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I philosophically align with nihilism, but I find it incredibly disheartening. What's the best way to still feel hopeful and to enjoy life while being nihilistic? Or at least a rebuttal to it?

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    God created us in His own image, so, if it weren't for sin, our natural inclination would be to seek eternal communion with our Creator. Nihilism, on the other hand, is a denial of what we essentially are. Therefore, if you choose to embrace that sort of meaninglessness, there's no reason to expect anything more than despair. – user3017 Dec 30 '17 at 1:40
  • A man cannot live without producing sense of things. The Universe can be meaningless for you, and you may even feel moments of complete emptiness, still you continue to function which means things make local importincies "here and now". Moreover, behind this fact is your automatic activity of constructing the sense for Being total. So, despite you are nihilist by belief or pose, you are living a meaningful life of your own. Which you may like or dislike. – ttnphns Dec 30 '17 at 10:37
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    Could you define what you mean by nihilism? You seem to be seeing it as a state of mind rather than a philosophical theory. – PeterJ Dec 30 '17 at 12:01
  • If you are nihilist, and see yourself as occupying a valueless and pointless world, why and how are you burdened with value-laden dishearteness ? And why do you want to enjoy the 'values' of hopefulness (since there is nothing worthwhile to hope for) and of life (which is pointless) ? Perhaps you need to reflect further on the nature of nihilism. Apologies if I have misunderstood your point of view. – Geoffrey Thomas Dec 30 '17 at 15:55
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    Just ignore it, you'll die eventually then it won't matter. – JeffUK Dec 30 '17 at 19:36
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Ahh, you are where I was a few years ago :) ..

A good way to deal with nihilism would be to contrast it with the diametrically opposite possibility. A situation where there is perfect meaning to life, with perfect happiness, no sorrow or injustice, and where the progress of nature ensures this in every way. If you see the psychological issues humans would have with this, you will begin to appreciate the necessity of the psychological factors that also lead one to nihilism.

On how to deal with it, you could probably read Nietzsche. Nietzsche had replaced Plato's idea of self knowledge, with the notion of self creation, the drive to take control and mould nature in the way you want, and find meaningful. So what ever be the factors that make you lose hope ------ death, despair, sickness, love, failure etc. the essence of the human spirit is to be able to take control and react, and thus find meaning in at least the effort, if not in its success.

The stoic and platonic philosophers offer another perspective on this. Use the mind to understand the world around you, including yourself, and find meaning through this process.

Another approach is offered by philosophers like Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, which involves accepting nihilism as a given, and psychologically adapting to it in some way.

The answers that try to do some kind of empirical psychology on this question, (you can't be completely nihilistic because you wake up every morning) are missing the main point.

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The work of the thinkers and writers we typically classify as "existentialist" (although few of them loved the term), Kierkegaard, Sartre, Dostoevsky, Camus, de Beauvoir, and so forth, can be viewed as collectively comprising responses to the conditions of life and the basic metaphysical assumptions that otherwise lead to nihilism. So if you want to start from nihilistic assumptions and find a way to keep on living, those would be good places to start.

On the other hand, if you want a refutation of nihilism, the best one I know is the Neoplatonic idea that only the good, beautiful and meaningful things in the world truly demand an explanation, because all the bad, ugly and meaningless things are easy enough to explain as deficiencies. We don't need to ask where cold or darkness come from, because they are just lack of warmth and brightness. What really demands an explanation is heat and light.

Similarly, it's useless and counterproductive to focus on all the bad and evil of the world, all the cruel vagaries of fate. It's when we turn our attention to the mysterious, inexplicable existence of good in the world that we truly learn whatever there is in life that is worth knowing.

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Based on Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”, when we “philosophically align with nihilism” we have made an intuitive decision to accept nihilism and then task our brains to rationalize that decision. The reasoning process may alter the decision somewhat but the intuitive decision is non-rational. See YouTube for some of Haidt’s views in particular “Intuition First, Reasoning Second

The point is one can find almost any position rationalized through philosophy or science including nihilism, whatever nihilism happens to be. Given this wide variety of differing views, how do we know that nihilism is true? If one wants to believe in it, that is, one’s gut decision says yes, then one can come up with reasons. As Haidt mentioned in the video I referenced just use Google to find them. The same goes for rejecting nihilism.

If one is not happy with nihilism that complicates matters. It is like saying that one has intuitively decided to put one’s hand in a fire and the brain has rationalized doing so, but one doesn’t like the feeling of one’s hand getting burned. How can one not feel the pain of the burned hand and still put one’s hand in the fire? One could wear gloves which in the case of nihilism might be maintaining a healthy body, being wealthy and/or watching a lot of comedies to keep one’s spirits up. Alternatively, one could make an intuitive decision to reject nihilism and use one’s reasoning powers (and Google) to rationalize that new decision.

The way I see it, life is short and happiness, I suspect, is easier to achieve without nihilism. It is like Pascal’s wager and the heaven I hope to enjoy can start right now.

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    I agree with you, however I could not have given such a good answer myself! Now I will be at least a little more prepared when my younger relatives ask me such questions. It seems to be an active topic today. – Gordon Feb 17 '18 at 20:03
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I think the necessity of practicallity overcomes nihilism rather well.

If you leave a general skepticism aside, you are a being in time, in the world. The passing of time itself creates a necessity to decide upon actions that lead to different possible worlds. The not doing anything is itself one possible option of infinitly many. Therefore deciding to do anything or nothing automatically asserts value to said specific action, giving it more meaning then the other options. Even a picking an action randomly would give value to deciding to assert more meaning to the random choosing over the calculated observation based on outcome.

Some meaning assertions are better for biological systems. Asserting more meaning to eating then not eating or mating over not mating create a survivable system while the other ones don't.

One can hypothetically imagine a system where meaning is not given but this system is free of an observer and options. Observing something and therefore being a subject itself presupposes meaning for such an entity to arise.

This presupposition is given in the human on multiple layers like, wanting to eat, go to the toillet, ect. on a regular basis, having a heartbeat or brainactivity, observing the world and structuring it based on certain principles, using language to transmitt meaning and so on.

So existing as human is itself a meaningfull structure which is needed for nihilsm to exist. The actions choosen and the perceptions one has therefore negate nihilism. Nihilism is analog to the sentence "This sentence doesn't exist." negating required presuppositions and therefore failing.

To me nihilsm seems to make a mistake in it's conclusion that can be best described with this analogy: Theres no natural number with the highest value(ultimate meaning), therefore the numbers have no value(theres no meaning) or are relativly small (relativly meaningless) in comparison.

I think a lot of people make this mistake when searching for the meaning of their life. However in the personal case you describe the specific practical options have different values that can be compared. Rather then being sad about not getting the ultimate meaning you should be happy about you choosing the highest possible option and how big it's value is compared to the other realistic options you had.

Note: I am aware that there are multiple notions of nihilism. I didn't exactly know which you ment so I addressed a general notion.

  • +1. And my own comment to the question mostly says about same or similar. – ttnphns Dec 31 '17 at 9:27
  • "One can hypothetically imagine a system where meaning is not given[,] but [it means] this system is free of an observer and options". Did I thus understand this correctly? – ttnphns Dec 31 '17 at 9:32
  • @ttnphns Yes. The being free of an observer, is only on one specific virtual layer. It's not completley free of meaning since it needs a meaningfull structure that instantiates this layer. So it rather is the abstraction of certain meaning. I think this is analog to existance where we can abstract existance in a certain framework with a specific definition. F.e. material existance where ideas are not existant. But we can't negate existance (of ideas) completley. Yes and you said it way more compact then I did. I am still practicing this skill you already got. – CaZaNOx Dec 31 '17 at 12:40
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"We swim in a sea of generosity, of many daily acts of consideration, reciprocity, benevolence, compassion, kindness, helpfulness, warmth, appreciation, respect, patience .." - Rick Hanson, "Just One Thing" p.168.

Possibly it's not philosophy but its empirical evidence. We tend to notice the one thing that goes wrong rather than the 50 things that go right daily because our brains our wired to be aware of danger. The book "The Better Angels of Our Nature" also offers a lot of research and empirical evidence about the direction of events during the last 2000 years.

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I go with "Nihilism is not a choice or intellectual commitment, but a thing that comes upon you" quoted from https://aeon.co/ideas/whence-comes-nihilism-the-uncanniest-of-all-guests This article makes a convincing case for the origin of nihilism, in a loss of shared values because those of previous culture have become 'illegible', that is fail to sway you, or to be livable in or with.

Lots of people will say, they have some values to share, cling on to them! But, they were answers for a different time, for different people. Trying to expand being now, present, aware, is surely the only way to a new 'metis'. This is the shaman-like purpose of philosophy surely, to find something that will sway us in new times, that can hold us together in some better, new, ways.

Hakuin describes Zen practice as needing three essentials "A great root of faith. A great ball of doubt. A fierce tenacity of purpose" This article https://absoluteirony.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/nagarjuna-nietzsche-rorty-and-their-strange-looping-trick links key philosopher to Zen Nagarjuna, with methods of Nietzsche and other Western thinkers. I take faith to be in the sense of, try meditating, and ideally go on a retreat - Zen is the least religious religion you can imagine, but it has tools that can help. Fierce tenacity of purpose is about, don't let go of this mystery, don't give up on questioning and go back to sleep because everyone else is.

But the most important bit, and my reason for this quote, is the ball of doubt. On these boards, in every academic setting, and most discussions, we are encouraged to jump to answers. If we sat with not knowing, with doubt, we might learn far more about the question, and bring our whole being toward an answer. I feel this is the only way to find new truly livable values, the counterpoint to nihilism. It is to find a way to be with the meaningless, without jumping for old patterns, for comfort blankets or distractions.

I don't see an intrinsic meaning in "feel hopeful and to enjoy life", or need for a rebuttal of nihilism for the sake of. A not truly satisfying rebuttal is worse than none. Camus talks about ways to be in an absurd, meaningless world. Stoics also, put forward tools which are about investigating your own capacities and options, and no longer worrying about what you cannot know or change.

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I too suffer from nihilism. I found the best way to defeat this is to distract myself.

I tend to use parties or drugs and other adrenaline inducing activities, but for the long term the only way is to create your own purpose in the meaninglessness of everything. Some of the most successful people who defeated it had kids or had gotten married.

They still know it’s all meaningless, but to them these activities gives meaning. For those of us who have not created meaning or who have not gained anything we consider of value, we will suffer indefinitely. The only way to kill nihilism is existentialism.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. One thing you might add is any reference to existentialism for example that you found valuable. This would give the reader some place to go for more information and strengthen your answer. Welcome! – Frank Hubeny Sep 5 '18 at 12:52

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