The one thing that has kept me engrossed through a greater part of the year “2020” is reading. While doing so, I tried to get out of my comfort reading territory and switched to reading about different philosophies around the world. I developed a fondness of these philosophies the moment I got the hang of it. That’s when I resolved to write about them. This is my third article for the project, “The Lesser-known Philosophies” and in this one, I have attempted to introduce the philosophy of Nihilism, and its four types in a precise style.
The word “ Nihilism ” is derived from the Latin word “Nihil” which means ‘nothing’. “Ism” means philosophy or ideology. If we break down the word “Nihilism” into two, we get: “Nihil”, and “Ism”, meaning the “Ideology or Philosophy of Nothing”. If you’re wondering if it’s worth sparing time to read about ‘nothing’, you’ll get the answer going forward.
Friedrich Jacobi first used the word “Nihilism” in the early nineteenth century to negatively characterize supernatural idealism. Gradually, the concept spread its wings and reached a German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. During the 19th century, he solidified the importance of this philosophy. Nietzsche was the one most associated with Nihilism. He saw the rise of Nihilism in the Western world and propagated the school of thought in western culture.
In 1887, Nietzsche wrote:
“What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; “why?” finds no answer.”
Nihilism is a theory of negation, rejection, and denial. It says that our values have no definite foundation and there’s no means to know the existence of anything. According to a nihilist, happiness can only be found within, because anything that is beyond your skin is meaningless. If you go about searching for happiness outside, you will never attain it.
The concept has been opposed by people who dwell on the comforting realities of the world. In retaliation, a true nihilist would cover himself by saying that reality is not worth believing in.
However, there is a very thin line between being a skeptic and being a nihilist. While a skeptic would say that there is insufficient empirical evidence to support the existence of anything or even the Supreme Being, a nihilist would outrightly reject the fact that there is a probability of existence or meaning.
In simpler words, Nihilism is absolute nothingness.
Types of Nihilism:
There are four aspects of the philosophy of Nihilism. Let’s examine them:
1. Moral Nihilism: Moral nihilism implies that nothing can be termed as good or bad, right or wrong. There are no possibilities of the existence of any sort of moral ethics or sense of moral obligations towards each other. It states that whatever is claimed in ethics is not valid and there is no such thing as morality. For instance, a moral nihilist would say that killing animals is not wrong. However, he will also deny that this is right because he doesn’t believe that right or wrong exists. He will always question the basis of moral judgment.
2. Epistemological nihilism: Epistemological nihilism outrightly denies the existence of knowledge or truth. For many years, this type of nihilism has agitated people because of what it promotes. Each one of us likes to dwell on reasoning and knowledge. People consider truth as their security tool for anything in life. However, Epistemological nihilism denies such knowledge and firm facts.
3. Cosmic Nihilism: The ideology of cosmic nihilism is an extension of atheism. It claims that nothing like God, galaxies, stars, or planets exist in the Cosmos. Rather, it is a vast void with no definite structure, design, or rhythm. They will remain hostile to the cosmic matters and have a, “whatever!” attitude towards the planets, the sky, the universe, etc. It is like gazing into the abyss and finding nothing worthwhile.
4. Existential Nihilism: Existential nihilism means that life, in its entirety has no meaning at all. When we combine the Moral, Epistemological, and Cosmic Nihilism, we get existential nihilism. Existential nihilists claim that human existence is meaningless. Nietzsche was considered as the Existential Nihilist. Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher of the 20th Century was another prominent propagator of this school of thought. According to him, “existence precedes essence”. This means that a human brings purpose to his life by acting or being a certain way. However, there is no particular way a person should act or behave, and there’s no god to assign a purpose to a human being.
That being said, some of the existentialists believed that although they were unable to find or ascertain a proper meaning to life, their quest for the meaning didn’t end there, per se. They had several options, such as adopting a religion, committing suicide, or ‘radical freedom’. Although this contradicts the core idea of an existential nihilist, they still favored the idea that they must find meaning in life.
Reading on this school of thought left me wondering how much it takes to become a true nihilist. It contradicts you at every point in your life, during every thought, and at every decision you make. The question remains, “Do non-nihilists live in a delusional world, or is it the other way around?” I guess we’ll never know!