I've been trying to attack this question (or more precisely, come up with an answer to that fact) for some time now, but after a while of research I'm suddenly not so sure of the reason the situation is as it is.

I used to think that nihilism today is so popular because of the uprising of positivism in science and scientism in the past century, but I'm not exactly sure anymore. I know some blame it today for post-modernism, but I'm not sure it's quite correct too. So, I'd like to see what people here think is the core issue that made room for the popularity (of course there are those who will argue with me about its popularity too) of nihilism in the last few decades.

I should say, while it is not directly related, I am going to connect atheism in some way to nihilism, as in my opinion they both came from the same source last century, but I would definitely accept other point of views here.

Edit: while writing a comment to @GeoffreyThomas' answer, I realized the two definitions of nihilism I'm talking about:

  1. Postmodern nihilism - the postmodern position that says "there's no one truth", which leads to a nihilism that denies objectivity, and is more popular today because, well, postmodern is quite popular today as it's a new school in philosophy.

  2. Existential nihilism - the existential crisis of "there's no meaning to life, we are nothing compared to the billions of years of the universe", which leads to a nihilism that denies any sort of hope and aspiration for a meaning.

While I'm more interested in the nihilism that's rooted in the second definition, I'd love to hears answers about them both.

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    You might want to state what makes you think that nihilism is especially popular today. I can't ever recall meeting anyone who describes themselves as a nihilist. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:12
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    What convinces you that a particularly large group of people today consider there to be a lack of meaning for life? Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:15
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    @Gordon I'm not necessarily in disagreement, but in order for this to be a strong question, it should cite the evidence for its premise in the body of the question itself. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 16:06
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    I still don't really understand what the question is asking. Are you asking why nihilism is popular amongst academics who have studied the history of philosophy and chosen nihilism? Are you asking why so many impoverished out-of-work American rust-belt factory workers addicted to opioids are committing suicide? Who exactly is the population that is exhibiting the alleged popularity of nihilism? Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:40
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    I have an excellent answer to this question, but I just don't see the point in posting it. It's never really going to help anyone anyway. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 21:41

15 Answers 15


While I'm not entirely convinced of the premises of the question, in general people seek out philosophies that address conditions of life as they experience it. In the marketplace of ideas, a philosophy may thrive not as much because of its connection with deeper truth, but because of its connection with present conundrums.

In light of that, I'd submit that part of the reason for the rise in the existentialist family of philosophies --existentialism, nihilism, absurdism, and so forth --is the rise of globalization. In a world with a diversity of culture and beliefs, it becomes more difficult for people to accept received beliefs without questioning them.

I'd agree that there is a relationship here with scientism, although I would see that more as an attempted alternative to nihilism than as an extension of it.

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    I too think there's a deep connection to the globalization. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:58
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    "In a world with a diversity of culture and beliefs, it becomes more difficult for people to accept received beliefs without questioning them." I think this sentence captures the essence of where I see the OP trying to go with this question. However, I do like Geoffery's answer for pointing out that what the OP is calling nihilism may not actually be quite extreme enough for that term.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 17:58
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    I.m.h.o. not just due to globalization. Also because we live in an Age of Information. It's harder to convince people of your believes when they have an easier exposure to other viewpoints.
    – LukStorms
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 8:28
  • But existentialism is distinct from nihilism. Existentialists believe in "meaning" they think they created themselves. Nihilists don't create any meaning.
    – rus9384
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 21:16
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    Most perceptive, Deus benedicat tibi.
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 5:36

I can think of 2 reasons:

  1. Naturalism is the philosophy most promoted in public schools. With some exceptions, people tend to stick with what they're taught in school. Believing in a supernatural being that loves us used to be a widely accepted and even promoted way to view the universe, even in schools. That is no longer the case. The new standard is to tell children (and adults) that hydrogen + time = YOU; that they're the result of a cosmic accident and that every thought or feeling they've ever had is a chemical reaction. Surely this can swell meaninglessness in people when they want "meaning" to be more than just chemical reactions.

  2. Nihilism is no longer taboo. There was a time in the West where if you were not a Church Going Christian you were an outsider, and people don't want to be outsiders. One can reasonably assume that in that time many people adopted a faith-based philosophy not because they truly believed it but because they wanted to fit into their society. Nihilism could be seen as having a comeback not because more people are believing in it, but because more people are no longer afraid to admit it.

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    I think your last sentence is a very good observation. Because people are no longer afraid to admit it, they tend to think about it more, and it may become more of an issue for them.
    – Gordon
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:51
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    While I'm not exactly sure that these observations are correct, I've upvoted simply for the fact that I think those are interesting points that should be considered. Thanks for the answer and welcome to the site :) Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:25
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    @YechiamWeiss upvote purely for 'hydrogen + time = YOU'. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 16:05
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    In some circles, faith-based philosophy is taboo and nihilism is more accepted. I suspect some people on the fence between the two would pick nihilism to fit in. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 22:01
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    I would add a third reason - as an explicit rejection of religion. Specifically, rejecting the traditionalist dogma that is often used to promote and support oppression and discrimination. Most organized religions tend to be extremely patriarchal. Most tend to oppose alternate sexual and gender identities. Our society is in general more diverse and open than in the past, and that breeds an empathy and acceptance that is in direct opposition to bigotry. In addition, religion tends to be closely integrated with conservative political platforms, which younger people in particular tend to reject.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:32

Jacob Ross, Rejecting Ethical Deflationism,' Ethics 116, 2006: 742–68 defines nihilism as :


'...the view that the notions of good and bad and of right and wrong are illusions and that, objectively speaking, no option or state of affairs is better than any other, nor are any two options or states of affairs equally good. Thus, while uniform theories assign the same value to all of our options, nihilistic theories don’t assign values to any of our options' (748).

Naturally I don't know how acceptable this definition will be. One of its merits is that if this is what nihilism plausibly is, then it's hard to see how one could adopt nihilism and also believe that life has any meaning.


Postmodernism appears to deprive virtually everything of meaning. But I don't think it has played a central role here. Relativism is a deeply entrenched style of contemporary thinking. Anyone who passes a moral or an aesthetic judgement is likely to meet with a response like : 'Well, that's just your opinion - other people think differently. You can't prove your opinion is better than theirs'. This is quite in line with Ross' definition and the relativist attitude behind it is a pervasive fact of contemporary life.


Globalisation might (innocently) be a part cause of the current power of nihilism. As different lifestyles and belief-systems come into deep and frequent contact, it's hard to find an Archimedean point from which to survey them and make an informed, critical judgement between them.

A collapse of tradition in the West, an implosion of communitarianism, has also played a part. People who are rooted in stable traditions don't doubt that life has a meaning; they have grown up with the idea of its having a particular meaning, the meaning set and fixed by the communities to which they belong and feel themselves to belong. The earlier work of Michael Sandel, esp. 'Liberalism and the Limits of Justice', Cambridge, UK : Cambridge University Press, 1998, heavily attacked the liberal political philosophy of John Rawls for its view of a political system designed by 'unencumbered selves', people without roots, tradition or community. Maybe we are all more or less unencumbered now.

The melting and merging of social classes also comes into the picture. If classes were not communities, class cohesiveness (and not least working-class solidarity) imprinted a sense of who one was, who one wasn't, who was the ally and who the foe. A committed trade unionist, a militant communist, a rentier, had no doubt that life had a meaning even if they never used the phrase. Today most people describe themselves as 'middle class' in spite of not having any sharp sense of class and of holding widely divergent values which, in face of relativism (see above), they cannot defend : values which therefore are only simulacra of the real thing.

  • Good answer. I think your comment on postmodernism is very perceptive. Before postmodernism came along, we already had Nietzsche, we had two World Wars, the Cold War, and the excesses of logical positivism. I found Hilary Putnam's lecture at U. Dublin on receipt of their Ulysses Medal to be very interesting.
    – Gordon
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:36
  • @Gordon what you say is what I was thinking as the sources for nihilism - Nietzsche, World Wars, positivism. Maybe postmodernism is the current source indeed, combined with globalization, but I still feel the other sources as influential. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:42
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    Well maybe I wasn't clear, I was complimenting Geoffrey because I think the postmodernism came as a result, or as one result, of the pre-existing nihilism. On the other hand, Modernism did have its problems. E.g. Many people admired Le Corbisier's Unite d'habitation in Marseilles, but very few residents lived in it as Corbusier planned They felt overcontrolled, perhaps manipulated. It was intended to create community, but in no time it atomized. Now it is upscale, I believe. So modernism could be heavy-handed.
    – Gordon
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:55
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    @Yechiam Weiss. Thanks for the comment but you added the two definitions after I had written my answer. I can't be expected to answer on the second when it wasn't there when I answered the question. You must realise that point ? But as always I am very glad to exchange ideas with you. I look forward to our next encounter. Best - GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:11
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    @YechiamWeiss: I think, given how long we have lived in a generally peaceful Europe, just how terrible two wars on that kind of scale must have been and how it must have shaken the Europe to its core. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:24

If nihilism is more popular these days, I would argue this is because the ideas which guided people through life with certainty and optimism no longer enjoy a consensus.

Nietzsche discussed the prospect of a post-religious world (God is dead, Will to power, Ubermensch), and was disgusted with the idea of an entire society driven by mass culture, which he thought would result in little besides mediocrity and hedonism.

Collective trust is broken, and there has been a collective loss of innocence. The free flow of information has exposed and exaggerated scandal after scandal, and together these have undermined trust in most formerly untouchable institutions... the government, the church, the police, science, journalism, etc.

It might be easy to say that the old consensus began to unravel in the 1960s, when society in American and Soviet spheres started to question themselves in a way they hadn't before. But I don't think it's quite that simple.

In America, the civil rights act, the counter-culture, and the Vietnam War eroded trust in authority. In the USSR, de-Stalinisation, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia did something similar. In both cases individuals began to distrust what they had been told, and information was flowing more freely than before. Come the 1970s stagflation further undermined trust in the establishment as the economy worsened and nobody seemed to know why, or what to do about it.

However, the time leading up to the Second World War was also a period of intense collective soul searching as things fell apart. This was also true during and after the First World War, given the scale of the slaughter. The difference however may be in the failure of optimism.

After the First World War liberal, socialist, and fascist ideas were popular, and to simplify things; each argued that humanity could improve itself through hard work and scientific knowledge. This provided a certainty and optimism which would replace the feudal certainties of old; that all one had to do was put faith in God and King.

After the collapse of the USSR it appeared as if fascism and socialism were both dead. Liberalism had won. Empowering individual freedoms seemed to make society better and people happy. The problem however was that by then the scientific consensus was fraying. Each time scientists had promised technology would make life better, it had years later made nightmares come true. Things like DDT, Chernobyl, CFCs, moved the popular consensus from thinking about science with delighted optimism, to fearful pessimism.

After the Great Recession there appeared to be little left of any of the great optimistic ideas. Each of them had been proved dangerous and problematic. Irrational scepticism was rampant. In this zeitgeist where there is little in the way of an optimistic consensus, individuals are more likely to regard salvation as illusionary; religion, science, fascism, socialism, liberalism, have all failed to live up to their own hype. Today we live in a marketplace of dead ideas, so to speak.

Perhaps it is the death of optimism which leads to the birth of nihilism.

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    Wow. I think this is the most comprehensive answer here. Thank you very much. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 15:20
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    I listened to a Jordan Peterson lecture on this topic yesterday. You nailed it. +1 youtube.com/watch?v=f-wWBGo6a2w
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 17:23
  • @YechiamWeiss May I please have a tick if you are satisfied with the answer?
    – user27745
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 15:53

This answer is just speculation

Why it is popular:

People enjoy it. They can act how ever they please because immorality is impossible. It also makes them feel intellectually superior with no more effort than understanding a short sentence. The brevity of the belief is important to the "nihilists" laziness of learning and so their intellect and wisdom can be quickly demonstrated with few follow up questions that may reveal the holders knowledge of the subject.

From my experience these people use nihilism as a tool which they turn on and off suiting their situation, they can do what they like because there is no meaning but others should do what is just.

Why it was less popular in the past:

Today there is more freedom, casual sex is risk free, marriages can be left, and fantasies can be lived out in fiction or video games, drugs are cheaper and safer than before and living without working is a possibility for most of the west, abandoning guilt allows people more freedom now than before.

The rise of privacy means you are the only judge of your behaviour. A hundred years ago it did not matter what you thought, your neighbours knew what you were up to and would shun you if they thought you were immoral.

Christianity is almost incompatible with nihilism as most people view an existence of god as a source of a meaning to life. Why this is the case is a different question.

We know more about the universe and can see that the earth is not special, disease is not caused by evil and every observation points towards the universe being an uncaring reaction of the past.

  • „living without working is a possibility for most of the west“? I must be doing something wrong then. ☺
    – BlackJack
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 14:36
  • @BlackJack I don't know about all of eastern Europe but unemployment income is certainly available in US, Canada, west Europe, Australia and NZ.
    – PStag
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 8:16
  • Western Europe here and of course there is unemployment income but only as long as one follows the rules which usually includes a) actively searching for a job and b) accept jobs offered by the job centre. So living without working might be possible, but not that easy.
    – BlackJack
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 14:39
  • @BlackJack In theory that works but it is sort of the reverse catch 22 though, if you are too dumb to avoid getting a job, then nobody will offer you a job.
    – PStag
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 14:43
  • Remarkably, most of your points are demonstrably false. Even without religious ethics individuals are very capable of arguing about morality, and many things are still considered very immoral; sex abuse, corruption, hate speech, etc. Casual sex is "risk free"... when STDs are on the rise across the West and HIV is still a problem? Never mind pregnancy. Absurd statement. In the past marriages were sometimes annulled before they could be divorced. Drugs are more available, but are often more dangerous. See opiate epidemic in the US, or the fact cannabis is much stronger now than it was...
    – user27745
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 16:35

I find that most modern quirks can be attributed to globalism yes, but specifically the internet. The internet provides exposure to elements you usually would not see.

If you are of the same mind as myself, you believe that people are a product of their surroundings. That is how patriots and ideological fanatics come to exist and how unique cultures are developed. A homogeneous mode of thought within a country/city/town, with (more or less) the same people, in (more or less) the same circumstances.

So what happens when people's surroundings widen to the extent of the entire world? With a wide wide spectrum of all its characteristics and beliefs? That is the internet. I see no other way to explain radicalism (in any form) spreading at the rate that it does. Ideas that would usually die at conception are now allowed to reach the minds of the masses.

What usually happens with people is they either wholeheartedly accept what they are taught, wholeheartedly reject it, or just bounce in between. I believe that many are now becoming overwhelmed by the sheer amount of beliefs and the contradictions they create, so they find solace in active resistance, Nihilism. Reject all beliefs and (usually) find solace in science or materialism.

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    I'm not sure that what you presented would conclude with nihilism, but rather with the idea of home, tradition - someone who is "overwhelmed by the sheer amount of beliefs and the contradictions they create", in my opinion, would actually end up closing himself to what he known his whole life - his family's traditions. Which is, by the way, another phenomena we can see, mainly in post modern people. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:20
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    That is what I was trying to point out, that people are no longer molded by their family's/country's traditions. They are shaped by the entirety of the world, and that ends up becoming too overwhelming for the majority.
    – Ruski
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:37
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    yes, and in response to that they DO end up closing themselves in their traditions - because of this overwhelmness. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 18:40
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    How come XYZ is so popular today? Digital soapboxes.
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:32
  • What traditions, when they have no reliable ones to fall back on? People cling on to the concrete, something you found yourself relying on time and time again, that is how you find trust in the idea. You cannot have that when your opinion changes every week. If nothing you believe ever pans out to be true, what choice do you have but to adopt a Nihilistic point of view?
    – Ruski
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:16

The way paradigms shift quickly in modern times is likely even more a cause than an enabling factor.

Whoever has seen multiple contradicting views on one matter being accepted, then debunked, as truths through their lifetime will eventually find it unlikely that "the next truth will be any different" - and at the same time, see "truths are multiple, arbitrary, replaceable and abundant" as something that, being empirically/statistically proven to them, comes very close to a truth.


Because people can afford it.

Back in a time when most of our efforts were invested in surviving, people couldn't afford being nihilists.

  • There were much fewer safety nets given to the people by the state, so you needed a lot stronger ties to family and the local community. Without such strong ties, even a small illness, or even just breaking your arm could have led to not being able to work and to quickly starve to death.

  • There was a lot less access to affordable entertainment, which also meant more time being spent in a strong community spirit.

Spending time with friends and family, the length of marriages, and church attendance have fallen in a very similar pattern: having an easy access to cheap entertainment and not having to rely so much on very close connections with other people for survival, made many people value those connections less, and finding their purpose within such small communities became less probable. We were conditioned for countless generations to find our purpose in filling a role within a small, tightly-knit community. With many of the constraints gone and the world opening up, some people might find their place in the larger world, but many do not.

  • Well put. Follows this line: aeon.co/ideas/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:58
  • +1 Socionomists use bull and bear markets to attempt to predict or at least describe how social mood is expressed. This social mood would be the partial cause of nihilism and these markets. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 0:21

Objectivism deserves denying, due to the apparent limits of the human senses.

I wouldn't say this directly leads to nihilism, although I can see why a lot of people take it that way, which is unfortunate. The lack of an objective reality should only serve to open minds, making them more fluid and less steadfast in their beliefs, however it seems people take it as 'if nothing is true, why bother with anything?'. That's jumping to an extreme to discredit a position, and is unreasonable. Pragmatism should always win out in the human experience, and pragmatism would state that it's ok to rely on things that are a 'safe bet' such as the sun rising in the morning. It doesn't mean it's objectively true that the sun will rise in the morning, but it's close enough that pragmatically it doesn't make a difference.

I would argue that Objectivism is what is splintering society - those who believe they have the objective truth on a matter are unwavering, and will decry those who disagree with them as crazy, or trolling, and that is becoming more and more common, with the extreme objectivists becoming more cemented in their views as time goes on.

I would say, instead of taking nihilism from subjectivism, it'd be better to ask questions and try to empathize with others positions. Id also say that empathizing is not the same as sympathizing, which is another common misconception used to deny the need to do so. 'Why should I empathize with terrorists, I don't care how they feel!'. Empathy is the key to subjectivism, and in my opinion objectivism is closer to nihilism than otherwise, as if you already know the answers what is the point in questioning?

Look at all zealots, oppressors, and psychopaths, and notice a trend - they all believe their viewpoint is the truth.

A sad state of affairs, for sure, and I doubt it'll change anytime soon.

  • I've often lamented the rise of the 'truth cultists' who view their truth as the only truth and any dissent as a reason to commit violence and to oppress. Truth cultists come in religious and athiest varieties to the point where the only difference between a smug religious truth cultist and a smug athiest one is the valence of a single question.
    – MarkTO
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 20:47
  • You are not wrong my friend, you are not wrong. I'd argue cultist atheists are worse, as the religious folk generally believe in payment for sins in the afterlife, whereas atheists have less to lose - subjectively. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 5:02

From a plebeians perspective, Nihilism allows for great comedy and for your personal values to be the most important thing in your world because nothing has inherent meaning unless you assign it inherent meaning. It's also a convenient out for all your short comings, and it's one of the only reasonable conclusions you can come to given how everything has turned out recently. Politically speaking right now everything seems to be in shambles, especially in the US, and Federal government barely cares about correcting it. The wealth of information available today makes it difficult to be as naive as we used to have the luxury of being.

Nihilism is the easiest conclusion to come to in these circumstances, given the fact that despite all of this the world continues to function in a "reasonable" fashion.


While this is a complex outcome: there are many causes that can work together or be independent in cumulatively making more people adopt Nihilism, there are 3 reasons that spring to mind:

  1. Religion is becoming less dominant. With God comes a Philosophy: that of an afterlife, of meaning after death. But as science answers more and more questions, there is less room for God in this world. With less people believing in God, there is now an empty space for people to choose the philosophy that resonates with them.

  2. Culture changes towards, "looking inside" for meaning. ("Sapiens" is a good book that addresses this). Before, when believing in God, we gave meaning to things because we were thankful to God for giving us life. Now, with the "death of God", we give our own meaning to life. We choose to say that answering Philosophical questions on stack exchange gives us meaning. However we can also say that this is only subjective meaning. It's meaningful to us, because we enjoy it. But on an objective level, we're all going to die eventually. So nothing really matter. Which brings us to:

  3. A more cosmic time-scale. We are more informed than ever of how long the universe has existed, how long humans exist, what will happen in the future. This gives us HD resolution, where there was only 144p before, of how insignificant our existence is relative to the rest of the universal time.


Ideas are prioritized in the mind by the degree of success achieved during their application (where application also regularly means reproducing the knowledge of parents, teachers, etc.). Where successes are of similar intensity, those earlier in life gain some additional priority compared to those later in life.

Given that science has had what could be called a Tsunami of successes since the beginning of the 20th century, it is not surprising that more and more individuals grow up with the logical consequences of scientific success.

The more science succeeds, the more the idea is spreading that the limits to what is possible are very expansive or even infinite. Almost anything seems possible in this speculative bubble. The mind perceiving itself inside a seemingly unbounded space of possibilities loses its frame of reference.

If anything is possible then nothing is reliable. This is the logical consequence of great success. As long as no new limits appear, this inclined plane of nihilism will go on and on. But, as experience always shows, this cannot go forever, most of all because human expectations eventually rise faster than real capabilities.

The next crash will inevitably come, be it in the financial industry, in global politics or in science. This will revive the idea of a fixed frame of reference and will end yet another era of nihilism in history. We will remember those ideas we have had success with earlier in our individual and collective history. And we will then learn from our mistakes and after some time of depression and quasi-religious belief will the next era of success, nihilism and mania begin.

  • You say this is a way history works - have you seen it somewhen in history before? Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 9:57
  • Say rome for example... of course at a different level, but hubris is not something invented today. Remember Ikarus? To be more specific, I think it is not history (in the sense of some abstract entity Marx might have understood it) but rather human nature itself that is causing it. Or just take rich people: they usually act quite nihilistic unless they set themselves limits (like Bill Gates for example).
    – oliver
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 10:03

I am an epistemological nihilist. I see this as following the thought of Nagarjuna, as eloquently explained here https://absoluteirony.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/nagarjuna-nietzsche-rorty-and-their-strange-looping-trick/ (yes in Buddhism a middle way between nihilism and eternalism is essential to the 'middle way', but that teaching uses a non-standard definition of nihilism)

I see nihilism as like absurdism, but instead of a confrontation between our need for meaning and the universes complete unwillingness to provide it, simply accepting the meaningless of meaning, and refusing any compulsion to create it.

Nihilism like anarchism started as a pejorative, a spectre, a terrible thing no one could wish to be. I see a parallel to anarchism too in taking up the pejorative, adding refinement to the definition, and using it as a framework for a kind of perpetual revolution, not so much an assertion of views as a turning away from a former eras views. Also a broadening from a purely political niche identified mainly with destruction, to something brought to different aspects of thought and ways to be.

I see postmodern antifoundationalism as epistemologically nihilist also. As we move from the idea of a single reality, a reference frame implicitly found to have been relying on the mind of 'the god of the philosophers' to percieve it, we are moving to a peer-to-peer perspective. Meaning and reality and truth are not found, nor is there a duty on us to make them. Like Buddha, we can choose to simply unravel all these causes of suffering, and cease the self-defeating turbulence. Vines used to unravel vines, words used to end words, philosophy used like Wittgenstein to cure us of the need to create philosophy.

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    I'm not sure that its wise to apply Western categories of thought to thinking that originated outside of Europe. Nihilism in Europe takes its departure point as the loss of the Christian tradition in the West, whereas Buddhism in India/China has a two thousand year tradition behind it. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:13
  • Ancient Greek thought goes back a lot further than that, as does Vedic thought Buddha was writing against at a similar time. A need to be careful with translatiins, fine. An abandonment of hope for comparison? No. The same problems exist translating Aristotle as Nagarjuna.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 22:29
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    As you point out the Nagarjuna quote discussing eternalism and nihilism ends with "The wise cling not to either." I suspect the link between Buddhism and nihilism is a Western rationalization of nihilism. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 14:05
  • Do you have any references to suggest that this chain of thought is "how come nihilism is so popular today?" Your personal beliefs may be interesting, but they don't answer the question at hand, except to the extent that your personal journey is typical for the large number of nihilists that the OP believes exist. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 15:32
  1. We have discover our real scale in the universe. In the last century we discovered the how big and old the universe is compared with our existence. When the galaxy has billions of stars and there are so much stars in our world. Our lifetime is nothing compared to the 13.8 billion years of the universe. We literally know that the world was existing before us and will exists afterwards with very little change at all. This is a change from the anthropocentric interpretation of nature. Nobody would may cry for us in alpha centauri if the earth is destroyed today.

  2. No great universal purpose was found.. Philosophy and religion looked for a great purpose for years and there is no universal answer. This does not mean that a lot of people do not have their purpose. Some find it in religion, science, arts, enjoying friends or creating a family. We read histories of climbing the Everest, or training for an olympic medal but other just try to enjoy life. Never people had so easy to travel, eat exotic food and taste great wines. There are several tomes written for every aspect of human life. With so many things in the purpose buffet and no reason to choose one from another the conclusion is clear: There is no intrinsic purpose for the human life apart from reproduction (and this is solved)

  3. Less indoctrination. More possibility to express criticism. Traditionally are and were told what their purpose when you were a child before you could stop to think what you really wanted. In 1930 Germany you served the state. In Russia the communist cause. In Madrasas or Christians schools they told purpose was to serve god. And of course resisting and criticizing this ideas could have been dangerous. Today this happens less in the so called free world. You can even say that your boss or government is not doing it well. But I bet that North Koreans do not have problems about their purpose: they serve their leader in their fight against some evil foreign enemy. Everybody in the country knows it.

  4. Society stops assigning purpose to people. Women "knew" their purpose was to marry, and have children. Also, a 11 children family with no home appliances will keep your mind busy enough. A hungry mouth needs to be feed and maternal/paternal instinct will tell you what your purpose is. Men marrying sooner needed to work hard to provide. Some eastern cultures may also assign purposes like honoring the family.

  5. Power to choose. From centuries people had little choice about what to do with their lives. If you were born a farmer you died as a farmer. If you were lucky to be a merchant or noble you didn't usually changed for the inferior option. But today is generally discouraged to choose for your children their profession. They need to search their purpose.

Anyway, this does not need to be a bad thing. We can find our purpose with anything we want. This does not need to be an empty life as if you choose wisely and enjoy the way. We will be dead and return to nothing but that does not mean that the time we were alive less valuable to you.


I think that there is a connection between atheism and existential nihilism. It would be difficult for a theist to be a nihilist. After much reflection, I am not convinced that the idea of being universally overwhelmed, as it were, necessarily leads to universal existential nihilism. It is also possible for someone to be an existential nihilist but not be nihilist about their own life. I now see panpsychism as a positive alternative to existential nihilism, but remain sceptical.

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