Descartes’ cogito has been discussed and, in many’s minds’, refuted ad nauseam. Anywhere you’ll read about ‘nothingness’, you’re likely to encounter some discussion on Descartes and his self-believed findings in the Meditations.

What ‘thought’ is, the passage of time, the subject ‘I’ and the predicate ‘think’, and other components of the cogito have been hotly discussed for centuries by philosophers, and also when the worldview of nothingness is discussed.

If one were to gain a - say - supernatural , certain understanding that the external world is factually real, would any argument put forth for ‘nothingness’ or ontological nihlism be greatly challenged from there on? Is the idea of ‘nothingness’ contingent upon some sort of solipsistic belief?

  • "I refute it thus!" (famous quote)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 21:31
  • Descartes is not an "ontological nihilist", whatever it means. Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 8:28
  • I don't know enough to post a proper answer. But according to u.arizona.edu/~jasonturner/storage/Nihilism.pdf, an ontological nihilist could conceivably hold that reality has a rich structure, and that our ordinary beliefs arising from experience do correspond in some way to the structure of reality, which simultaneously claiming that reality doesn't consist of any "things." The burden would still be on the ontological nihilist then to explain what our experience of a rock (and stubbing our toe on it) corresponds to, if not a thing.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 14:08
  • (*while simultaneously claiming.) In other words, one could conceivably believe that "the external world is factually real" while claiming there are no "things." But as Turner argues, this would be a costly position to defend.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 14:19

3 Answers 3


If there were telepathy, the 'supernatural' knowledge of an external existence/being/being's world, then novel ideas such as the discovery of calculus could be thought-up out of the ether. (Obviously hinting at morphic resonance.) In Heideggerian context, the source of being is normally beyond conceptualisation, an abyssal ab-grund and therefore nothing (void). Furthermore in stepping forward we step into a free space (free will), nothing obstructing: void. (my interpretation, maybe) There are a variations, but the point is a existential nothing. From Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics GA 29/30 (1929)

What is not and nothingness can only be understood if Dasein in understanding holds itself from the outset and fundamentally toward the nothing, is held out into the nothing.

So then if there were telepathy that might make the Heideggerian nothing easier to understand, but it wouldn't refute it.

The other ontological nothing—no existence at all—is already precluded. Even in a cosmic heat-death, there was never nothing.


Ontological nihilism is not nothingness. It is meaninglessness; that whatever is has no purpose, serves no design, means - nothing.

I wonder if you have read about Elizabeth, Princess of Bohemia's correspondence with Descartes. Even in his own lifetime, Descartes substance dualism was shown to be untenable.

On the history and emergence of nihilism: Who were the famous moral nihilists (philosophers) of 20th and 19th century?

I would link both Yogacara-Mahayana Zen, and Postmodernist Antifoundationalism, to at least Epistemological Nihilism: How come nihilism is so popular today?

I'm not convinced nihilism can be matched to ontology, because ontology is the study of being, and nihilism is a value claim that must be subsequent to that and a o t what is found to be. Whatever is, is simply whatever we experience, whatever is arising, however we experience it. Whether or not the inferences we draw are illusions, deceptions, confusions, belongs to epistemology.

The most substantial critique of the Cogito is surely the Private Language Argument. We don't have abstractions privately, but only as part of our initiation into a collective intelligence that predates and will outlive us that we call language.

I don't think it's coherent to claim bosons aren't a category, because their indistinguishability is their defining property. That is about ontology, the self-evident pattern of what is. To take up a stance of nihilism to that is just to deny regularities in perceptions. To say it has no intrinsic or deeper meaning or significanxe, outside of local human communities that make agreemenrs so, no problem.

  • Thank you for your answer. If ontological nihilism isn’t the term, I was referring to the idea that ‘there is nothing’, or ‘nothing exists.’ Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 22:05
  • @AnthonyKlich: I would argue that stating that just redefines 'nothing', in a way that prevents coherent use of language. You can argue, will amount to nothing, or derives from & will return to nothing. On that: 'If everything ends one day why don't we end it today?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/90072/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 10:09
  • 2
    Crigl, can you give a citation for your definition of ontological nihilism? Articles like tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0020174X.2021.1934268, u.arizona.edu/~jasonturner/storage/Nihilism.pdf use the OP's definition rather than yours, yet you state your definition as if it's widely agreed upon.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 10:42

My two cents ...

Solipsism: The only thing I KNOW for certain exists is me, myself. What we can conclude is that there's doubt in re the existence of an external world. This is an epistemo-ontological claim, both carrying equal weight, more/less.

Ontological nihilism: Nothing exists (certainly). This is an ontological claim, its epistemological side is secondary but not unimportant.

Notice, solipsism only casts doubt (the bar being set high) with regard to the ontology of all but the self. Ontological nihilism is 100% positive that nothing exists.

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