As Nietzsche is an obvious example, I am focusing on him.

I think that there are no nihilist philosophers, because if someone is a nihilist, why would the nihilist even bother telling us? As a nihilist he must not care about anything.

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    Nihilism is the rejection of what is claimed to be, in Nietzsche's case, to be valuable. What one should care about is a separate matter. Nietzsche's was a pretty actionable nihilism:"Nihilism is... not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one's shoulder to the plough; one destroys". And he even cared, and had an ideal, for what should come after the destruction, the superman. So he was only a nihilist about the rotten culture (as he saw it) that he found around himself. See IEP's nihilism. – Conifold Jan 14 at 0:26
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    But Nietzsche actually was in disdain of nihilists. He would never call himself a nihilist. Well, if we talk about existential nihilism, of course. He could be a moral nihilist, for sure. But regarding your question: to me there is no meaning but only desires. I wish the world to be different, despite it being meaningless. The universe needs not to be different. – rus9384 Jan 14 at 9:20
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philip Klöcking Jan 16 at 16:21

Nihilism does not imply that "one does not care about anything". For that can fit into another definition : Apatheism (although apatheism means one does not care about God's existence or non-existence).

Anyway, Nihilists like any other philosophers, do actually care about purpose (or, in this case non-purpose).

It is clear that there is a metaphysical problem : one cannot prove / disprove the existence of purpose or meaning in the physical world.

To understand part of the problem, suppose that everything that exists has meaning, therefore it follows that everything X has a meaning and purpose on which it depends.

If x is the meaning/purpose of y, then y cannot contribute to the meaning of x, since this would be circular.

From this, one can infer that if everything has purpose / meaning, then everything is infinite, since every x needs an element y (as its source of meaning), so that x is not part of the set of all things that contribute to the meaning / purpose of y.

Which means that either beings are infinite, or the ultimate reality Y that contributes to the meaning/purpose of all existing and finite elements does not have itself meaning. So, everything has meaning/purpose, except the ultimate reality itself.

This is I think one of the best arguments for Nihilism, and I don't think Nihilism implies not caring about such and such.


Regarding my argument for Nihilism, that the ultimate reality does not have an intrinsic meaning or purpose to it. It is only a product of my analytical study of the subject, and I do not remember the source of this particular idea.

To read more about Nihilism and the meaning of life : https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/life-meaning

  • The same argument can work for unknowability and undefinability ... If everything is definable and knowable the everything has an element that contributes to its definition / knowledge. It follows that things are either infinite, or that there is some ultimate reality that is unknowable and undefinable in principle. – SmootQ Jan 14 at 11:29
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    Would you have a reference for the reader to get more information about this perspective? +1 – Frank Hubeny Jan 14 at 12:20
  • Unfortunately the part where I said that if Nihilism is false then everything has meaning, which implies that all things are infinite (as everything must have meaning, and it can be something above and beyond itself), is a product of my learning and study of different philosophies and my analytical attempt to reduce these concepts to logical propositions, which means that this very view I may have read before but I do not remember which reference exactly, although it is good to entertain this idea, and I see it as a good argument for Nihilism. – SmootQ Jan 14 at 14:10
  • As for the first part (Definition of Nihilism) I added a reference from stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, thank you ^^ – SmootQ Jan 14 at 14:15
  • Nihilism means nothing has meaning. Not-nihilism is "at least one thing has meaning" then. – rus9384 Jan 14 at 15:26

You are assuming that caring motivates action rather than constraint. People really aren't wired like that. It is generally harder to make a child not do something. Isn't it? (From the POV of Cognitive Dissonance Theory, we learn to be lazy to assert the value to our labor, which is caring about something.)

Our most famous nihilist argument is Montaigne, who in the end argues in favor of following tradition and letting everyone get used to it. If our emotions mean nothing, and they are all we really experience, we should just stop making ourselves miserable. Choosing some meaningless set of rules that keeps us from thinking about difficult things like morality is his personal prescription for not suffering. But he doesn't care whether or not you agree.

Classical Skepticism and Cynicism, on the contrary are not nihilisms. They have an agenda. (Or rather they have opposing agendas: the former of allowing for peace, the latter of disrupting undeserved peace.) They express a value. They are closer to Buddhism or the variants of Hinduism out of which it arose. There is a morality embedded in their disavowal of the meaningfulness of reality. And they wish to spread that message because they really think that morality is worthwhile. If we are deluded and suffering, we could stop. Letting us know that is a moral obligation.

From Montaigne's POV, then, why should one not meaninglessly give in to the frustration that no one ever sees this for what it is and they all sanctimoniously try to control everyone else? Then why not write a long annoying book about it? (Especially if it makes your mother feel better.) I see no contradiction there.

And Nietzsche does not qualify. He falls in the other category. He has a definite sense of value, even if it cannot be codified because it includes a devotion to originality and authenticity. It continually undercuts itself, but by his analysis so does every moral code. So why not cut out the middleman? He has an aesthetic ethics of opposing consistent moralities.

  • Some nihilists suicide.. But the vast majority go about their mundane routines.. Chewing and pooing. Kids aren't nihilists.. They've no idea they are pointless. But knowing futility removes any motivation for any real undertaking. Why try to educate when nothing changes? I agree with Montaign. My wife and children are pointless as is my love for them.. But I wouldn't wish them to feel that. The ytaditional values offer momentary respite from the yawning void. Nietzche A nihilist who' was motivated by ideology and pride. Essentially his self righteous anger counteracted his nihilism. – Richard Jan 14 at 18:50
  • @Richard Things do change. I can like these changes or don't. Some of them can appear with my effort or without. To a nihilist pooing and doing scientific research are of equal meaningfulness. Of zero meaningfulness. So, there is no argument that can prove me that a human should be a scientist if he has capability for that. It is only a matter of desire to me. The one who wants to become a scientist and has capabilify for that let become a scientist. The one wan'ts, let he doesn't. – rus9384 Jan 14 at 19:56
  • @Richard A nihilist motivated by ideology is inconceivable, one motivated by self-righteousness is insane (and not just psychotic from syphilis, really insane). – jobermark Jan 14 at 20:00
  • @jobermark how so? What is your definition of nihilism? Understanding the futility of life at an existential level doesn't obviate one from the need to eat. Why would it obviate any other aspects of the human condition. Nietzsce was just a man. Who favoured facial hair and dubious ideologies. – Richard Jan 14 at 20:05
  • @Richard An ideology presumes a value set. A Calvinist Christian can understand the futility of life, since everything is predestined. A Buddhist must know that if everything is an illusion, life really has no meaning. But they both believe in a set of values that transcend this life, so they are not nihilists. A (moral) nihilist does not have a value set that confers meaning. (You can't presume I don't believe what I said in the post, at least for the duration of the post's comments) Eating does not mean you believe starving is bad. Holding an ideology does mean you believe something. – jobermark Jan 14 at 20:44

Nihilism is best understood contra the philosophy that it was/is trying to overthrow, this is the one predicated upon Christianity, and it's highest value, which is the Good. This is why of course Nietschze declared himself as the anti-Christ, though as someone who declares Christianity to be essentially a philosophy or religion of resentment, there is a great deal of resentiment in Nietzsche too.

It's worth noting that in a book of interviews with highly respected philosophers on the great philosophers, by Brian Magee, it was pointed that a good case can be made that intellectuals seduced by Nietzsche had a significant role to play in fascism - and this was by the way, by a philosopher sympathetic towards N's values.

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