What is the most powerful (according to most philosophers) argument against moral nihilism in Western philosophy?

SEP and googling are of no help.

closed as primarily opinion-based by John Am, Not_Here, Cody Gray, Nick, Swami Vishwananda Jul 29 '17 at 8:39

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  • See philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl, Exactly 56.4% of philosophers questioned associated with Moral Realism (the opposite of Moral Nihilism). There are arguments for and against Moral Realism (or Moral Nihilism which ever way you look at it), but the persuasiveness of each is ultimately a personal belief. there is not a position which "most philosophers" adhere to by any meaningful definition of "most". – Isaacson Nov 2 '16 at 12:29
  • Moral realism has many contrasts, only one of which is moral nihilism philosophybasics.com/branch_moral_anti-realism.html real moral nihilism is, in fact, relatively rare, given the almost universal existence of moral codes in societies. – jobermark Nov 2 '16 at 13:32
  • In such a state, you are left only with pastimes, passing the time until you die, like the characters in Samuel Beckett's plays. Philosopher Stanley Rosen wrote a book on nihilism. He is well known, now deceased, I can't remember what his arguments against were right now. – Gordon Jul 26 '17 at 20:38

Moral nihilism is a very specific way of looking at morality, that transcends mere relativism, and often leaves it behind.

It is parallel in form to Fictionalism in mathematics or Universal Mythology in religious philosophy. It presumes the impossibility of any real instance of the domain in question, but then admits that the solutions that fill that gap may have structure.

Some forms of Buddhism, Hindus strongly grounded in the notion of maya, Eleatic philosophy, Cynicism and Pyrrhoneanism are all moral nihilisms that ultimately end up not being relativist. They presume the nonreality of moral motives, but then proceed to analyze the illusions that coordinate human activity in light of the ultimate lack of basis, and prescribe certain behaviors as the most effective way of negotiating life. The relevant Buddhists and Hindus are driven to a sort of compassionate engagement, Eleatics to withdrawal inward, Cynics to disruption of hypocrisy, and Skeptics to suspension of judgement but acceptance of accidents.

The strongest argument against any nihilism is that it is ultimately impossible to believe in the nihilism itself if you purport to believe in nothing. Once you have a basic contact with reality it has already begun to have a shape, and you have embedded beliefs. In the cases above, intellectual or emotional honesty sneaks in as a principle, even though the framing into which it has intruded admits no truths, and creates an entire prescriptive moral philosophy.

  • Eleates and cynics as moral nihilists? Any reference to support these non-existent claims? – John Am Jul 26 '17 at 20:28
  • @JohnAm If you have already declared them 'non-existent' you have no intention of listening and there is no point in my saying anything. – jobermark Jul 26 '17 at 20:38
  • Add the references to substantiate them. (never ever call the eleates or the cynics moral nihilists). – John Am Jul 26 '17 at 20:49
  • @JohnAm stop giving me orders. I have no intention of responding to this sort of treatment. – jobermark Jul 26 '17 at 21:00
  • From Wiki: a. Parmenides "Of his life in Elea, it was said that he had written the laws of the city". b. Zeno "when he was tortured to reveal the name of his colleagues in conspiracy, Zeno refused to reveal their names, although he said he did have a secret that would be advantageous for Nearchus to hear. When Nearchus leaned in to listen to the secret, Zeno bit his ear. He "did not let go until he lost his life and the tyrant lost that part of his body". – John Am Jul 26 '17 at 21:27

Moral nihilism only works in an abstract sense. If someone practiced it absolutely in their life and fully "believed" unto the idea, they should not have a problem with being killed, as their life is "meaningless".

The main argument is that it is not a practical philosophy and that there are no "genuine" nihilists out there.

  • According to the SEP this is not that self-evident. Mackie is named as an example of moral nihilism. While he thinks that all moral statements are wrong, iirc he also tries to somehow argue for normative ethics still being useful in one way or another. As for your second sentence, you're sort of conflating moral nihilism with existential nihilism. One could be a moral nihilist and value his own life. – Marc H. Jul 27 '17 at 21:51
  • That's an existential moral nihilist that believes life is meaningless. A moral nihilist still has a purpose in life, but does not believe there is right or wrong. – Bilal Khoukhi Mar 27 '18 at 21:32

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