Arguing Nihilism (can you do it?)

I’m a nihilist (well, almost. I mean, as much as one can be nihilistic). I was wondering if anyone can argue against nihilism. I mean, can anyone prove that there is more to the world than matter?

In case you don’t know what nihilism is (like if you watch movies and believe that nihilists burn churches and wear SS uniforms), you should read a bit before posting in this thread.

Full article:

I would be glad to read replies and have an intelligent discussion with anyone who can do so.

Wolfcomm wrote

Welcome to the forum, Wolfcomm.

The concept of “proof” belongs primarily to the domain of logic and mathematics. Scientists have learned to be wary of claiming that the scientific method is capable of proving anything. If anything, philosophers are even more wary of making such claims. The only non-tautological proof that I can offer you is rather unique. I can assert with complete confidence, “There is something that it feels like to be.” This statement is a cautious way of saying, “I think, therefore I am.” The reason for caution is that to declare, “I am this,” is to make a tautological statement of the form of A=A, where “I am” is equivalent to “this.” Likewise, to claim that matter exists is to utter a tautology that is true by definition only. It’s a bit like proclaiming, “Everything Exists!” Such statements are true by definition, but what do they say about an objective world?

I’ve noted here before that the commonly accepted meaning of the word, “nihilist,” has evolved quite a bit since it was coined in Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Turgnev is said to have first used the word in his play, Fathers and Sons, wherein a young man named Bazarov was characterized as a nihilist (“nihil” means “nothing” in Latin). The Russians thought of nihilism in an anarchistic sense. For example, Pisarev said, “Here’s the ultimatum of our (nihilistic) camp. What can be smashed should be smashed!” These anarchistic overtones were dropped when the word crossed over to Europe and the Americas. Here, its meaning came to denote the doctrine that moral norms can’t be justified by rational argument. At the same time it was used to describe a state of despair over the emptiness of human existence. Nowadays, we think of nihilism along the lines of this dictionary definition: “The doctrine that all values are baseless and that nothing is knowable or can be communicated.”

As for baseless value; I declare myself (who else?) worthy to be the carrier of my own values, some of which I, myself, have created. As for the belief that nothing is knowable, or, perhaps, that nothing is true, the contemporary British philosopher, Roger Scruton, advised

“If someone tells you that nothing is true, he’s asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”

And Hannah Arendt, asked

“Is everything possible yet nothing true?”


Thanks for the welcome Polemarchus. I’m relatively new to philosophy, so much of what you said (and will say) is new to me and will make me think anew.

I have had this discussion before with my friend, and he believes in a very weird concept of god. I had asked him how does he know there’s a god, and he said that it’s a possibility just as likely as there isn’t. Considering, as you said, that tautological proof only works by definition, a universe governed by an omnipotent being is just as probable as a universe governed by Newton’s Laws of Mechanics (or whatever physics is accepted today).

I understood that arguing against god would be impossible, and so I let it go. You brought it up again, and I see it through new shade of visors now. The reason I believe in Mechanics is because that I have a feeling that according to my senses, the laws are correct (because they seem flawless). I can also assume that my friend believes in god because the laws seem to him not flawless and therefore there must be a god.

Agreed so far? If so, can I assume that proof against nihilism (I understand that it can’t be tautological and practical at once), is the feeling that someone has of the existence of meta-physical matter?

I didn’t understand though what your proof was out to prove. Could you please clarify your assertion?

Sorry for being so technical, but I couldn’t resist. “I” is equivalent to “this”. “am” is equivalent to “equivalent”.

Nihlism takes a good thing too far. Rejection of the patently absurd is one thing, but rejection of /everything/ is counter-productive and pointless.

Do you really believe secular ethics are ‘impossible’?

If this is true, doesn’t that mean there is a truth? I agree with all of the above; for even this truth (“the world … value”) is not comprehensible:

“Can men grasp life’s nothingness without destroying themselves?: “We are making an experiment with the truth. Perhaps mankind will be destroyed by it! Fine!” [Nietzsche, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, edited by G. Colli and M. Montinari (Berlin, 1967 ff.) VII 2, p. 84.] Mankind’s destruction or the destruction of all life would change nothing in a nihilist reality. Nietzsche’s experiment with the truth is the same as Heidegger’s inner truth and greatness of nazism. That experiment means to determine whether a few supermen can become alive to the truth without self-destruction. It does not mean to prove the truth experimentally. Nothing – and only nothing! – can be proven in science’s nihilist reality.”
[Harry Neumann, Politics of Nothing!]

And this excerpt provides the clue to overcoming nihilism. Thus Nietzsche says:

“How much truth does a spirit endure, how much truth does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value.”
[Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, Preface, 3.]

So there is, for Nietzsche, a rank order of spirits, which is measured by the degree to which one can endure the nihilist truth. And the meaning of human life is then to promote the production of the highest spirit, the spirit of the Overman, within one and without one. The ideal of the Overman is

“the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have just what was and is repeated into all eternity, shouting insatiably da capo [in music: from the beginning], not only to himself but to the whole play and spectacle, and not only to a spectacle but at bottom to him who needs precisely this spectacle—and who makes it necessary because again and again he needs himself—and makes himself necessary — — What? And this wouldn’t be—circulus vitiosus deus? [A vicious circle made god? or: God as a vicious circle?]”
[Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, section 56.]

The Overman is the man who wants

“existence as it is, without meaning or aim, yet recurring inevitably without any finale of nothingness: “the eternal recurrence.
This is the most extreme form of nihilism: the nothing (the “meaningless”), eternally!”
[Nietzsche, The Will to Power, section 55.]

The Overman’s Dionysian happiness is what justifies existence eternally.

That’s exactly the point. What is productive and pointfull? (made up word)

In general I find Wikipedia to be a very reliable source, but sometimes (such as in articles about opinions, where defining them isn’t as easy as defining objects or things), I disagree with Wikipedia on this point. They almost got it right here.

So far, so good. No reasonable proof for religious ethics.

I wouldn’t say impossible. I would say No reasonable proof for secular ethics.

Everything I believe (things I see around me and what I predict I will see around me) is based on secular ethics. But only because they seem to me the most probable, and not because I think they’re true. I don’t think anything is surly true, yet nothing is ‘impossible’ either.

Christianity is nihilistic. Belief in any other world than this is tantamount to nihilism. Nihilism is ultimatly a palliative,and another anaesthtic. It is a belief system,despite it all. A belief in nothing. True nihilism is impossible.

True Nihilism is impossible, obviously, as it essentially would have to give away to some sort of twisted coma-solipsism. So if we’re left with varying degrees, is discussing nihilism on any sort of pragmatic level even possible? It’s applicability is so vast it’s like asking: what is the nature of the concept of ‘giving a shit about stuff’?

I think, Old Gobbo, that true nihilism can only be found in the pit of your stomach - it’s that free falling emptiness when you realise (or think you do) that every predicate, is now impossible, because there is nothing objective to predicate on. It is as if the whole house of cards comes crashing down into nothingness. You cannot rationally argue for nihilism, because to do so requires a belief in the truth-ness of reason and argument which nihilism refutes. That’s why, I think some philosophers have said Neitzsche resembles a poet more than a philosopher.

To take nihilism seriously, in my respectful view, requires a leap of faith toward nothingness.

And, if we’re into the whole faith business, then we’re just as irrational as one who believes in God. (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

My take on this whole thread therefore, is that the person who rants about the soundness of nihilism as an ontological starting point is just as faith driven as the believer who raves about God. Appealing, poetically, and metaphorically - but not philosophically engaging.


I find it easier to believe in everything, rather than nothing. This leads to many grandiose ideas. But that’s okay, because ideas are more real to me than matter.

agree? disagree?

I think we all have moments or nihilism, and days of nihilism, but I am not sure one call really call themselves a full on nihilist.

Here is another question: Can someone call themselves a full on nihilist and also care about their own life and their life’s outcome?

If you place value in any sort of ethics you are not a nihlist.

Much has been made of Nietzsche’s doctrine of the “pessimism of strength”. While pessimism,and nihilsim are not synonymous,they are surely very closely related.To Nietzsche nihilism, IS synonymous with truth.The pessimism of strength is the idea of;how much truth can we endure,where truth equals nihilism i.e. there is no heaven,life is at best constant torture;there is no static reality,only the false template of it that we have created for our own convienience and confort ,etc. It is in this sense that considered a nihilist.Damn the torpedoes,and full speed ahead,probably sums up Nietzsche’s Philosophy best.He is like Schopenhauer,without the latter’s defeatist Christian attitude, that sullies "this world"due to it’s nihilistic character.

well said

I can’t be bothered and I don’t care anyway.

It appears that the ‘nihilist’ is just suceptable to wants and desires as anyone else. So then, we might be able to say they are not nihilistic, but this appears not to go far enough. The nihilist does not believe in any base of existence, but he however understands certainly that a ethical theory may increase pleasure for at least himself, nihilism may not accept any base to our existance, but that doesnt mean nihilism does not except ‘this’ existance.

So now for the others…people whom believe in a base to, at very least ourselves. Is it possible that these people use ethical standards without valuing them? It seems to be that even ‘moral’ people at times do things without knowing/understanding reason behind their ethical actions. In fact ‘most’ people when asked cannot provide a base to their ethical attitudes, regardless if they are ‘right/wrong’.

Hello Wolfcomm,

“Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.” Alexander Pope

But all was not light. Einstein, among others, devised more accurate models of the physical universe. Our experientially-based physical laws are not (and likely never will be) complete; nor are they (and likely never will be) flawless. Moreover, physical laws are human creations; they are nothing more than our fuzzy ideas.

In reply to my assertion: “There is something that it feels like to be,” you wrote

Augustine noted (roughly a thousand years before Descartes) that to doubt, or even to be in error, is to automatically exist. In order to be deceived one must first exist. Given that a proper nihilist doubts everything, including his or her own existence, nihilism is a self-defeating proposition. In doubting, a nihilist pisses into the wind.

“The self is the place where doubt expires; it is the one absolutely certain thing; it is also metaphysically distinct from everything else over which my beliefs may range.” Roger Scruton

Please don’t apologize; I’m pleased that you read my post so carefully. The subjective personal pronoun, “I,” references nothing in the metaphysical limit; inasmuch as no human is anything. Rather, we either become or we do not exist.

“The self is that which is in the process of becoming.” Kierkegaard

The equivalence, “I am” = “this,” captures this notion.