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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 concept of nihilism was discussed by the Buddha (563 B.C. to 483 B.C.), as recorded in the Theravada and Mahayana Tripiaka[12]. The Tripiaka, originally written in Pali, refers to nihilism as “natthikavda” and the nihilist view as “micchdihi”[13][14]. Various sutras within it describe a multiplicity of views held by different sects of ascetics while the Buddha was alive, some of which were viewed by him to be morally nihilistic. In the Doctrine of Nihilism in the Appannaka Sutta, the Buddha describes moral nihilists as holding the following views[15][16]:

The Buddha then states that those who hold these views will not see the danger in misconduct and the blessings in good conduct and will, therefore, avoid good bodily, verbal and mental conduct; practicing misconduct instead[17].

The culmination of the path that the Buddha taught was Nirvana, “a place of nothingness… nonpossession and… non-attachment… [which is] the total end of death and decay”[18]. In an article Ajahn Amaro, a practicing Buddhist monk of more than 30 years, observes that in English ‘nothingness’ can sound like nihilism. However the word could be emphasised in a different way, so that it becomes ‘no-thingness’, indicating that Nirvana is not a thing you can find, but rather a place where you experience the reality of non-grasping[19].

In the Alagaddupama Sutta, the Buddha describes how some individuals feared his teaching because they believe that their ‘self’ would be destroyed if they followed it. He describes this as an anxiety caused by the false belief in an unchanging, everlasting ‘self’. All things are subject to change and taking any impermanent phenomena to be a ‘self’ causes suffering. Nonetheless, his critics called him a nihilist who teaches the annihilation and extermination of an existing being. The Buddha’s response was that he only teaches the cessation of suffering. When an individual has given up craving and the conceit of ‘I am’ their mind is liberated, they no longer come into any state of ‘being’ and are no longer born again[20].

The Aggivacchagotta Sutta records a conversation between the Buddha and an individual named Vaccha that further elaborates on this. In it Vaccha asks the Buddha to confirm one of the following, with respect to the existence of the Buddha after death[21]:

To all four questions, the Buddha answers that the terms ‘appear’, ‘not appear’, ‘does and does not reappear’ and ‘neither does nor does not reappear’ do not apply. When Vaccha expresses puzzlement, the Buddha asks Vaccha a counter question to the effect of: if a fire were to go out and someone were to ask you whether the fire went north, south east or west how would you reply? Vaccha replies that the question does not apply and that a fire gone out can only be classified as ‘out'[22].

Thanissaro Bikkhu elaborates on the classification problem around the words ‘reappear’ etc. with respect to the Buddha and Nirvana by stating that a “person who has attained the goal [Nirvana] is thus indescribable because [they have] abandoned all things by which [they] could be described”.[23] The Suttas themselves describe the liberated mind as ‘untraceable’ or as ‘consciousness without feature’, making no distinction between the mind of a liberated being that is alive and the mind of one that is no longer alive[24][25].

Despite the Buddha’s explanations to the contrary, Buddhist practitioners may, at times, still approach Buddhism in a nihilistic manner. Ajahn Amaro illustrates this by retelling the story of a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho, who in his early years took a nihilistic approach to Nirvana. A distinct feature of Nirvana in Buddhism is that an individual attaining it is no longer subject to rebirth. Ajahn Sumedho, during a conversation with his teacher Ajahn Chah comments that he is “determined above all things to fully realize Nirvna in this lifetime… deeply weary of the human condition and… [is] determined not to be born again”. To this Ajahn Chah replies “what about the rest of us, Sumedho? Don’t you care about those who’ll be left behind?”. Ajahn Amaro comments that Ajahn Chah could detect that his student had a nihilistic aversion to life rather than true detachment. With his response, Ajahn Chah chided Ajahn Sumedho about the latter’s narrowness and opened his eyes to this attitude of self centred nihilism[26].

The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[27] 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, Fichte’s absolutization of the ego (the ‘absolute I’ that posits the ‘not-I’) is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God.”[28] 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”.[29]

Sren Kierkegaard (18131855) posited an early form of nihilism, which he referred to as leveling.[30] He saw leveling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where an individual’s uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in one’s 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.”[31] 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.”[32] 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.[33] 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.”[31][34] As we must overcome levelling,[35] 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”.[36]

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,[33] 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.”[37] 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.[38] 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,[39] though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome.[40] 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.[41] 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”.[42] 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”.[43] 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.[44][45]

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.[46] 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.[47] 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:[48]

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.[49] 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!”[50] 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.[39]

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,”[51] 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'[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsche’s thought.[55] Given the importance of Nietzsche’s 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.[56] In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (194446),[57] Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsche’s 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.[58] 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.[59] This makes Nietzsche’s metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.[60]

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 Nazi era.[61]

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.[62] 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.[63] Jrgen Habermas, Jean-Franois Lyotard and Richard Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.[64]

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.[65] 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.[66] Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a ‘responsibility to the other’.[67] 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 indifference…all 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,[68] 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.[69] 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.[70] The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists.[71] The Dada Movement began in the old town of Zrich, Switzerland known as the “Niederdorf” or “Niederdrfli” in the Caf Voltaire.[72] 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.[71]

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.[73]

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.[74]

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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.

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nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica.com

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.

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Urban Dictionary: Nihilism

Nihilism r/nihilism – reddit

You can add meaning in many different ways but life is, at the core, meaningless. Despite life being meaningless and life largely being suffering, it’s pretty clear that if humanity survives the 21st century, we’ll be going to outer space, and we could eventually even expand and maybe even explore the entire galaxy and meet other sapient lifeforms and essentially enter a sci-fi age. But the question I have to the techno-optimists is, why? Why expand and create more life when life is suffering and it’s all meaningless in the end? By expanding and creating more people and terraforming planets you’re just creating more life and more suffering and it’s meaningless.

My question for you guys is, do YOU think we should go to outer space? If humanity or the world isn’t destroyed in the next hundred years it’s only eventual we’ll explore the galaxy, a lot of tech people are already researching it and there’s no stopping the optimistic natalistic transhumanist techno-utopianers, they’re almost like a religion. If we survive, it will happen, but I just want to know is there a good reason?

Even if humanity stops killing each other for the most trivial of reasons conflict will still be eventual, nature is a competition, even if there are centuries of peace eventually there’ll be wars that’ll destroy entire planets and megaweapons kind of like the Death Star from Star Wars and the Glassing stuff from Halo. Imagine those scenarios IN REAL LIFE, entire planets getting blown up or burned up. Who says if we get advanced enough such weapons won’t happen? Even if we learn to stop fighting we’ll still make deadlier weapons and eventually there will be wars leading to the deaths of BILLIONS.

But there CAN be peace. There CAN be if not equality than better living conditions. Heck, thanks to capitalism (not the topic but yeah) the number of the world’s population in extreme poverty is gradually decreasing. Today in the West we can live so nicely it would’ve been hard to imagine just fifty years ago. But life IS suffering, after all, and peace is always only temporary. Even today in the right country and right conditions you can live peacefully, but who says a world war won’t happen who-knows-when? Why expand and increase humanity and increase nature when both are meaningless suffering?

I want to help people in numerous ways, but I don’t want to create more life. Yes I’m an antinatalist. It’s just, life can be amazing, for me it’s great, but when you think about nature and humanity and the world and existence, it’s almost sadistic in nature. Life is a competition and the dead are in peace because they have no conscious, but not the living.

Should we head out into the galaxy, or would the suffering eventual with life make it better off just slowly dying off as what’s happening now? Anyways, thanks for reading and I appreciate your replies.

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Nihilism r/nihilism – reddit

Nihilism: Freydis: 9781435754805: Amazon.com: Books

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Nihilism – Conservapedia

Nihilism (IPA pronunciation: “na.lzm”) is the belief that life is, overall, meaningless. A true nihilist would have no loyalties, and no purpose. The atheist Friedrich Nietzsche argued that moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions lead to nihilism’s corrosive effects; cause the collapse of meaning, relevance, purpose, and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.[1] An example of nihilism would be the question reportedly posed by Jared Loughner to a congresswoman whom he allegedly later shot:[2]

German political philosopher Leo Strauss argued that modern liberalism has within it a tendency towards nihilism. Faith in God is the opposite of nihilism. In government and politics, another example of the opposite of nihilism is the concept of natural rights, as formulated in the Declaration of Independence.

Major types of nihilism include:

In his book, The Decline of the West, German philosopher Oswald Spengler observes that pattern of nihilism was a feature shared by all civilizations on the verge of collapse.

Friedrich Nietzsche saw two kinds of nihilism in the world; pessimistic and joyous. Pessimistic nihilism was that created by the death of God in the minds of men, and corresponds to the idea that life is without meaning or value. Joyous nihilism was that experienced by those few who, like him, experienced the loss of an externally created and imposed moral structure as a liberation and not a great loss, and was the seed that let the herald Nietzsche proclaim the coming of the bermensch.

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Nihilism – Conservapedia

Nihilism – Wikiquote

Nihilism (pronounced: /na.lzm/ or /ni.lzm/; from the Latin nihil, nothing) refers to sets of beliefs which negate one or more apparently meaningful aspects of Reality. Some are forms of existential nihilism, which argue that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. More extreme forms can insist that knowledge is not possible, and that truth, beauty or reality do not actually exist. The term nihilism often relates to anomie in indicating general moods of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence which can develop with beliefs that there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.

Nihilists are not kind; They believe in nothing. The Stranger is not kind, He drifts where the wind catches him.

Nihilists are like a bellows Empty, yet full of hot air, The more they threaten, the more cowardly they seem; The Stranger also rambles and loses his train of thought But tells a purty good story.

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Nihilism – Wikiquote

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 concept of nihilism was discussed by the Buddha (563 B.C. to 483 B.C.), as recorded in the Theravada and Mahayana Tripiaka[12]. The Tripiaka, originally written in Pali, refers to nihilism as “natthikavda” and the nihilist view as “micchdihi”[13][14]. Various sutras within it describe a multiplicity of views held by different sects of ascetics while the Buddha was alive, some of which were viewed by him to be morally nihilistic. In the Doctrine of Nihilism in the Appannaka Sutta, the Buddha describes moral nihilists as holding the following views[15][16]:

The Buddha then states that those who hold these views will not see the danger in misconduct and the blessings in good conduct and will, therefore, avoid good bodily, verbal and mental conduct; practicing misconduct instead[17].

The culmination of the path that the Buddha taught was Nirvana, “a place of nothingness… nonpossession and… non-attachment… [which is] the total end of death and decay”[18]. In an article Ajahn Amaro, a practicing Buddhist monk of more than 30 years, observes that in English ‘nothingness’ can sound like nihilism. However the word could be emphasised in a different way, so that it becomes ‘no-thingness’, indicating that Nirvana is not a thing you can find, but rather a place where you experience the reality of non-grasping[19].

In the Alagaddupama Sutta, the Buddha describes how some individuals feared his teaching because they believe that their ‘self’ would be destroyed if they followed it. He describes this as an anxiety caused by the false belief in an unchanging, everlasting ‘self’. All things are subject to change and taking any impermanent phenomena to be a ‘self’ causes suffering. Nonetheless, his critics called him a nihilist who teaches the annihilation and extermination of an existing being. The Buddha’s response was that he only teaches the cessation of suffering. When an individual has given up craving and the conceit of ‘I am’ their mind is liberated, they no longer come into any state of ‘being’ and are no longer born again[20].

The Aggivacchagotta Sutta records a conversation between the Buddha and an individual named Vaccha that further elaborates on this. In it Vaccha asks the Buddha to confirm one of the following, with respect to the existence of the Buddha after death[21]:

To all four questions, the Buddha answers that the terms ‘appear’, ‘not appear’, ‘does and does not reappear’ and ‘neither does nor does not reappear’ do not apply. When Vaccha expresses puzzlement, the Buddha asks Vaccha a counter question to the effect of: if a fire were to go out and someone were to ask you whether the fire went north, south east or west how would you reply? Vaccha replies that the question does not apply and that a fire gone out can only be classified as ‘out'[22].

Thanissaro Bikkhu elaborates on the classification problem around the words ‘reappear’ etc. with respect to the Buddha and Nirvana by stating that a “person who has attained the goal [Nirvana] is thus indescribable because [they have] abandoned all things by which [they] could be described”.[23] The Suttas themselves describe the liberated mind as ‘untraceable’ or as ‘consciousness without feature’, making no distinction between the mind of a liberated being that is alive and the mind of one that is no longer alive[24][25].

Despite the Buddha’s explanations to the contrary, Buddhist practitioners may, at times, still approach Buddhism in a nihilistic manner. Ajahn Amaro illustrates this by retelling the story of a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho, who in his early years took a nihilistic approach to Nirvana. A distinct feature of Nirvana in Buddhism is that an individual attaining it is no longer subject to rebirth. Ajahn Sumedho, during a conversation with his teacher Ajahn Chah comments that he is “determined above all things to fully realize Nirvna in this lifetime… deeply weary of the human condition and… [is] determined not to be born again”. To this Ajahn Chah replies “what about the rest of us, Sumedho? Don’t you care about those who’ll be left behind?”. Ajahn Amaro comments that Ajahn Chah could detect that his student had a nihilistic aversion to life rather than true detachment. With his response, Ajahn Chah chided Ajahn Sumedho about the latter’s narrowness and opened his eyes to this attitude of self centred nihilism[26].

The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[27] 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, Fichte’s absolutization of the ego (the ‘absolute I’ that posits the ‘not-I’) is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God.”[28] 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”.[29]

Sren Kierkegaard (18131855) posited an early form of nihilism, which he referred to as leveling.[30] He saw leveling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where an individual’s uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in one’s 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.”[31] 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.”[32] 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.[33] 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.”[31][34] As we must overcome levelling,[35] 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”.[36]

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,[33] 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.”[37] 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.[38] 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,[39] though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome.[40] 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.[41] 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”.[42] 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”.[43] 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.[44][45]

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.[46] 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.[47] 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:[48]

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.[49] 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!”[50] 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.[39]

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,”[51] 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'[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsche’s thought.[55] Given the importance of Nietzsche’s 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.[56] In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (194446),[57] Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsche’s 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.[58] 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.[59] This makes Nietzsche’s metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.[60]

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 Nazi era.[61]

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.[62] 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.[63] Jrgen Habermas, Jean-Franois Lyotard and Richard Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.[64]

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.[65] 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.[66] Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a ‘responsibility to the other’.[67] 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 indifference…all 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,[68] 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.[69] 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.[70] The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists.[71] The Dada Movement began in the old town of Zrich, Switzerland known as the “Niederdorf” or “Niederdrfli” in the Caf Voltaire.[72] 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.[71]

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.[73]

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.[74]

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Nihilism | Definition of Nihilism by Merriam-Webster

1a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless Nihilism is a condition in which all ultimate values lose their value. Ronald H. Nash

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

2a : 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

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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.

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Introduction

Nihilism comes from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing”. As a philosophical position, nihilism involves denying certain existence claims. Two prominent forms of nihilism are existential nihilism, which rejects claims that human life is meaningful, and moral nihilism, which rejects claims that human actions can be right or wrong. Other forms include epistemological nihilism, mereological nihilism, and political nihilism.

As with any other philosophical label, there is diversity within nihilism and disagreement over what counts as nihilism. Labels with some overlap include existentialism, absurdism, fatalism, and pessimism.Some people embrace nihilistic conclusions as a philosophical matter, while other people relate to nihilistic themes more as a matter of intuition, personal experience, or personal expression.

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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.

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Nihilism – definition of nihilism by The Free Dictionary

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.

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nihilism – Wiktionary

English[edit]Etymology[edit]

From German Nihilismus, itself from Latin nihil (nil, nothing) + German -ismus (-ism), coined in 1817 by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, but repeatedly ‘reinvented’.

nihilism (countable and uncountable, plural nihilisms)

negation of one or more aspects of life; extreme philosophical scepticism

rejection of all moral principles

politics: rejection of non-proven assertions

Russian anarchistic doctrine

belief that all endeavors are futile

contradiction between behavior and principle

deliberate refusal of belief

Translations to be checked

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Nihilism – Conservapedia

Nihilism (IPA pronunciation: “na.lzm”) is the belief that life is, overall, meaningless. A true nihilist would have no loyalties, and no purpose. The atheist Friedrich Nietzsche argued that moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions lead to nihilism’s corrosive effects; cause the collapse of meaning, relevance, purpose, and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.[1] An example of nihilism would be the question reportedly posed by Jared Loughner to a congresswoman whom he allegedly later shot:[2]

German political philosopher Leo Strauss argued that modern liberalism has within it a tendency towards nihilism. Faith in God is the opposite of nihilism. In government and politics, another example of the opposite of nihilism is the concept of natural rights, as formulated in the Declaration of Independence.

Major types of nihilism include:

In his book, The Decline of the West, German philosopher Oswald Spengler observes that pattern of nihilism was a feature shared by all civilizations on the verge of collapse.

Friedrich Nietzsche saw two kinds of nihilism in the world; pessimistic and joyous. Pessimistic nihilism was that created by the death of God in the minds of men, and corresponds to the idea that life is without meaning or value. Joyous nihilism was that experienced by those few who, like him, experienced the loss of an externally created and imposed moral structure as a liberation and not a great loss, and was the seed that let the herald Nietzsche proclaim the coming of the bermensch.

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Nihilism – Wikiquote

Nihilism (pronounced: /na.lzm/ or /ni.lzm/; from the Latin nihil, nothing) refers to sets of beliefs which negate one or more apparently meaningful aspects of Reality. Some are forms of existential nihilism, which argue that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilists assert that morality does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. More extreme forms can insist that knowledge is not possible, and that truth, beauty or reality do not actually exist. The term nihilism often relates to anomie in indicating general moods of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence which can develop with beliefs that there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws.

Nihilists are not kind; They believe in nothing. The Stranger is not kind, He drifts where the wind catches him.

Nihilists are like a bellows Empty, yet full of hot air, The more they threaten, the more cowardly they seem; The Stranger also rambles and loses his train of thought But tells a purty good story.

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Nihilism – Wikiquote

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 concept of nihilism was discussed by the Buddha (563 B.C. to 483 B.C.), as recorded in the Theravada and Mahayana Tripiaka[12]. The Tripiaka, originally written in Pali, refers to nihilism as “natthikavda” and the nihilist view as “micchdihi”[13][14]. Various sutras within it describe a multiplicity of views held by different sects of ascetics while the Buddha was alive, some of which were viewed by him to be morally nihilistic. In the Doctrine of Nihilism in the Appannaka Sutta, the Buddha describes moral nihilists as holding the following views[15][16]:

The Buddha then states that those who hold these views will not see the danger in misconduct and the blessings in good conduct and will, therefore, avoid good bodily, verbal and mental conduct; practicing misconduct instead[17].

The culmination of the path that the Buddha taught was Nibbana, “a place of nothingness… nonpossession and… non-attachment… [which is] the total end of death and decay”[18]. In an article Ajahn Amaro, a practicing Buddhist monk of more than 30 years, observes that in English ‘nothingness’ can sound like nihilism. However the word could be emphasised in a different way, so that it becomes ‘no-thingness’, indicating that Nibbana is not a thing you can find, but rather a place where you experience the reality of non-grasping[19].

In the Alagaddupama Sutta, the Buddha describes how some individuals feared his teaching because they believe that their ‘self’ would be destroyed if they followed it. He describes this as an anxiety caused by the false belief in an unchanging, everlasting ‘self’. All things are subject to change and taking any impermanent phenomena to be a ‘self’ causes suffering. Nonetheless, his critics called him a nihilist who teaches the annihilation and extermination of an existing being. The Buddha’s response was that he only teaches the cessation of suffering. When an individual has given up craving and the conceit of ‘I am’ their mind is liberated, they no longer come into any state of ‘being’ and are no longer born again[20].

The Aggivacchagotta Sutta records a conversation between the Buddha and an individual named Vaccha that further elaborates on this. In it Vaccha asks the Buddha to confirm one of the following, with respect to the existence of the Buddha after death[21]:

To all four questions, the Buddha answers that the terms ‘appear’, ‘not appear’, ‘does and does not reappear’ and ‘neither does nor does not reappear’ do not apply. When Vaccha expresses puzzlement, the Buddha asks Vaccha a counter question to the effect of: if a fire were to go out and someone were to ask you whether the fire went north, south east or west how would you reply? Vaccha replies that the question does not apply and that a fire gone out can only be classified as ‘out'[22].

Thanissaro Bikkhu elaborates on the classification problem around the words ‘reappear’ etc. with respect to the Buddha and Nibbana by stating that a “person who has attained the goal [Nibbana] is thus indescribable because [they have] abandoned all things by which [they] could be described”.[23] The Suttas themselves describe the liberated mind as ‘untraceable’ or as ‘consciousness without feature’, making no distinction between the mind of a liberated being that is alive and the mind of one that is no longer alive[24][25].

Despite the Buddha’s explanations to the contrary, Buddhist practitioners may, at times, still approach Buddhism in a nihilistic manner. Ajahn Amaro illustrates this by retelling the story of a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho, who in his early years took a nihilistic approach to Nibbana. A distinct feature of Nibbana in Buddhism is that an individual attaining it is no longer subject to rebirth. Ajahn Sumedho, during a conversation with his teacher Ajahn Chah comments that he is “determined above all things to fully realize Nibbna in this lifetime… deeply weary of the human condition and… [is] determined not to be born again”. To this Ajahn Chah replies “what about the rest of us, Sumedho? Don’t you care about those who’ll be left behind?”. Ajahn Amaro comments that Ajahn Chah could detect that his student had a nihilistic aversion to life rather than true detachment. With his response, Ajahn Chah chided Ajahn Sumedho about the latter’s narrowness and opened his eyes to this attitude of self centred nihilism[26].

The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (17431819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[27] 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, Fichte’s absolutization of the ego (the ‘absolute I’ that posits the ‘not-I’) is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God.”[28] 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”.[29]

Sren Kierkegaard (18131855) posited an early form of nihilism, which he referred to as leveling.[30] He saw leveling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where an individual’s uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in one’s 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.”[31] 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.”[32] 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.[33] 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.”[31][34] As we must overcome levelling,[35] 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”.[36]

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,[33] 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.”[37] 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.[38] 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,[39] though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome.[40] 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.[41] 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”.[42] 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”.[43] 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.[44][45]

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.[46] 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.[47] 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:[48]

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.[49] 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!”[50] 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.[39]

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,”[51] 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'[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsche’s thought.[55] Given the importance of Nietzsche’s 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.[56] In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (194446),[57] Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsche’s 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.[58] 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.[59] This makes Nietzsche’s metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.[60]

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 Nazi era.[61]

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.[62] 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.[63] Jrgen Habermas, Jean-Franois Lyotard and Richard Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.[64]

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.[65] 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.[66] Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a ‘responsibility to the other’.[67] 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 indifference…all 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,[68] 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.[69] 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.[70] The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists.[71] The Dada Movement began in the old town of Zrich, Switzerland known as the “Niederdorf” or “Niederdrfli” in the Caf Voltaire.[72] 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.[71]

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.[73]

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.[74]

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