topics in his work, at length in the context of the problem of nihilism in his notebooks, in a chapter entitled “European Nihilism”.[28] Here he states that the Christian moral doctrine provides people with intrinsic value, belief in God (which justifies the evil in the world) and a basis for objective knowledge. In this sense, in constructing a world where objective knowledge is possible, Christianity is an antidote against a primal form of nihilism, against the despair of meaninglessness. However, it is exactly the element of truthfulness in Christian doctrine that is its undoing: in its drive towards truth, Christianity eventually finds itself to be a construct, which leads to its own dissolution. It is therefore that Nietzsche states that we have outgrown Christianity “not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close”.[29] As such, the self-dissolution of Christianity constitutes yet another form of nihilism. Because Christianity was an interpretation that posited itself as the interpretation, Nietzsche states that this dissolution leads beyond skepticism to a distrust of all meaning.[30][31]

Stanley Rosen identifies Nietzsche’s concept of nihilism with a situation of meaninglessness, in which “everything is permitted.” According to him, the loss of higher metaphysical values that exist in contrast to the base reality of the world, or merely human ideas, gives rise to the idea that all human ideas are therefore valueless. Rejecting idealism thus results in nihilism, because only similarly transcendent ideals live up to the previous standards that the nihilist still implicitly holds.[32] The inability for Christianity to serve as a source of valuating the world is reflected in Nietzsche’s famous aphorism of the madman in The Gay Science.[33] The death of God, in particular the statement that “we killed him”, is similar to the self-dissolution of Christian doctrine: due to the advances of the sciences, which for Nietzsche show that man is the product of evolution, that Earth has no special place among the stars and that history is not progressive, the Christian notion of God can no longer serve as a basis for a morality.

One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche calls passive nihilism, which he recognises in the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s doctrine, which Nietzsche also refers to as Western Buddhism, advocates a separating of oneself from will and desires in order to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterises this ascetic attitude as a “will to nothingness”, whereby life turns away from itself, as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears inconsistent:[34]

A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: the pathos of ‘in vain’ is the nihilists’ pathos at the same time, as pathos, an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists.

Nietzsche’s relation to the problem of nihilism is a complex one. He approaches the problem of nihilism as deeply personal, stating that this predicament of the modern world is a problem that has “become conscious” in him.[35] Furthermore, he emphasises both the danger of nihilism and the possibilities it offers, as seen in his statement that “I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!”[36] According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure.[25]

He states that there is at least the possibility of another type of nihilist in the wake of Christianity’s self-dissolution, one that does not stop after the destruction of all value and meaning and succumb to the following nothingness. This alternate, ‘active’ nihilism on the other hand destroys to level the field for constructing something new. This form of nihilism is characterized by Nietzsche as “a sign of strength,”[37] a willful destruction of the old values to wipe the slate clean and lay down one’s own beliefs and interpretations, contrary to the passive nihilism that resigns itself with the decomposition of the old values. This willful destruction of values and the overcoming of the condition of nihilism by the constructing of new meaning, this active nihilism, could be related to what Nietzsche elsewhere calls a ‘free spirit'[38] or the bermensch from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Antichrist, the model of the strong individual who posits his own values and lives his life as if it were his own work of art. It may be questioned, though, whether “active nihilism” is indeed the correct term for this stance, and some question whether Nietzsche takes the problems nihilism poses seriously enough.[39]

Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche influenced many postmodern thinkers who investigated the problem of nihilism as put forward by Nietzsche. Only recently has Heidegger’s influence on Nietzschean nihilism research faded.[40] As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsches thought.[41] Given the importance of Nietzsches contribution to the topic of nihilism, Heidegger’s influential interpretation of Nietzsche is important for the historical development of the term nihilism.

Heidegger’s method of researching and teaching Nietzsche is explicitly his own. He does not specifically try to present Nietzsche as Nietzsche. He rather tries to incorporate Nietzsche’s thoughts into his own philosophical system of Being, Time and Dasein.[42] In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (194446),[43] Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsches nihilism as trying to achieve a victory through the devaluation of the, until then, highest values. The principle of this devaluation is, according to Heidegger, the Will to Power. The Will to Power is also the principle of every earlier valuation of values.[44] How does this devaluation occur and why is this nihilistic? One of Heidegger’s main critiques on philosophy is that philosophy, and more specifically metaphysics, has forgotten to discriminate between investigating the notion of a being (Seiende) and Being (Sein). According to Heidegger, the history of Western thought can be seen as the history of metaphysics. And because metaphysics has forgotten to ask about the notion of Being (what Heidegger calls Seinsvergessenheit), it is a history about the destruction of Being. That is why Heidegger calls metaphysics nihilistic.[45] This makes Nietzsches metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.[46]

Heidegger, in his interpretation of Nietzsche, has been inspired by Ernst Jnger. Many references to Jnger can be found in Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche. For example, in a letter to the rector of Freiburg University of November 4, 1945, Heidegger, inspired by Jnger, tries to explain the notion of God is dead as the reality of the Will to Power. Heidegger also praises Jnger for defending Nietzsche against a too biological or anthropological reading during the Third Reich.[47]

Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche influenced a number of important postmodernist thinkers. Gianni Vattimo points at a back-and-forth movement in European thought, between Nietzsche and Heidegger. During the 1960s, a Nietzschean ‘renaissance’ began, culminating in the work of Mazzino Montinari and Giorgio Colli. They began work on a new and complete edition of Nietzsche’s collected works, making Nietzsche more accessible for scholarly research. Vattimo explains that with this new edition of Colli and Montinari, a critical reception of Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche began to take shape. Like other contemporary French and Italian philosophers, Vattimo does not want, or only partially wants, to rely on Heidegger for understanding Nietzsche. On the other hand, Vattimo judges Heidegger’s intentions authentic enough to keep pursuing them.[48] Philosophers who Vattimo exemplifies as a part of this back and forth movement are French philosophers Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida. Italian philosophers of this same movement are Cacciari, Severino and himself.[49] Jrgen Habermas, Jean-Franois Lyotard and Richard Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.[50]

Postmodern and poststructuralist thought has questioned the very grounds on which Western cultures have based their ‘truths’: absolute knowledge and meaning, a ‘decentralization’ of authorship, the accumulation of positive knowledge, historical progress, and certain ideals and practices of humanism and the Enlightenment.

Jacques Derrida, whose deconstruction is perhaps most commonly labeled nihilistic, did not himself make the nihilistic move that others have claimed. Derridean deconstructionists argue that this approach rather frees texts, individuals or organizations from a restrictive truth, and that deconstruction opens up the possibility of other ways of being.[51] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for example, uses deconstruction to create an ethics of opening up Western scholarship to the voice of the subaltern and to philosophies outside of the canon of western texts.[52] Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a ‘responsibility to the other’.[53] Deconstruction can thus be seen not as a denial of truth, but as a denial of our ability to know truth. That is to say, it makes an epistemological claim compared to nihilism’s ontological claim).

Lyotard argues that, rather than relying on an objective truth or method to prove their claims, philosophers legitimize their truths by reference to a story about the world that can’t be separated from the age and system the stories belong toreferred to by Lyotard as meta-narratives. He then goes on to define the postmodern condition as characterized by a rejection both of these meta-narratives and of the process of legitimation by meta-narratives.

“In lieu of meta-narratives we have created new language-games in order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth.”[citation needed]

This concept of the instability of truth and meaning leads in the direction of nihilism, though Lyotard stops short of embracing the latter.[citation needed]

Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard wrote briefly of nihilism from the postmodern viewpoint in Simulacra and Simulation. He stuck mainly to topics of interpretations of the real world over the simulations of which the real world is composed. The uses of meaning were an important subject in Baudrillard’s discussion of nihilism:

The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifferenceall that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination (in contrast to seduction, which was attached to appearances, and to dialectical reason, which was attached to meaning) is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency.

In Nihil Unbound: Extinction and Enlightenment, Ray Brassier maintains that philosophy has avoided the traumatic idea of extinction, instead attempting to find meaning in a world conditioned by the very idea of its own annihilation. Thus Brassier critiques both the phenomenological and hermeneutic strands of Continental philosophy as well as the vitality of thinkers like Gilles Deleuze, who work to ingrain meaning in the world and stave off the threat of nihilism. Instead, drawing on thinkers such as Alain Badiou, Franois Laruelle, Paul Churchland, and Thomas Metzinger, Brassier defends a view of the world as inherently devoid of meaning. That is, rather than avoiding nihilism, Brassier embraces it as the truth of reality. Brassier concludes from his readings of Badiou and Laruelle that the universe is founded on the nothing,[54] but also that philosophy is the “organon of extinction,” that it is only because life is conditioned by its own extinction that there is thought at all.[55] Brassier then defends a radically anti-correlationist philosophy proposing that Thought is conjoined not with Being, but with Non-Being.

The term Dada was first used by Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara in 1916.[56] The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists.[57] The Dada Movement began in the old town of Zrich, Switzerland known as the “Niederdorf” or “Niederdrfli” in the Caf Voltaire.[58] The Dadaists claimed that Dada was not an art movement, but an anti-art movement, sometimes using found objects in a manner similar to found poetry.

The “anti-art” drive is thought[by whom?] to have stemmed from a post-war emptiness.[citation needed] This tendency toward devaluation of art has led many[who?] to claim that Dada was an essentially nihilistic movement.[citation needed] Given that Dada created its own means for interpreting its products, it is difficult to classify alongside most other contemporary art expressions. Due to perceived ambiguity, it has been classified as a nihilistic modus vivendi.[57]

The term “nihilism” was actually popularized by Ivan Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons, whose hero, Bazarov, was a nihilist and recruited several followers to the philosophy. He found his nihilistic ways challenged upon falling in love.[59]

Anton Chekhov portrayed nihilism when writing Three Sisters. The phrase “what does it matter” or such variants is often spoken by several characters in response to events; the significance of some of these events suggests a subscription to nihilism by said characters as a type of coping strategy.

The philosophical ideas of the French author, the Marquis de Sade, are often noted as early examples of nihilistic principles.[60]

Read more from the original source:

Nihilism – Wikipedia

Nihilism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. In the 20th century, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Mid-century, for example, the existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt its destructive potential. By the end of the century, existential despair as a response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference, often associated with antifoundationalism.

It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization. As he predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 20th century has been pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror. Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could–at a terrible price–eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind.

“Nihilism” comes from the Latin nihil, or nothing, which means not anything, that which does not exist. It appears in the verb “annihilate,” meaning to bring to nothing, to destroy completely. Early in the nineteenth century, Friedrich Jacobi used the word to negatively characterize transcendental idealism. It only became popularized, however, after its appearance in Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (1862) where he used “nihilism” to describe the crude scientism espoused by his character Bazarov who preaches a creed of total negation.

In Russia, nihilism became identified with a loosely organized revolutionary movement (C.1860-1917) that rejected the authority of the state, church, and family. In his early writing, anarchist leader Mikhael Bakunin (1814-1876) composed the notorious entreaty still identified with nihilism: “Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life–the passion for destruction is also a creative passion!” (Reaction in Germany, 1842). The movement advocated a social arrangement based on rationalism and materialism as the sole source of knowledge and individual freedom as the highest goal. By rejecting man’s spiritual essence in favor of a solely materialistic one, nihilists denounced God and religious authority as antithetical to freedom. The movement eventually deteriorated into an ethos of subversion, destruction, and anarchy, and by the late 1870s, a nihilist was anyone associated with clandestine political groups advocating terrorism and assassination.

The earliest philosophical positions associated with what could be characterized as a nihilistic outlook are those of the Skeptics. Because they denied the possibility of certainty, Skeptics could denounce traditional truths as unjustifiable opinions. When Demosthenes (c.371-322 BC), for example, observes that “What he wished to believe, that is what each man believes” (Olynthiac), he posits the relational nature of knowledge. Extreme skepticism, then, is linked to epistemological nihilism which denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this form of nihilism is currently identified with postmodern antifoundationalism. Nihilism, in fact, can be understood in several different ways. Political Nihilism, as noted, is associated with the belief that the destruction of all existing political, social, and religious order is a prerequisite for any future improvement. Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today.

Max Stirner’s (1806-1856) attacks on systematic philosophy, his denial of absolutes, and his rejection of abstract concepts of any kind often places him among the first philosophical nihilists. For Stirner, achieving individual freedom is the only law; and the state, which necessarily imperils freedom, must be destroyed. Even beyond the oppression of the state, though, are the constraints imposed by others because their very existence is an obstacle compromising individual freedom. Thus Stirner argues that existence is an endless “war of each against all” (The Ego and its Own, trans. 1907).

Among philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche is most often associated with nihilism. For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it. Penetrating the faades buttressing convictions, the nihilist discovers that all values are baseless and that reason is impotent. “Every belief, every considering something-true,” Nietzsche writes, “is necessarily false because there is simply no true world” (Will to Power [notes from 1883-1888]). For him, nihilism requires a radical repudiation of all imposed values and meaning: “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” (Will to Power).

The caustic strength of nihilism is absolute, Nietzsche argues, and under its withering scrutiny “the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and ‘Why’ finds no answer” (Will to Power). Inevitably, nihilism will expose all cherished beliefs and sacrosanct truths as symptoms of a defective Western mythos. This collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose will be the most destructive force in history, constituting a total assault on reality and nothing less than the greatest crisis of humanity:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

Since Nietzsche’s compelling critique, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Convinced that Nietzsche’s analysis was accurate, for example, Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1926) studied several cultures to confirm that patterns of nihilism were indeed a conspicuous feature of collapsing civilizations. In each of the failed cultures he examines, Spengler noticed that centuries-old religious, artistic, and political traditions were weakened and finally toppled by the insidious workings of several distinct nihilistic postures: the Faustian nihilist “shatters the ideals”; the Apollinian nihilist “watches them crumble before his eyes”; and the Indian nihilist “withdraws from their presence into himself.” Withdrawal, for instance, often identified with the negation of reality and resignation advocated by Eastern religions, is in the West associated with various versions of epicureanism and stoicism. In his study, Spengler concludes that Western civilization is already in the advanced stages of decay with all three forms of nihilism working to undermine epistemological authority and ontological grounding.

In 1927, Martin Heidegger, to cite another example, observed that nihilism in various and hidden forms was already “the normal state of man” (The Question of Being). Other philosophers’ predictions about nihilism’s impact have been dire. Outlining the symptoms of nihilism in the 20th century, Helmut Thielicke wrote that “Nihilism literally has only one truth to declare, namely, that ultimately Nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless” (Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature, with a Christian Answer, 1969). From the nihilist’s perspective, one can conclude that life is completely amoral, a conclusion, Thielicke believes, that motivates such monstrosities as the Nazi reign of terror. Gloomy predictions of nihilism’s impact are also charted in Eugene Rose’s Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (1994). If nihilism proves victorious–and it’s well on its way, he argues–our world will become “a cold, inhuman world” where “nothingness, incoherence, and absurdity” will triumph.

While nihilism is often discussed in terms of extreme skepticism and relativism, for most of the 20th century it has been associated with the belief that life is meaningless. Existential nihilism begins with the notion that the world is without meaning or purpose. Given this circumstance, existence itself–all action, suffering, and feeling–is ultimately senseless and empty.

In The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Futility of Life (1994), Alan Pratt demonstrates that existential nihilism, in one form or another, has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition from the beginning. The Skeptic Empedocles’ observation that “the life of mortals is so mean a thing as to be virtually un-life,” for instance, embodies the same kind of extreme pessimism associated with existential nihilism. In antiquity, such profound pessimism may have reached its apex with Hegesias of Cyrene. Because miseries vastly outnumber pleasures, happiness is impossible, the philosopher argues, and subsequently advocates suicide. Centuries later during the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist’s perspective when, in this famous passage near the end of Macbeth, he has Macbeth pour out his disgust for life:

Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more; it is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.

In the twentieth century, it’s the atheistic existentialist movement, popularized in France in the 1940s and 50s, that is responsible for the currency of existential nihilism in the popular consciousness. Jean-Paul Sartre’s (1905-1980) defining preposition for the movement, “existence precedes essence,” rules out any ground or foundation for establishing an essential self or a human nature. When we abandon illusions, life is revealed as nothing; and for the existentialists, nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom but also existential horror and emotional anguish. Nothingness reveals each individual as an isolated being “thrown” into an alien and unresponsive universe, barred forever from knowing why yet required to invent meaning. It’s a situation that’s nothing short of absurd. Writing from the enlightened perspective of the absurd, Albert Camus (1913-1960) observed that Sisyphus’ plight, condemned to eternal, useless struggle, was a superb metaphor for human existence (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942).

The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified “Yes,” advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism. In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless. Enter nihilism.

Camus, like the other existentialists, was convinced that nihilism was the most vexing problem of the twentieth century. Although he argues passionately that individuals could endure its corrosive effects, his most famous works betray the extraordinary difficulty he faced building a convincing case. In The Stranger (1942), for example, Meursault has rejected the existential suppositions on which the uninitiated and weak rely. Just moments before his execution for a gratuitous murder, he discovers that life alone is reason enough for living, a raison d’tre, however, that in context seems scarcely convincing. In Caligula (1944), the mad emperor tries to escape the human predicament by dehumanizing himself with acts of senseless violence, fails, and surreptitiously arranges his own assassination. The Plague (1947) shows the futility of doing one’s best in an absurd world. And in his last novel, the short and sardonic, The Fall (1956), Camus posits that everyone has bloody hands because we are all responsible for making a sorry state worse by our inane action and inaction alike. In these works and other works by the existentialists, one is often left with the impression that living authentically with the meaninglessness of life is impossible.

Camus was fully aware of the pitfalls of defining existence without meaning, and in his philosophical essay The Rebel (1951) he faces the problem of nihilism head-on. In it, he describes at length how metaphysical collapse often ends in total negation and the victory of nihilism, characterized by profound hatred, pathological destruction, and incalculable violence and death.

By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence. This perspective is derived from the existentialists’ reflections on nihilism stripped of any hopeful expectations, leaving only the experience of sickness, decay, and disintegration.

In his study of meaninglessness, Donald Crosby writes that the source of modern nihilism paradoxically stems from a commitment to honest intellectual openness. “Once set in motion, the process of questioning could come to but one end, the erosion of conviction and certitude and collapse into despair” (The Specter of the Absurd, 1988). When sincere inquiry is extended to moral convictions and social consensus, it can prove deadly, Crosby continues, promoting forces that ultimately destroy civilizations. Michael Novak’s recently revised The Experience of Nothingness (1968, 1998) tells a similar story. Both studies are responses to the existentialists’ gloomy findings from earlier in the century. And both optimistically discuss ways out of the abyss by focusing of the positive implications nothingness reveals, such as liberty, freedom, and creative possibilities. Novak, for example, describes how since WWII we have been working to “climb out of nihilism” on the way to building a new civilization.

In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists. The philosophical, ethical, and intellectual crisis of nihilism that has tormented modern philosophers for over a century has given way to mild annoyance or, more interestingly, an upbeat acceptance of meaninglessness.

French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is. Since human beings participate in only an infinitesimal part of the whole, they are unable to grasp anything with certainty, and absolutes are merely “fictional forms.”

American antifoundationalist Richard Rorty makes a similar point: “Nothing grounds our practices, nothing legitimizes them, nothing shows them to be in touch with the way things are” (“From Logic to Language to Play,” 1986). This epistemological cul-de-sac, Rorty concludes, leads inevitably to nihilism. “Faced with the nonhuman, the nonlinguistic, we no longer have the ability to overcome contingency and pain by appropriation and transformation, but only the ability to recognize contingency and pain” (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, 1989). In contrast to Nietzsche’s fears and the angst of the existentialists, nihilism becomes for the antifoundationalists just another aspect of our contemporary milieu, one best endured with sang-froid.

In The Banalization of Nihilism (1992) Karen Carr discusses the antifoundationalist response to nihilism. Although it still inflames a paralyzing relativism and subverts critical tools, “cheerful nihilism” carries the day, she notes, distinguished by an easy-going acceptance of meaninglessness. Such a development, Carr concludes, is alarming. If we accept that all perspectives are equally non-binding, then intellectual or moral arrogance will determine which perspective has precedence. Worse still, the banalization of nihilism creates an environment where ideas can be imposed forcibly with little resistance, raw power alone determining intellectual and moral hierarchies. It’s a conclusion that dovetails nicely with Nietzsche’s, who pointed out that all interpretations of the world are simply manifestations of will-to-power.

It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization. As he predicted, nihilism’s impact on the culture and values of the 20th century has been pervasive, its apocalyptic tenor spawning a mood of gloom and a good deal of anxiety, anger, and terror. Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could–at a terrible price–eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind:

I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength. It is possible. . . . (Complete Works Vol. 13)

Alan PrattEmail: pratta@db.erau.eduEmbry-Riddle UniversityU. S. A.

Read the rest here:

Nihilism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

Nihilism, (from Latin nihil, nothing), originally a philosophy of moral and epistemological skepticism that arose in 19th-century Russia during the early years of the reign of Tsar Alexander II. The term was famously used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the disintegration of traditional morality in Western society. In the 20th century, nihilism encompassed a variety of philosophical and aesthetic stances that, in one sense or another, denied the existence of genuine moral truths or values, rejected the possibility of knowledge or communication, and asserted the ultimate meaninglessness or purposelessness of life or of the universe.

The term is an old one, applied to certain heretics in the Middle Ages. In Russian literature, nihilism was probably first used by N.I. Nadezhdin, in an 1829 article in the Messenger of Europe, in which he applied it to Aleksandr Pushkin. Nadezhdin, as did V.V. Bervi in 1858, equated nihilism with skepticism. Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov, a well-known conservative journalist who interpreted nihilism as synonymous with revolution, presented it as a social menace because of its negation of all moral principles.

It was Ivan Turgenev, in his celebrated novel Fathers and Sons (1862), who popularized the term through the figure of Bazarov the nihilist. Eventually, the nihilists of the 1860s and 70s came to be regarded as disheveled, untidy, unruly, ragged men who rebelled against tradition and social order. The philosophy of nihilism then began to be associated erroneously with the regicide of Alexander II (1881) and the political terror that was employed by those active at the time in clandestine organizations opposed to absolutism.

If to the conservative elements the nihilists were the curse of the time, to the liberals such as N.G. Chernyshevsky they represented a mere transitory factor in the development of national thoughta stage in the struggle for individual freedomand a true spirit of the rebellious young generation. In his novel What Is to Be Done? (1863), Chernyshevsky endeavoured to detect positive aspects in the nihilist philosophy. Similarly, in his Memoirs, Prince Peter Kropotkin, the leading Russian anarchist, defined nihilism as the symbol of struggle against all forms of tyranny, hypocrisy, and artificiality and for individual freedom.

Fundamentally, 19th-century nihilism represented a philosophy of negation of all forms of aestheticism; it advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism. Classical philosophical systems were rejected entirely. Nihilism represented a crude form of positivism and materialism, a revolt against the established social order; it negated all authority exercised by the state, by the church, or by the family. It based its belief on nothing but scientific truth; science would be the solution of all social problems. All evils, nihilists believed, derived from a single sourceignorancewhich science alone would overcome.

The thinking of 19th-century nihilists was profoundly influenced by philosophers, scientists, and historians such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, Henry Buckle, and Herbert Spencer. Since nihilists denied the duality of human beings as a combination of body and soul, of spiritual and material substance, they came into violent conflict with ecclesiastical authorities. Since nihilists questioned the doctrine of the divine right of kings, they came into similar conflict with secular authorities. Since they scorned all social bonds and family authority, the conflict between parents and children became equally immanent, and it is this theme that is best reflected in Turgenevs novel.

Read more from the original source:

nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com


12345...10...