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I am trying to find the name of the philosophy which matches my beliefs, so that I can research further without having similar but different results getting in the way.

The key features I'm looking for are:

  • Life has no intrinsic meaning.
  • You cannot give real meaning to life yourself.
  • All values are relative and therefore meaningless.

Using the definitions from this source, I would say I'm not an existentialist since I don't believe you can add your own meaning, and I'm not an absurdist since I wouldn't adopt an artificial belief.

Some sources, like this one, suggest that nihilism is linked with pessimism and "perhaps, an impulse to destroy", which does not resonate with my beliefs. Dwelling on the meaninglessness of life makes me feel absolutely neutral about things; not sad or angry.

The best way to explain how I feel is that life is like the inside of a dream; when you are waking up, you realise that the things your 'character' valued in your dream never mattered at all.

I am aware that there are lots of terms going around, and it may be that my beliefs are a combination of a couple of different philosophies. One thing which is really putting me off is how many different definitions there are for each term. It seems like everyone has their own definition, making it really difficult to pin down what they actually mean. For example, my previous source says that nihilism suggests that you cannot add meaning, but I don't see that appearing in Wikipedia's definition of nihilism.

In any case, thanks in advance for any help.

To clarify, I would define a value as something which you feel that you should want, as opposed to just something which you want. I would define meaning as a the aim of helping something which you value over yourself.

  • To me nihilism may be something you simply realize. I personally don't see it as a "philosophy". I agree with you that some people associate it with destruction. If there is no meaning, the ground slips out from under their feet, and they have apocalyptic visions of the end of the world, etc. Essentially, nihilism leaves us with pastimes, this I think was Samuel Beckett's view. We find things to do to pass time time until we die. Even non-nihilists do this! So you can have a nihilist sitting happily in church, not as a believer, but simply because he enjoys it as a pastime. Why not? – Gordon Sep 14 '17 at 17:54
  • the best source on nihilism is The Big Lebowski en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Lebowski i am not joking. – user20153 Sep 14 '17 at 20:12
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    What you feel is your psychology rather than your philosophy, philosophy requires reflection, so this sounds more like apathy than nihilism. But you can also try Lovecraft's cosmic indifferentism, somewhat reminiscent of Ecclesiastes:"He believed in a meaningless, mechanical, and uncaring universe that human beings, with their naturally limited faculties, could never fully understand... Lovecraft thought of himself as neither a pessimist nor an optimist but rather a "scientific" or "cosmic" indifferentist". – Conifold Sep 15 '17 at 0:17
  • You can't live without values (= meaning). Maybe you wanted to say that values are transient? Yet you had values in your dream before you woke. You also have values when you want to eat (or to go for toilet) after you woke. What is you definition of "values" and "meaning"? – ttnphns Sep 15 '17 at 9:06
  • @ttnphns I would argue that 1) The character in the dream values things, not the person dreaming. 2) What makes you eat and go to the toilet is your wants; things which you are biologically wired to do. I would say if you value something, you feel that you should want it. e.g. you can want to eat sweets rather than vegetables without valuing them above vegetables. I think I would define "meaning" as the goal of helping something which you value over yourself. – Jonathan Fowler Sep 15 '17 at 9:52
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All philosophical categories have fuzzy boundaries, and existentialism, absurdism and nihilism more than most, since those tend to be labels imposed on people who are intrinsically opposed to labels. Nonetheless, I think you are looking in the right places.

A lot of the distinction comes from how people react to the idea that life has no intrinsic meaning. We associate the existentialism of a Sartre or De Beauvoir with the idea that we create our own meaning, and the absurdism of a Camus with the idea that we carry on in spite of the meaningless of everything. Nihilism is associated with active antagonism to belief, but it is particularly difficult to define, since even Nietzsche, who is most closely associated with the idea, usually discussed it critically, rather than affirmingly. Out of the three, you are probably closest to absurdism, which does NOT typically entail taking on an artificial belief, as you indictated --you may have it confused with Discordianism.

Given your sense of comfort with the meaningless of life, however, your outlook actually reminds me most of philosophical Buddhism, which teaches that life is illusionary, and that letting go of attachments is the best path. (Conversely, if you believe that we can and should connect with some deeper level of reality beneath the illusion that is life, then you are perhaps a Platonist.)

  • Thanks. I still don't think Absurdism is the right term though, since to my knowledge it implies that 1) humans are incapable to find meaning, rather than there specifically being no meaning. 2) Absurdism doesn't seem to have a stance on values. It may be that I'm an absurdist, but it seems a very broad term. Surely there is a philosophy which mentions the meaninglessness of values. – Jonathan Fowler Sep 16 '17 at 8:39
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    As for Buddhism, I am not comfortable with my beliefs; I just realise that my reactions to them ultimately don't matter. I may have previously been a Platonist, since for most of my life, I have valued mathematics as something greater that us and strived to understand it. But I now see that even if something were to be more valuable (which it can't be), understanding it achieves nothing. – Jonathan Fowler Sep 16 '17 at 8:45
  • @Jonathan, In your question you listed 3 points about you and a 4th one comparing you with dream vs reality experience. All these are rather descriptions how you feel or judgements about how world looks to you. It is not enough to assign a specific philosophical view matching it because philosophy is about why's and what to do given that causes. It a system of beliefs. I couldn't discern any system of beliefs, a program, in your question. – ttnphns Sep 16 '17 at 9:06
  • @Jonathan, Camus' absurdism states that a human needs meaning but there is no meaning out there in the world. He seems to be saying (like Frankl but not Sartre) that a meaning has to be found, not attached. Or that even if it is attached by mind's ability to do so, it is always frustrated/ruined by reality. – ttnphns Sep 16 '17 at 9:13
  • After further research, it seems that Camus' Absurdism is indeed the correct term, or about as close as you'll get. I think I put off by the broad definition of Absurdism, despite there being more precise versions of it. Thanks for the help. – Jonathan Fowler Sep 16 '17 at 9:34

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