What is Nihilism?

The term nihilism has had different definitions over time.
The term nihilism has had different definitions over time.

Nihilism is derived from the Latin word nihil which means nothing. Nihilism is a philosophical doctrine that supports the idea that life is meaningless thus suggesting the absence of belief in one or several seemingly meaningful life aspects. Nihilism is a term that is occasionally used together with anomie when explaining the general mood of despair which may be developed when one realizes that there are no necessary laws, norms or rules, and its perspective is based on the pointlessness of existence. There are certain movements that commentators have identified as nihilistic; they include deconstruction and futurism among others.

History of Nihilism

A German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi was the first person to use the term nihilism. The philosopher used this term to describe rationalism, particularly the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant which suggested that all rationalism boils down to nihilism, adding that it should be avoided thus replacing it with a return of some form of revelation and faith. The term was gaining great recognition especially because of Ivan Turgenev, a Russian playwright, writer, translator, poet, and novelist among others, and new political movement in Russia adopted the name Nihilist movement. The political movement chose to adopt the name because nothing that existed at that time was favorable in their eyes.

Forms of Nihilism

The term nihilism has had different definitions over time. Therefore, it can be used to describe several arguably independent positions of philosophy. Nihilism may be used in a broad range of disciplines like metaphysics, epistemology, and ontology, what this means is that in some way reality is nonexistent or knowledge is not possible. Political nihilism is also a branch of nihilism only that is focuses on the most fundamental political and social structures including law, government, and family.

Existential Nihilism

One of the most common forms or nihilism includes existential nihilism; this theory argues that life has no value or is meaningless. Concerning the universe, this form of nihilism suggests that a human being or perhaps the whole human race has no purpose or value, and is insignificant and will most likely never change in all of existence. According to this school of thought, each person is an isolated being who is born into the world and is blocked from knowing why but is pressured to find meaning. Existential nihilists mainly explore the meaningless of life in the philosophical school of existentialism, and one can potentially invent their purpose or meaning. Compared to the other forms of nihilism, existential nihilism is the one that has received the most philosophical and literary attention.

Moral Nihilism

Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism is a branch of ethics that maintains that morality does not exist as something intrinsic to an unbiased reality. In this regard, moral nihilists support the idea that no action is necessarily preferable to another. For instance, moral nihilists argue that killing a person, regardless of the reason, is not innately wrong or right. On the other hand, the other nihilists would not argue that morality does not exist, but if it does then it is more of a human construction thus it is artificial; they believe that any or all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. Since moral nihilist believes that killing a person is not bad and is independent of our moral beliefs, what they term as bad is the thing that is given a higher negative weighting compared to a positive one. In this regard, they believe killing a person is bad because the act does not allow the person to live which arbitrarily is given a positive weighting.


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