The Psychology of Nihilism

Death is to Life what Nihilism is to Philosophy.

Contrary to popular myth, no one chooses Nihilism, Nihilism chooses us, we choose to accept it, or attempt to go beyond. It is only after accepting Nihilism do we begin to develop a perverse taste for it. This is contra man’s natural inclinations, for our instinct is to seek coherence, meaning, purpose, knowledge and wisdom. It is only after our hopes have been dashed, our desires frustrated, our dreams crushed, do we surrender and resign to the state of Nihilism. We seek these things, I argue, because they are inherently good. Not only that, but just as we are programmed to seek fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink, we innately seek after reason and wisdom. The excercise of our reasoning faculties is essential to our survival and so too is the possession of wisdom (practical knowledge, knowledge that enriches the soul and elicits profound comprehension). So why do some cling to Nihilism so rigidly, stubbornly, even with passion and fervor? Out of desperation, my friends, out of desperation.

There is a peace and tranquility in accepting one’s fate (albeit a lesser form). Just as one who has had their heart broken too many times, becoming cynical and jaded, learns to shut themselves off from the prospect of --ever again-- falling in love, so too has the philosopher learned to detatch themselves from their natural inclination toward reason and wisdom. The Nihilist experiences these inclinations stronger than the common man (who cares less for reason and wisdom) and perhaps even stronger than your average philosopher, and thus, as a survival mechanism, a safety precaution, to keep one’s heart and head from being broken yet again, convinces themselves that reason is impossible, that truth is an illusion, the pursuit of wisdom; a fool’s errand, dreamt up by charlatans, hoaxters and madmen; an illusion; a mirage.

Like anything we do, say or believe for very long, we grow accustomed to it, even an abductee can learn not only to tolerate their rapist and abuser, but even to love them. A perverse, unnatural kind of love it is. The victim may even try to convince themselves they don’t need real love, that they like being beaten. This is the origin of masochism in many rape victims and it is also the origin of a Nihilist’s masochistic love of unreason and untruth. The Nihilist has been raped by existence, on one too many occasions. The woman attempts to convince herself that escape is impossible, that her captor has eyes and ears everywhere, so she passes up good opportunities for she cannot bear the thought of being thwarted again.

After a while, any challenge to the Nihilist’s beliefs (or lack there of) is a threat to the safe and secure bubble they’ve been living in for the past several years or decades. Not only that, an insult to their pride, for they do not wish to admit to themselves they may have been missing out, that real purpose, meaning and happiness lied just beyond the little box they’ve been living in. Such is the pathetic, sad state of the Categorical Nihilist. I was once in a comparable state before (we all have been), but wisely, I left myself a little window from which to climb out of, should I ever see a glimmer of hope, even in the darkest of times.

To summarize, the Nihilist is anti-life. it should come as no surprise to find the Nihilist adopting an unenlightened form of egoistic hedonism, reverting to the intellectual and moral state of a child or animal, for we need reason and wisdom to live, just as fish need fins to swim.

All that being said… What would philosophy be without Nihilism, or at least the potential for Nihilism? What would life be without death, or least the potential for death?

The Nihilist is a failed philosopher, he has failed to perform his function. I’m not saying we should have beliefs just for the sake of having them, as philosophers, our beliefs should be subjected to rational scrutiny, though we should let a little intuition and feeling creep in once in a while, perfectionism and obsessive reasoning could lead to unwarranted dissention. The Categorical Nihilst is self refuting, like a television program telling you not to watch TV. Much like death, Nihilism should never be an end, but something that should be overcome. To feed and encourage the Nihilist is to feed encourage philosophical suicide. Corpse Philosophers; they’re already dead. We should consult men with answers, or at least men who try at answers.

While I see what you’re saying, I couldn’t disagree more.

I kind of consider myself a nihilist and know it is not a way of preventing being broken. I simply accept that, at this current time, there are no truths, no morals, no grounds for existence except those that individuals create for themselves.
There are no natural rights, no right to freedom, happiness or even life.
There is no absolute proof that anything exists or has any value.
And as far as i’m concerned there is no god and no morals.

I have accepted this after long thought similar to Desecrates removing everything accept himself because he thinks, but how can we be sure we are thinking?
Every proof, law, evidence, fact ever provided to you is based on some level around an assumption that most people have been made to believe is truth.
I do not cling to the nothingness that is nihilism and someone could bring one thing that was indisputable, I would gladly begin to find reason to everything.
Concerning your mention of “egoistic hedonism” I have also conclude that my life and self are as worthless as anything else and personally do all i can to help others no matter the detriment to myself for the only things i have clung to as true even though I no they are not are
A) The group is more important to the individual
B) Everyone else is more important than me

(Looking back this post seems kind of rude and angry due to its wording; that is not my intent and i mean this as a calm retort. Feel free to ask any questions)

We are also programmed to seek novelty and easy pleasure, to deceive and turn away from difficult truths, to prefer nice fantasies to harsh realities. The instinct for truth is buried, and most people’s “instinct for truth” is only the refinement of the instinct for fantasy. They want fantasy, but are psychologically too astute to out right lie to themselves; so, they use “truths” in order to fabricate a sufficiently consistent appearance reality, something they can have faith in, that satisfies their psychological needs of utility and inertia while not affording deeper or more meaningful, genuine self-encounter.

It is true that nihilism can result from frustration, apathy or dashed hopes; would that we used these experiences to run toward nihilism! These experiences are no less genuine and essential to the human experience than their “opposites”. A naive faith alone is able to posit the “good” experiences as more essential or real than the “bad” experiences.

This is why the nihilist is one who has lost his naive faith in positive images. Sure, the nihilist, at least the naive one (the “emo nihilists”, for example) are just reactionary creatures, contemptable in their own way. But this is simply a further dishonesty with self, similar to the inverse position of the naive theist or naive optimist. Theirs is a faith position of ignorance and denial, while the nihilist is a faith position of ignorance and denial – the difference is only in the content of the image in which faith is afforded. The nihilist has a negative, empty image to which he clings, but it is still an image, an Idol, the same as any optimist or non-philosopher. Now, if we step back and look at it, we see that this sort of initial nihilistic response is actually a step along the path of becoming honest: shedding our false images first occurs when those images are stripped of their content, their motive power (over thought, behavior and psychological meaning-value). In order to shed these images it is first often necessary to slowly strip away their meaning, as one cannot just simply throw away his more essential values and ideas at a whim. These do not go easily. Nihilism manifests first as naive reactionism, an initial response to the more genuine encounter with self and life, one devoid of happy fairytales and comfortable lies. The nihilist is one who senses the absurdity and meaninglessness lurking beneath it all, and this torments him. He must pass through this initial stage of naive nihilism before he can come around to a stronger nihilistic position, one that purges even nihilism itself of its falsehoods and reactionism.

Do you not see the equal desparation that the “rationalists”, scientists, theists, atheists, optimists, philosophers and non-philosophers alike cling to their own paradigms and meanings? The clinging-to is not a symptom of nihilism, it is a symptom of belief as such, of psychological need and identity investment. This happens initially in nihilism too, of course, but ultimately nihilism, unlike the other paradigmatic positions, is able to actually overcome this false psychological investment and self-deceit.

Here it is a progression from non-philosopher to naive optimism/rationalism to “realism” to naive nihilism/skepticism to “idealism” to… mature nihilism… to… genuine philosopher.

Do you see how your image of the nihilist is also a false image, a mirage? One that allows you to justify your own position and achievments before the harshest judge of all, yourself?

Not that there isn’t truth to what you say; of course there is. However, the best lies are those that make best use of truth. The problem with all non-nihilistic positions is that they automatically utilize truth only as a means to the further refinement of lying, deception. They just cannot help it, because their philosophical instinct is at all times subject to the psychological organism of functional utility, heuristics, conditioning and false identity investment. Only he who has braved and passed through nihilism is free from these psychological drives… why is this? Because the nihilist alone has the courage and skill to expose and face these unconscious mechanisms head-on, rather than run from them in fear.

Ah. So before you were able to pass through, to be reborn, you ran away. Your position now makes perfect sense, it is exactly what is mandated by such an experience as yours. I would only caution that some day you may grow stronger so as to face this “nihilism” again, but more authentically, fully, without leaving “escape windows” for yourself to fall back into the old inertia dishonesty. But, you were probably right to back-track when you did, it may have been an intuition that you were not yet strong enough to face this void. You likely have strong instincts and intuitions; I hope you do not slaughter them at the alters of Truth, Reason and Reality.

But enough of that. :-$

In fact, it is interesting to speculate on how the optimist and “rationalist” is so much a child in the face of his own subjectivity.

And see, the deeper truth is revealed, the need for utility. It is the making use of, the need to “be useful”, practical, reasonable, well analyzed and articulated and put into a tidy little box that is at the heart of all clingings to rationalism, realism, optimism. The nihilistic position is far less oppositional from what you consider to be an authentic philosophical perspective than you would think. You categorize well, the problem is just that your labels are incorrect, you are caught up in the language and words of the conceptual boxes you create.

Move beyond these labels, retain the content, sift it and discern the relations within. Start from a position that does not immediately reject nihilism as bad/false/perverted/harmful/irrational/deadly/etc. Just accept that premise, honestly, openly, hypothetically, and see where it leads you. Of course, the bad faith of the religious form is always there, lurking in wait, whispering in your ear not to bend, not to break, don’t give an inch because if you do, if you betray the faith even a little, well then its all over. Stay strong, resolute, there is danger lurking, don’t give in… etc etc.

Well you get the idea.

Overall, nice post.

Great writing lucis. I agree with most and disagree with just a few ways of describing Nihilism
, but it is certainly trivial.

Thanks WW3, it is a useless ‘philosophy’.


Nice post, but…

Absolutely nothing you have said has countered anything I have said. You and I are in complete agreement regarding the adamant Somethingist.

I am hoping you are just as opposed to the admant Nothingist.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, Khrone. I appreciate your insight.

How is it a useless philosophy? If you were to say that you would have to say all philosophy is useless. How can you say one philosophy is any more useful than another? It is thought, which is abstract, not concrete.

I consider myself nihilistic not because I give up on explaining our existence. Rather, that is my explanation of existence. We just are.

And I don’t agree that nihilism is anti-life. It is, on the contrary, very pro-life. It is arguing that life is life, we are…because, and everything has the reason that it just is. I myself am the most positive person you could ever meet. I love everything and I love life, and I love pondering existence and why things are, but when it comes down to it, I don’t pretend that my ponderings (or anyone else’s for that matter) can possibly lead to the true answer. There is a reason for everything but it is impossible to know.

Those are my thoughts. Have at them.

So you’re saying A = B is useful?

That’s what all philosophy is. The only difference is that other forms of philosophy include a ‘why’ in between A and B. Showing why something happens is less useful than showing that it happens.

So you’re saying 2 + 2 = 10456 is useful?

when you really think about it, 2+2=4 isn’t that useful either.

Yeah, you’re right, what’s the point of conceptualizing or naming anything? Nothing can be
(dis)proven to be causally or deductively (un)related to anything else. A lion is a horse is a tin can. To tell you the truth, I have no problem with the Nihilist, so long as he’s committed to living like Pyrrho the Skeptic.

Nihilism sinks “that is the way it is…” and “that is the way it should be…” from the top of the order and opens up space for “that is the way I want it to be…”
----------------------- [truth] -------------------------- [morality] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [desire/creativity] -------

Nihilism exposes the weakness of truth and morality (morality can probably be counted as a kind of truth). People who have raised truth and morality above all else will of course encounter nihilism as another truth. (At least initially.) The encounter is so painful and depressing for them because they realize what they thought truth was or implied is false, but at the same time they still cling to truth as the highest value. The nihilist’s best chance in overcoming despair (note: not in overcoming nihilism) is to attempt a revaluation of values.

I am not sure whether that’s sarcasm, but 2 + 2 = 4 can be useful. What if I organize a dinner and I invite two couples, that means I have to cater for 4 people; a couple is made up of 2 people, 2 couples makes 4.
Math does have a degree of empirical reality to it.

That’s incorrect, so no, it’s not useful. Nihilism is say that we exist, and that’s all we know. Two different concepts entirely. Speaking in nihilistic terms I would not say I am a giraffe with 10 legs. I would say I am a man with two. The reason is what’s in question, not the concept or information.