First thing to state is my lack of formal education on philosophy. This may lead to many errors in interpretation or understanding.

The general question I have is

  • why do existential nihilists posses such an affinity to living.

From what I've read, popular nihilists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche have values on creating an impact and contributing to the overall positivity of life. Why are these so valuable if they don't believe life has any intrinsic value?

  • 1
    What hypotheses have you formed? What has your research uncovered so far? – Joseph Weissman Jan 3 '17 at 14:36

I'm not a nihilist but nihilism, at least the version I know of, is about the idea that there is no inherent meaning or value in life. This allows you to create your own. But that does not mean that only the nihilist's values are his own. He is suggesting that this is the case with everyone. So he is not at a disadvantage and if anything might consider himself the one awakened to the reality of life (which in Nietzsche's view is that God, religion is dead, for all practical purposes). So why kill oneself then? The nihilist enjoys her freedom of self-creation, and also the various pleasures of life.

As for why each particular nihilist does or does not kill herself, that's a question you need to ask that person in particular. She might say she values educating others about nihilism of life and so that's why. Or whatever. As for subconscious reasons (sorry, my background is in psychology and I know what people say and the actual reason for their actions are not necessarily the same), that would make an interesting study, to psychoanalyze nihilists. :)

  • I think your final sentence answers the question entirely. Despite what they write, nihilists do not enjoy "the various pleasures of life" in a sense that is truly nihilistic, they enjoy the same pleasures in life that everyone else enjoys, because all living things enjoy a fairly limited set of pleasures and recoil from a fairly limited set of pains. They continued to create impact because they (like everybody else) enjoyed the respect from their social group that doing so provided. Gaining respect from a social group is one of the meanings of life they so painstakingly pretend do not exist. – Isaacson Jan 4 '17 at 7:35
  • 'Nihilism' can also have wildly divergent definitions. What it means to different people varies. And so in some strains it can actually be very uplifting. If anything, the common characteristics of people who identify as such are likely that they're closer to understanding how the world actually works. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to the individual. – Canadian Coder Jan 6 '17 at 14:57

First, we have to understand that absolute nihilism is impossible. Following the logic of the question you asked, we might as well ask why do nihilists even argue about anything at all when they know life has no intrinsic value. Why do Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche even philosophize at all?

To answer your question "Why are these so valuable if they don't believe life has any intrinsic value?" well from a nihilistic perspective they aren't valuable at all. But since nothing has any intrinsic meaning, we can create our own.

And to your question regarding the affinity of life, to a nihilist killing himself/herself is just as meaningless as continuing to live. It would not make a difference for a nihilist if he was to think that he/she might not have been born but since he/she has started to exist anyway, a nihilist will continue to do what he wills.

But the question why an existential nihilist has an affinity towards life can't be answered with reference to his philosophies alone. There are other external factors such as his biological and chemical processes, the environment he/she is brought up etc.

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