I'm looking for a quote or a passage about how we shouldn't waste time analyzing possibilities that don't exist, like "what if"s of the past. That we should reflect on how things came to be and not on how they could have been.

Is there some passage like this? And is it nihilism or some other philosophical idea?

  • When we are young, we take the world we are born into as the absolute, and this can lead to mistakes in thinking, so I agree with you that we should reflect on how things came to be. I don't see any connection to nihilism. Stanley Rosen, "Nihilism a Philosophical Essay" this book may interest you if you want to read about the subject.
    – Gordon
    Jul 29, 2018 at 2:55
  • A modern work on B. Croce, his philosophy of history. Good introduction.ernestopaolozzi.it/1288/…
    – Gordon
    Jul 29, 2018 at 3:17
  • @Gimme the 411. +1. I suggest pragmatism, see below.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 10:00
  • @Gordon, "When we are young, we take the world we are born into as the absolute" - wrong, that's not how kids learn things, e.g. understand that image in the mirror is just a reflection or that if you can't pass something, there is an invisible obstacle.
    – rus9384
    Jul 29, 2018 at 10:36
  • Another thing is that we should learn from mistakes and analyze things which includes thinking about the past.
    – rus9384
    Jul 29, 2018 at 10:37

2 Answers 2


The position you describe isn't in any usual sense of the term, 'nihilism', which is roughly the view that nothing real exists, that nothing is knowable, that nothing is valuable, that there are no objective moral norms, and that nothing is worth doing. (All of these or any in combination.) I don't want to be dogmatic about this characterisation but I don't think any changes someone might want to make to it would connect 'nihilism' with the position you describe.

So how do we label that position ? Hesitantly, I identify it with a version of pragmatism. Pragmatism, which emerged principally in the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fanned out into a variety of ideas and arguments but it can be roughly characterised as the view that all knowledge and value are subservient to action or 'praxis' (from the Greek). Research pursued solely for its own sake with no practical application is pointless, as is any speculation about what might have been. The sole test of human activity and inquiry is utility, usefulness. 'Does it work ?' is the question : does it (an activity or inquiry) make for happiness or contentment, does it enable successful prediction, does an explanation enable us to manipulate and control the world in ways we want ? Any notion of absolute truth, absolute knowledge, absolute value is just so much metaphysical lumber.

Two points : (1) this is a very rough summary of pragmatism, not nuanced; and (2) I am not putting it forward as my own view. But I think someone holding the position you describe in your question would find pragmatism a congenial philosophy.


Kenneth R. Westphal, Pragmatism, Reason and Norms: A Realistic Assessment - Essays in Critical Appreciation of Frederick L. Will (American Philosophy), ISBN 10: 0823218198 / ISBN 13: 9780823218196. Published by Fordham University Press, 1998.

William James & Castell Alburey, Essays in Pragmatism, ISBN 10: 0028471407 / ISBN 13: 9780028471402. Published by Free Press, London, 1970.

C.S. Peirce, et al., Pragmatism: The Classic Writings, ISBN 10: 0915145375 / ISBN 13: 9780915145379. Published by Hackett Publishing Co, Inc, 1982.

  • "that there are no objective moral norms" - this is only ethical nihilism, there also are metaphysical and epistemological ones.
    – rus9384
    Jul 29, 2018 at 10:38

The view you describe is close to the metaphysical position “Actualism,” the view that merely possible things don't exist, so reality only includes what's actual. To get the view you describe, you'd have to add the ethical suggestion that “You shouldn't waste your time discussing what's not real.” But Actualism gets you at least part way there. See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/actualism/

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