Wondering About Nihilism

There seems to be a fair amount of people around here that describe themselves as nihilists. I’m curious about this. Personally, I can’t think of nihilism without thinking of “The Big Lebowski” (“Nihilists? Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, but at least it’s an ethos!”) but that’s another topic for another day. My questions today are sincere and aimed at any nihilist that wants to help clue me in.

First of all, would you say that you really believe in nothing, or would you say you’re really more of a skeptic? And if you believe in nothing, how is it that you can believe that you believe in nothing? If it’s more of a healthy skepticism, would you characterize it more as a skepticism with regard to knowledge itself, or with the application of knowledge? Are you skeptical about the existence of God? And does that naturally flow from your skepticism regarding either knowledge or the application of knowledge?

Or is your nihilism something of a metaphysical nihilism where you simply believe that nothing exists, or if something did exist it could not be known?

Are you something of an agnostic where belief is concerned; that is to say, are you open-minded to the idea that someday you might lose your nihilism if something comes along that would warrant belief? Have you always been a nihilist and if not, what was it that made you become one? How has studying philosophy helped shape your nihilistic beliefs? Is “nihilistic beliefs” an oxymoron?

Do you often wish that you could, in fact, find something to believe in? In other words, is your nihilism kind of a depressing worldview that has resulted from disappointment in finding knowledge, no matter how hard you have tried? Or do you see it as more of a kind of noble position you’ve taken, since you’ve courageously come to grips with the idea that knowledge doesn’t exist or is, at best, unknowable?

Anyway, that’s enough questions for now. Again, I just found myself curious, if anybody wants to take the time.

A nihilist doesn’t necessarily believe that knowledge doesn’t exist, but rather that wisdom is futile.


I could give a better statement but I’ll leave it at this simple point.

Nihilism is an impossible process. Regardless of psychological/philosophical testimony, the purpose of life is evident: to continue and experience pleasure. Human beings, although a deep composition of many elements, primarily function in a cost/benefit dynamic. They are concerned and engaged, they are goal-oriented, and they do prescribe meaning to the world.

For rocks and sticks, nothing matters outside of the hope that the molecular bonds maintain so that they might exist…and frankly I don’t think they really care one way or the other.

For human beings its the contrary. Long before we ever rationally conceptualize the possibility that “nothing matters,” our bodies are already engaged in an interaction with the environment. It is impossible for a sensible creature to entertain nihilism. Nihilism is a romance philosophy. Fun, but ultimately just an unclear amplification of philosophical misunderstandings and a sister to relativism.


“…a sister to relativism.”

A voracious, uncontrollable Goth chick at that. Very useful for seductively breaking up relationships you would like extricate yourself from. Far more effective and eradicating than her sister, Relativism. But fated to be the other woman. The Greeks called her Pandora.


Nihilism is purely from the head, not the heart. I have a strong nihilistic bent (or maybe it’s just a phase), but I’m still an animal governed in large part by animal fears & desires. All animals live in the now, and no matter how they (and we) try, we shrink from negative stimulus and are drawn to things that please us.

The difference between us and the majority of the animal kindom is that we know it’s futile. Yes, we’ll pass our genes along to offspring- but they too will die. In the end the planet itself will be consumed by the sun, and eventually the rest of the galaxy will go swirling down the drain, too.

Nihilism is the end of all philosophy, in a sense. Once you realize all our mental masterbation is pointless it sort of takes the fun out of it, doncha think? :confused:

Hopefully the joy comes back…

What kind of point would satisfy? You say there’s no point; you must have some notion of what a decent point to it all would be.

It is the case that humans have layed out a vast labrynth of drama and value motivated norms for themselves, however I think it is unwise to forward instincts and unavoidable reactions as a refutation of nihilism. That our body engages and interacts speaks nothing to knowledge or truth or morals or value or meaning, or anything else nihilism wishes to deny. Concequently I don’t think it’s contradictory to be goal-oriented and presribe meaning while holding nihilistic veiws; as the former is a symptom of biology/socieity, and the latter is a symptom of worldview. The nihilist is perfectly capable of valuing food as sustinance, and allowing currency to have meaning as a bartering tool, without contradiction. Because in doing so these things become no less arbitrary, and after any amount of reflection occurs we are blinded by how dishonest and fultile these values and meanings are.

Nihilism is an attack on the fuctions of the mind, not the body.

I don’t see the teleos styled arguments as being necessary, or should I say, there is no certainty to life in terms of purposes. It could be that there is a purpose, or it could also be that what we think of as purpose is simply subjectively ascriptive. This goes as much towards the Nihilists as it does any Preacher in a pulpit.

I would say that, in my opinion, the biggest flaw in Nihilistic Epistemology is that ‘nothing’ itself is an idea, provable only with infinite knowledge. To assert a positive or a negative (in terms of what can be known), from the truly Skeptical perspective, is ultimately a personal decision. Unless, of course, one can actually prove something, but one doesn’t prove anything by asserting nothing.

Imp, a couple of follow-ups (for anybody really):

In your skepticism of knowledge, do you differentiate between kinds of knowledge? Do you see a difference, for example, between knowing that a hot stove will burn your hand if you place it there, and “God exists”? And, if so, do you see potential gradations of knowledge in-between? Would it occur to you that something might be “more reasonable” to believe than to not believe based on some knowledge that is available? Or, is all knowledge bogus? Or are questions involving things like stoves and hands and questions involving God’s existence simply just two completely different types of questions?

You mention evidence and empiricism. Do you reject rationalism outright? If so, why?


Very well stated, Imp.

Imp, a couple more questions (and I appreciate how patient you’ve been with me) -

If I’ve got your position right, does holding that knowledge is unavailable mean the following two statements hold the same amount of meaning (or, should I say, are equally meaningless):

“God exists”
“God does not exist” ?

Also, how does one maintain one’s interest in philosophy (and visit message boards such as these) once one has reached such an apparent dead-end?

Take two Spinozas and call me in the morning.

The prescription I saw recommended mixing a Spinoza with a Nietzsche…


That’s called philosophical speedballing, not recommended for the everyday Nihilism hangover as I’m not sure its medicinal uses have been established yet. Two Spinozas seems a much better (i.e. safer) prescription. Spinozas will leave your system in 48 hrs., Spinietzsches may never leave the blood stream



edit: ps. Hume does wonders for the philosophical “hangover”…

Is not nihilism the devaluation of values; in other words an attack on eternal truths?

If one takes an atheistic position and, for instance, Sartre’s ontology: existence preceding essence, then all values are without any meaning for they are all ascribed by human beings. Life, and conceptual truths, are without any meaning, which, I believe, is nihilism. Furthermore, I would say, a nihilist simply has to deal with such an ontology (which prescribes the nihilist epistemology–the epistemology must, I think, follow from the ontology) and make the best of it. And just because one is a nihilist at a certain point in time (lets say right now) only means that s/he has taken to be true certain logical consequences of given factors for the present moment–how does one ever know that he or she may not find an eternal truth?–To not engage in such a search (philosophy) may simply be intellectual laziness or a cop-out.

I’m viewing nihilism not so much in terms of “nothing” but rather, as the ascription of the value of arbitrariness to all universal and eternal values of morality and purpose. Given Sartre’s ontology, nihilism, seems to be the only logical consequence, but this does not stop the individual from creating a subjective meaning for his/her life. Starting from a nihilist point of view, it would go to follow that the actions the individual takes create the essence of the individual, so that, (the Sartrean argument) the individual is responsible for the world he/she creates.

détrop wrote:

With regard to cost/benefit dynamic, I take it into account, that you also consider the avoidance of pain as a prime motivator, as well as pleasure?

[Criticism is always welcome. I’m beginning to use big words and technical philosophical language but that by no means implies that I know what I’m talking about]

I think that’s only valid for your own very narrowly defined personal definition of nihilism.

As for hanging out on a board like ILP after such a “dead end,” you’re right. Most of the posts here do seem masturbatory to me. My nihilistic streak is probably just being fanned by my present circumstances and may abate eventually.



[b]Its alive!!!

…its Ali…hi…hi…vvvee!!![/b]

We’ve put your grandmother on an extensive arobics workout plan to keep her alive longer, and with the latest cryogenic technology, possibly for ever. You know what that means, kid.

Check mate.

Now give me the gun, young man.

Sartre’s universe works like this. It is for no reason, or, for every reason, whatever you want to call it. Then a chance combination of atoms causes life to exist.

“All life is born for no reason, exists through weakness, and dies by accident”- Sartre

Human beings evolve and know things. One thing they know is that they are a chance combination of atoms, and take the first philosophical step in the realization of contingency, “thrown-ness,” forced to exist. The horror of existence and its morass (nausea, angst, dread, initiates all philosophy).

“If you existed, you had to exist all the way as far as mouldiness and bloatedness were concerned.”- Sartre

This indexation permeates everything psychological, and the ultimate intellectual basis for philosophical thought, therefore, moves from the foundation of nihilism. Nihilism, here, meaning temporality of value and not necessary value, hence contingency, suspects that the universe itself is valueless. Human beings exist and then stop existing, and with their end comes the end of the temporary existence of value.

“Values spring up like partridges from our feet.”- Sartre

Precisely. That’s what Sartre did. His entire thought comes from the premise that existence is contingency and God is impossible. Although he did not deny that philosophy could be done, he thought that these two starting premises have profound implications and affect all manner of philosophy. You are exactly correct, TUM. Sartre was an ontologist and, in fact, dodged epistemology altogether, as the present atmosphere of analytical philosophy was tainted with what Heidegger called “trivial matters parading themselves as real problems.”

Sartre, without a doubt in my mind, shattered a thousand years of philosophy. Leveling everyone, yet “leaving the buildings standing,” as Dunamis put it.

And yet I believe Sartre was lying.

So let’s get down to business.

Yes, and I extend that concept to envelop the dynamic of value and quality beyond the meager psychological dead-ends that Sartre refused to climb over. I say that “pleasure” is not a human concept, it is not simply an organic sensation of floating neurotransmitters. It must also be an ideal quality, a pathological quality that reflects a rational digestion and conceptualization of balance, cost and reward. I am making a metaphorical comparison here:

Stimulation as motivator for organic pleasure is as to…

Organization as motivator for existential balance in development.

“The universe experiences pleasure when it expands with the least amount of costs over the greatest amount of distance, enriching its Being.”

Might be a way to explain the idea.

Well its about damn time! I’ve been waiting for you to hatch, TUM. I knew the whole time that you had it in 'ya.