The philosophy of nihilism

True nihilism is an extremely pessimistic and sceptical view of the world and existence, that believes everything is baseless, without meaning, purpose, and reject ethics and moral values as they have no loyalties to law, rules or authority. Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the first to suggest that nihilism was corrosive, and would destroy moral values, religion and reasoning.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Many people say, especially theists, that the rejection of theist doctrines leads to radical nihilism. Without God in your life, then existence, the universe and everything in it was accidental, so by default without purpose. This is an extremely illogical viewpoint, but theists aren’t renowned for applying logic. Because atheists don’t believe in creation, doesn’t mean their life has no purpose. It makes absolutely no sense, as even if God did create everything, what’s a theists’ purpose? To spend this life as a waiting room for the afterlife?

‘Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.‘ – Victor Hugo

Epistemological nihilism is the most common form, and is basically agnostic scepticism, in that the truth or untruth of everything can’t be proven or unproven. Existential nihilism is the belief that everything is meaningless and we are insignificant and pointless. Moral nihilism means that there’s no way to say that one thing is preferable to something else, and as an example there’s no way to prove that murder is wrong or right, and some go so far as to suggest that morality is a manmade Idea to make people feel as though they have values, despite everything being irrelevant.

It’s all extremely depressing and this can’t reasonably be linked to atheism. I’ve been an atheist my whole life and I’ve never been arrested or in trouble with the law, I’m happily married in a monogamous relationship, I’m a animal lover and a strict vegetarian as I value animal life as much as human, and I’m a Humanist, which is a registered charity, and is a philosophy about being a decent, moral person without religious doctrine and dogma.

Defining ‘Humanism’

Roughly speaking, the word humanist has come to mean someone who:

• trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)

• makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals

• believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same. –

Humanists U.K.

Nihilism is derived from the Latin word ‘nihil’ which means ‘nothing’, and the idea of nihilism is linked to annihilation which is about destruction, and to completely destroy. Nihilism goes hand in hand with hedonism, which is a belief that the primary goal of life is self-pleasure. It’s an extremely selfish attitude to have as it’s all about putting yourself first and having no real regard for others, and having no interest in consequences. Some philosophers suggest that hedonism is a paradox as it’s likely to bring you more pain as you engage in the pursuit of happiness, as it’s commonly suggested that too much of a good thing can bring you harm. The pursuit of happiness is mentioned in The Declaration of Independence, so was that encouraging hedonism?

Some people claim that Buddhism is a religion that focuses on nihilism, but I personally think that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Considering nihilism deems everything is pointless, then why do Buddhists follow karma? It’s an ethical journey on discovering your path to morality, and understanding that good and bad deeds can have good or bad consequences, or in other words, cause and effect. Following this thought process Buddhists try to live a decent, moral life, without God. Despite people saying Buddhism is a religion, I’d argue that it’s more a philosophy about finding enlightenment, and this is what the Four Noble Truths are about.

• The truth of suffering (Dukkha)

•. The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudāya)

• The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha)

• The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga)

Dukkha is the acceptance that suffering exists, be it pain, misery, illness and finally death.

Samudāya is understanding the cause of much of the suffering we endure as humans which is often caused from desire, greed and attachment to materialistic objects, like money or objects of status.

Nirodha is about achieving nirvana, which ends suffering, a lack of desire, and a lack of self-interest.

Magga is about achieving enlightenment through the Eightfold Path.

“• 1) correct view, an accurate understanding of the nature of things, specifically the Four Noble Truths.

• 2) correct intention, avoiding thoughts of attachment, hatred, and harmful intent.

• 3) correct speech, refraining from verbal misdeeds such as lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and senseless speech.

• 4) correct action, refraining from physical misdeeds such as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct.

• 5) correct livelihood, avoiding trades that directly or indirectly harm others, such as selling slaves, weapons, animals for slaughter, intoxicants, or poisons.

• 6) correct effort, abandoning negative states of mind that have already arisen, preventing negative states that have yet to arise, and sustaining positive states that have already arisen.

• 7) correct mindfulness, awareness of body, feelings, thought, and phenomena (the constituents of the existing world).

• 8) correct concentration, single-mindedness.” – Britannica

If truth be told, considering there’s no God involved, this is far from nihilism, and other religions that worship God/s could learn from Buddhism how to behave like an honest, morally strong human being.

It’s said by philosophers that nihilism laughs in the face of theism as it’s a defiant form of reductio ad absurdum, which is an argument that disproves something by showing how absurd and ridiculous something is. Whilst this may be true about religion and how preposterous the idea of it is, I personally feel like nihilism is a glass half empty ideology, which sees everything as being negative and this certainly isn’t a health mindset.

Jean-Paul Sartre

The opposite to nihilism is existentialism, and one of the key figures was Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism is a philosophy that studies individual existence, and how a person gives their life meaning, and understanding human mortality, and using their free will to make life choices. Unlike nihilism which claims life has no meaning, existentialism is about giving life meaning, or a purpose. In other words we have no choice but to choose our destiny, and it’s up to us as humans to make our own moral standards. This is essentially a person who relies on themselves to make judgments based on their own perceptions instead of blindly accepting what is told by an influence, which is usually some kind of authoritarian, like a preacher, or accepting the words in the Bible as factual. In other words a freethinker.

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