In Defence of Nihilism

I often flit between thinking myself a nihilist and not. It often depends how I have been primed and how I am looking at the issue. I think I have found a way of properly describing my position on the issue. I am a nihilist who values things.

I think the problem comes from maintaining this blog. The conversations get wrapped up in rhetoric and the best of the debaters have been able to use rhetoric to prime my thinking. But over time I have noticed that their rhetoric gives me the benchmark against which to fully illuminate my position as a non-nihilistic nihilist. That benchmark is religious nihilism.

Religious nihilism is the stance that all things are meaningless, except with God. It is simultaneously the pronunciation of a nihilistic universe and an external God who can imbue all things with value. It is top-down value.

I reject that philosophy. Although many religious people seem very comfortable having that philosophy themselves, and announcing to atheists that they must be nihilistic because their view of the world lacks this external value-giver, I don’t accept it. I think things can be their own shining beacon of value and worth. I believe in grassroots value.

You’ll notice this isn’t absolute nihilism; it is the enunciation of value. It is only nihilism insofar as it rejects extrinsic value. I believe in grassroots, dependent value. It’s easy to dismiss “dependent value” as not existing at all, making ‘extrinsic nihilism’ identical to ‘absolute nihilism’. But I think that misses the point. Imagine a CD in a universe devoid of technology to read it, or a book written in a dead language. In what sense of the word do these things convey ‘meaning’? They don’t. There is only any meaning contained in the CD or conveyed by language when something is there to understand it. (If you want to really blow your mind, try to imagine writing Microsoft Office in a universe without material; you can’t! Meaning also depends on a physical medium.) And so it is with value. An object must be valued to have value. It emerges from the relationship between the person and the object. A vase, for example, would have no value after the extinction of all creatures that might relate to its creation.

It is from here, as an extrinsic nihilist, I started to see how an absolute nihilist might talk about objective morality. Consider any situation where you have an assortment of choices as to how you might proceed. (I tend to imagine medical scenarios within a content of health insurance and I am the doctor.) All the choices you have can be labelled. There’s the one that benefits you, the one that best profits the hospital, doing best by the patient and trying to maximise wellbeing even if it means making hard decisions. The ‘absolute nihilist’ can recognise the ‘moral’ choice as a linguistic notion. They won’t see any value in it, necessarily. But maximising wellbeing is synonymous with what most people mean when they say morality. And from there, I can talk about an extrinsic nihilistic morality. It’s the exact same thing, except with a recognition of value in wellbeing.

So, the religious narrative accusing all views of the world devoid of a God as nihilistic doesn’t carry the pejorative tone they hope it does. Being a nihilist is about recognising you are a part of the process of creating meaning and value. It also doesn’t silence your ability to discuss morality, because if you can get to objective morality from absolute nihilism, you can certainly get there from extrinsic nihilism, and if you only want relativism, you can achieve that too.

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7 thoughts on “In Defence of Nihilism”

  1. Nihilism – the view that there is no objective meaning to anything we experience. That says not one thing about subjective meaning. Nihilism is only a problem if you can’t deal without objective meaning, if you expect someone or something else to tell you what your life and experience means. For those that can’t figure out life for themselves, Nihilism of any kind is fucking scary. Remember that when someone criticizes nihilism. When I hear criticism of nihilism I hear “I can’t live my life on my terms, I need someone to tell me how to live, I need someone to give me a set of rules because I’m not capable of figuring this out on my own.” Worse yet, some of them are saying I’m too lazy to live my life on my terms. I want someone to promise me heaven because I need a guarantee or this life is not worth being here…. to which I say “grow a pair and start acting like an adult. If someone promised you a good life I hope you paid them nothing”

  2. I think there’ s no coherent argument against nihilism. I once got in a discussion with an opponent of nihilism, but his argument was founded on a sequence of logical fallacies.

  3. Dude, “spat” as a verb! ;o(

    Okay, for those out there who do believe that “meaning” exists objectively, try this thought experiment. Imagine back 1000 years to whatever existed in your locale. Imagine a man or woman trying desperately trying to explain the meaning of some part of their life to their spouse, children, relatives, etc. and then working their ass off to realize that meaning.

    What remains of that meaning now? Anything? Is it even remembered? Can it be stated clearly, intelligibly? What happened to that meaning? if it was recorded and passed onto the next generations, was it understood in the same way?

    Meaning is something we create, like a cheese sandwich, because it pleases us to play with such things in our minds. They don’t really mean anything.

    Hmm, I wonder what he meant by that … ?

  4. A person who are having no worries about almost anything except for something (policy, rules) that are related to him only. It mean : You are value things that are related or concerning
    The social/political idea is to promote the exercise of personal goals and desires rather institutions/ society/state goals.

    That is the idea of individualism.

    I believe your thinking are more toward individualism rather than nihilism. Many of your posts, even though spoke about “religion”.
    It more focus about moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook of religion rather “how the religious philosophy works”. Therefore “nihilism” is not so suitable.

    #Note: I can not find the meaning of “Religious nihilism” and quote that you refering which I believe is self made. Even try read from Nietzsche, the sentences are too much complex for me to digest as English as 2nd language.

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