Casual Discussion Science Forum @scivillage

Full Version: The moral case for nihilism
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.

EXCERPT: Since it became part of the zeitgeist of nineteenth-century Europe, nihilism has been blamed for virtually every atrocity committed by an unsound individual. [...] This is a misunderstanding. An inherently nonaggressive point of view is misperceived as a rally cry for school shooters. We need to pry the philosophy away from the legacies of Hitler, Charles Manson and the Columbine massacre and put it where it belongs: nowhere. Any somewhere is far away from the nihilist ethos. Somewhere entails going out and acting. Mass murder entails acting. No nihilist is, has been, or will ever be, a mass murderer.

But, if not nihilism, what philosophy can explain the actions of a Hitler, a Manson or a Harris? The answer is a desire to overcome nihilism. Nihilism was an important step in their intellectual journeys, as it enlightened them as to life’s meaninglessness, but they betrayed nihilism once they killed—which was not prompted by nihilism, but by whatever ideology they chose to replace nihilism. For instance, Hitler took inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche, who is considered one of the founding philosophers of nihilism. But Nietzsche was not a nihilist either. Nietzsche also came to the nihilist conclusion that objective meaning does not exist and lays out the faultless reasoning behind this claim, but the majority of his work is about overcoming the self-abasement that nihilism inevitably causes: by venerating one’s self; unleashing the superego; becoming an übermensch, a superman; grabbing meaningless life by the balls and enforcing your own meaning upon it.

[...] It is this triumphant worldview that attracted Hitler and so many others. Hitler indeed became a “man of the future,” but one of whom Nietzsche would have disapproved. The Nietzsche that Hitler knew was not Nietzsche at all, but Nietzsche’s sister, who took over her dying brother’s estate and reworked his novels, giving them a nationalistic and anti-Semitic bent. She would later join the Nazi party.

[...] just one percent of people are psychopaths, which means that only one out of 100 nihilists would twist nihilism to fit a malevolent agenda. If nihilism predominantly arises as the unintended consequence of a rational search for truth, overcome nihilism will not be the result, since there’s no more intrinsic meaning in self-actualization than there is in Christianity, feminism or "Game of Thrones". It’s all vanity. Believing nothing matters does not mean you can make something matter—it means nothing matters. So a moral or rational nihilist has no justification for following her ego to dangerous destinations. In fact, she doesn’t have justification for much of anything. Therefore, knowing the amount of suffering an individual in blind pursuit of her own greater good is liable to cause, isn’t nothing better than something?

Nihilism should not be overcome. Every person who has surrendered himself to nothingness means one less potential atrocity that will devastate society. With terrorist attacks and school shootings on the rise, this seems like an urgent need. Of course, a nihilist doesn’t take his orders from society. He takes them from nihilism, which reduces all action to senselessness. Nietzsche disparages those who were placated by nihilism, but nihilists might, in turn, deride Nietzsche for being a cop-out—so afraid of the implications of his philosophy that he created an invalid one in its place. Nihilists aren’t frightened by their insignificance; they’re frightened by those who don’t believe in their own insignificance and will do untold harm in attempting to prove their superiority. Thus, ironically, inasmuch as limiting suffering is the closest thing to a universal goal, a nihilist is doing the utmost good by doing nothing.

[...] his case for nihilism is not about convincing people who think they are doing good that they are wrong: they may actually be doing good from a certain perspective. It’s about separating the public perception of nihilism from that of overcome nihilism, which is the philosophy responsible for countless egotists who have committed atrocities. Nihilism is simply what happens to people who have looked into the void and seen nothing. The void may not be a good thing to see, but those who look into it don’t see a swastika or a hammer and sickle or even their own reflection. They see nothing. Could there be anything more humbling? (MORE - details)
Seems to be a "no true Scotsman" fallacy.
I think it's almost impossible to live one's life by the philosophy (anti-philosophy?) of nihilism. The correlating temperament to the assumption of absolute meaninglessness is depression and angst often leading to eventual suicide. There is no point to anything, not even acting, so that one is paralyzed with despair and resignation to the emptiness of your life. That's why everyone who encounters this black abyss eventually snaps out of it into a very meaningful ideology or philosophy. Even Sartre and Camus had their respective visions of being resolved and authentic. "Man is condemned to be free" and "life is ultimately absurd." It's probably common for every deep thinker to go thru some pivotal nihilistic realization at some point in their journey-- their "dark night of the soul"--but then they move on to what really matters to them and end up evolving their own meaning-filled weltanschauung..