Nihilism (/ˈnaɪ(h)ɪlɪzəm, ˈniː-/; 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. 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.
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 and some religious theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that postmodernity and many aspects of modernity 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. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines one form of nihilism as "an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence." 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. 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 impossible to confirm as 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."
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.
The Russian Nihilist movement was a Russian trend in the 1860s that rejected all authority. 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. 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 (1743–1818), its widespread usage began with the 1862 novel Fathers and Sons by the Russian author Ivan Turgenev. The main character of the novel, Yevgeny 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 Tripiṭaka. The Tripiṭaka, originally written in Pali, refers to nihilism as "natthikavāda" and the nihilist view as "micchādiṭṭhi". 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:
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.
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". 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.
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.
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:
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'.
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". 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.
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 Nirvāna 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.
The term nihilism was first used by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743–1819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism 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 nihilism—and 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." 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". This movement was significant enough that, even in the English speaking world, at the turn of the 20th century the word nihilism without qualification was almost exclusively associated with this Russian revolutionary sociopolitical movement .
Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) posited an early form of nihilism, which he referred to as leveling. 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.— Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, translated by Alexander Dru with Foreword by Walter Kaufmann, 1962, pp. 51–53
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." 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." 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. 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." As we must overcome levelling, 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".
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, 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." 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. Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of physiological decadence, nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age, though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome. 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. 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". 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". 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.
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. 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. 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:
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.— Friedrich Nietzsche, KSA 12:9 , taken from The Will to Power, section 585, translated by Walter Kaufmann
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. 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!" 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.
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," 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' or the Übermensch 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.
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. As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsche's thought. 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. In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (1944–46), 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. 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. This makes Nietzsche's metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.
Heidegger, in his interpretation of Nietzsche, has been inspired by Ernst Jünger. Many references to Jünger 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 Jünger, tries to explain the notion of "God is dead" as the "reality of the Will to Power." Heidegger also praises Jünger for defending Nietzsche against a too biological or anthropological reading during the Nazi era.
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. 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. Jürgen Habermas, Jean-François Lyotard and Richard Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche.
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. 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. Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a 'responsibility to the other'. 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 to—referred 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.
This concept of the instability of truth and meaning leads in the direction of nihilism, though Lyotard stops short of embracing the latter.
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.— Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, "On Nihilism", trans. 1995
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, François 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, 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. 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. The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I, an event that influenced the artists. The Dada Movement began in the old town of Zürich, Switzerland – known as the "Niederdorf" or "Niederdörfli" – in the Café Voltaire. 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 to have stemmed from a post-war emptiness. This tendency toward devaluation of art has led many to claim that Dada was an essentially nihilistic movement. 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.
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.
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 nihilism and loneliness of postmodern culture...
For deconstructionists, not only is there no truth to know, there is no self to know it and so there is no soul to save or lose." and "In following the Enlightenment to its logical end, deconstruction reaches nihilism. The meaning of human life is reduced to whatever happens to interest us at the moment...
In philosophy, "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.
As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it. The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning.Absurdism shares some concepts, and a common theoretical template, with existentialism and nihilism. It has its origins in the work of the 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who chose to confront the crisis that humans face with the Absurd by developing his own existentialist philosophy. Absurdism as a belief system was born of the European existentialist movement that ensued, specifically when Camus rejected certain aspects of that philosophical line of thought and published his essay The Myth of Sisyphus. The aftermath of World War II provided the social environment that stimulated absurdist views and allowed for their popular development, especially in the devastated country of France.Alethiology
Alethiology (or alethology, "the study of aletheia") literally means the study of truth, but can more accurately be translated as the study of the nature of truth.|Bijan Abdolkarimi
Bijan Abdolkarimi (born 1963 in Tehran) (Persian: بیژن عبدالکریمی) is an Iranian philosopher, thinker, translator and editor.
He is associate professor of philosophy at Islamic Azad University North Tehran Branch.
His main interests are ontology, political philosophy and the critique of religious and intellectual traditions. He claims to challenge the dominant ideological discourse in Iran.
He has participated in debates at Iranian universities and also in IRIB TV4 in which he has opposed the notion of Islamic humanities.
He is also a scholar of Heidegger's thought and philosophy.Composition (objects)
Compositional objects are wholes instantiated by collections of parts. If an ontology wishes to permit the inclusion of compositional objects it must define which collections of objects are to be considered parts composing a whole. Mereology, the study of relationships between parts and their wholes, provides specifications on how parts must relate to one another in order to compose a whole.Existential nihilism
Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism suggests that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. According to the theory, each individual is an isolated being born into the universe, barred from knowing "why", yet compelled to invent meaning. The inherent meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism, where one can potentially create their own subjective "meaning" or "purpose". Of all types of nihilism, existential nihilism has received the most literary and philosophical attention.Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (; German: [ˈfʁiːtʁɪç ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈniːtʃə] (listen) or [- ˈniːt͡sʃə]; 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history. He began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. He became the youngest ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869 at the age of 24. Nietzsche resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life; he completed much of his core writing in the following decade. In 1889 at age 44, he suffered a collapse and afterward, a complete loss of his mental faculties. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897 and then with his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. Nietzsche died in 1900.Nietzsche's body of work touched a wide range of topics, including art, philology, history, religion, tragedy, culture and science. His early inspiration was drawn from figures such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His writing spans philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism and fiction while displaying a fondness for aphorism and irony. Prominent elements of his philosophy include his radical critique of truth in favor of perspectivism; his genealogical critique of religion and Christian morality and his related theory of master–slave morality; his aesthetic affirmation of existence in response to the "death of God" and the profound crisis of nihilism; his notion of the Apollonian and Dionysian; and his characterization of the human subject as the expression of competing wills, collectively understood as the will to power. He also developed influential concepts such as the Übermensch and the doctrine of eternal return. In his later work, he became increasingly preoccupied with the creative powers of the individual to overcome social, cultural and moral contexts in pursuit of new values and aesthetic health.Nietzsche was explicitly opposed to antisemitism and nationalism, although his sister attempted to associate his work with fascism and Nazism.Nietzsche's thought enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1960s and his ideas have since had a profound impact on 20th and early-21st century thinkers across philosophy—especially in schools of continental philosophy such as existentialism, postmodernism and post-structuralism—as well as art, literature, psychology, politics and popular culture.Gianni Vattimo
Gianteresio Vattimo (born 4 January 1936) is an Italian philosopher and politician.God is dead
"God is Dead" (German: „Gott ist tot“ ; also known as the Death of God) is a widely quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche used the phrase in a figurative sense, to express the idea that the Enlightenment had "killed" the possibility of belief in God or any gods having ever existed. Others, such as proponents of the strongest form of the Death of God theology have used the phrase in a literal sense, meaning that the Christian God who existed at one point, has ceased to exist.
The phrase first appeared in Nietzsche's 1882 collection The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, also translated as "The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding"). However, it is most famously associated with Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Also sprach Zarathustra), which is most responsible for making the phrase popular. Other philosophers had previously discussed the concept,
including Philipp Mainländer and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.Keiji Nishitani
Keiji Nishitani (西谷 啓治, Nishitani Keiji, February 27, 1900 – November 24, 1990) was a Japanese philosopher of the Kyoto School and a disciple of Kitarō Nishida. In 1924 Nishitani received a Ph.D. from Kyoto University for his dissertation "Das Ideale und das Reale bei Schelling und Bergson". He studied under Martin Heidegger in Freiburg from 1937-9.Last man
The last man (German: Letzter Mensch) is a term used by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra to describe the antithesis of his imagined superior being, the Übermensch, whose imminent appearance is heralded by Zarathustra. The last man is tired of life, takes no risks, and seeks only comfort and security.
The last man's primary appearance is in "Zarathustra's Prologue." According to Nietzsche, the last man is the goal that modern society and Western civilization have apparently set for themselves. After having unsuccessfully attempted to get the populace to accept the Übermensch as the goal of society, Zarathustra confronts them with a goal so disgusting that he assumes that it will revolt them. Zarathustra fails in this attempt, and instead of repelling and manipulating the populace into pursuing the goal of the Übermensch, the populace take Zarathustra literally and choose the "disgusting" goal of becoming the last men. This decision leaves Zarathustra disheartened and disappointed.
The lives of the last men are pacifist and comfortable. There is no longer a distinction between ruler and ruled, strong over weak or supreme over the mediocre. Social conflict and challenges are minimized. Every individual lives equally and in "superficial" harmony. There are no original or flourishing social trends and ideas. Individuality and creativity are suppressed.
Nietzsche warned that the society of the last man could be too barren and decadent to support the growth of healthy human life or great individuals. The last man is only possible by mankind having bred an apathetic person or ethnic group who are unable to dream, who are unwilling to take risks, and simply earn their living and keep warm. The society of the last man is antithetical to Nietzsche's theoretical will to power, the main driving force and ambition behind human nature, according to Nietzsche, as well as all other life in the universe.
The last man, Nietzsche predicted, would be one response to the problem of nihilism. But the full implications of the death of God had yet to unfold: "The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude's capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet."List of philosophies
Philosophies: particular schools of thought, styles of philosophy, or descriptions of philosophical ideas attributed to a particular group or culture - listed in alphabetical order.Mereological nihilism
Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism, or rarely simply nihilism) is the mereological position that objects with proper parts do not exist. Only mereological simples, those basic building blocks without proper parts, exist. Or, more succinctly, "nothing is a proper part of anything". Mereological simples can be both spatial and temporal. Mereological nihilism also asserts that objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts.Metaphysical nihilism
Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that there might have been no objects at all—that is, that there is a possible world in which there are no objects at all; or at least that there might have been no concrete objects at all, so that even if every possible world contains some objects, there is at least one that contains only abstract objects.To understand metaphysical nihilism, one can look to the subtraction theory in its simplest form, proposed by Thomas Baldwin.
There could have been finitely many things.
For each thing, that thing might not have existed.
The removal of one thing does not necessitate the introduction of another.
Therefore, there could have been no things at all.The idea is that there is a possible world with finitely many things. One can thus get another possible world by taking a single thing away, and one does not need to add any other thing as its replacement. Then one can take another thing away, and another, until one is left with a possible world that is empty.
Against the possible strength of this intuitive argument, some philosophers argue that there are necessarily some concrete objects. It is a consequence of David Kellogg Lewis's concrete modal realism that it is impossible that no concrete objects exist; for since worlds are concrete, there is at least one concrete object—the world itself—at each world. E. J. Lowe has likewise argued that there are necessarily some concrete objects. His argument runs as follows: Necessarily, there are some abstract objects, such as numbers. The only possible abstract objects are sets or universals, but both of these depend on the existence of concrete objects (for sets, their members; for universals, the things that instantiate them). Therefore, there are necessarily some concrete objects.Moral nihilism
Moral nihilism (also known as ethical nihilism, amoralism or the error theory) is the meta-ethical view that nothing is morally right or wrong.
Moral nihilism is distinct from moral relativism, which allows for actions wrong relative to a particular culture or individual. It is also distinct from expressivism, according to which when we make moral claims, "We are not making an effort to describe the way the world is [...] we are venting our emotions, commanding others to act in certain ways, or revealing a plan of action.".Nihilism does not imply that we should give up using moral or ethical language; some nihilists contend that it remains a useful tool.Paradox of nihilism
Paradox of nihilism is the name of several paradoxes.Reza Davari Ardakani
Reza Davari Ardakani (Persian: رضا داوری اردکانی, born 6 July 1933 in Ardakan) is a prominent Iranian philosopher who was influenced by Martin Heidegger, and a distinguished emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Tehran. He is also the current president of the prestigious Iranian Academy of Sciences. He is known for his works on criticism of the Western Culture and thought.Russian nihilist movement
The Nihilist movement was a Russian movement in the 1860s which rejected all authorities. It is derived from the Latin nihil, meaning "nothing". After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Nihilists were known throughout Europe as proponents of the use of violence in order to bring about political change.Speculative realism
Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary Continental-inspired philosophy (also known as post-Continental philosophy) that defines itself loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism against the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy (or what it terms "correlationism").Speculative realism takes its name from a conference held at Goldsmiths College, University of London in April 2007. The conference was moderated by Alberto Toscano of Goldsmiths College, and featured presentations by Ray Brassier of American University of Beirut (then at Middlesex University), Iain Hamilton Grant of the University of the West of England, Graham Harman of the American University in Cairo, and Quentin Meillassoux of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Credit for the name "speculative realism" is generally ascribed to Brassier, though Meillassoux had already used the term "speculative materialism" to describe his own position.A second conference, entitled "Speculative Realism/Speculative Materialism", took place at the UWE Bristol on Friday 24 April 2009, two years after the original event at Goldsmiths. The line-up consisted of Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and (in place of Meillassoux, who was unable to attend) Alberto Toscano.Trivialism
Trivialism (from Latin trivialis, meaning 'found everywhere') is the logical theory that all statements (also known as propositions) are true and that all contradictions of the form "p and not p" (e.g. the ball is red and not red) are true. In accordance with this, a trivialist is a person who believes everything is true.In classical logic, trivialism is in direct violation of Aristotle's law of noncontradiction. In philosophy, trivialism is considered by some to be the complete opposite of skepticism. Paraconsistent logics may use "the law of non-triviality" to abstain from trivialism in logical practices that involve true contradictions.
Theoretical arguments and anecdotes have been offered for trivialism to contrast it with theories such as modal realism, dialetheism and paraconsistent logics.