Conclusion 1. Early in the nineteenth century, Friedrich Jacobi used the word to negatively characterize transcendental idealism. In Russia, nihilism became identified with a loosely organized revolutionary movement C. The movement advocated a social arrangement based on rationalism and materialism as the sole source of knowledge and individual freedom as the highest goal. The movement eventually deteriorated into an ethos of subversion, destruction, and anarchy, and by the late s, a nihilist was anyone associated with clandestine political groups advocating terrorism and assassination. The earliest philosophical positions associated with what could be characterized as a nihilistic outlook are those of the Skeptics.
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Conclusion 1. Early in the nineteenth century, Friedrich Jacobi used the word to negatively characterize transcendental idealism. In Russia, nihilism became identified with a loosely organized revolutionary movement C. The movement advocated a social arrangement based on rationalism and materialism as the sole source of knowledge and individual freedom as the highest goal. The movement eventually deteriorated into an ethos of subversion, destruction, and anarchy, and by the late s, a nihilist was anyone associated with clandestine political groups advocating terrorism and assassination.
The earliest philosophical positions associated with what could be characterized as a nihilistic outlook are those of the Skeptics. Because they denied the possibility of certainty, Skeptics could denounce traditional truths as unjustifiable opinions.
When Demosthenes c. Extreme skepticism, then, is linked to epistemological nihilism which denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this form of nihilism is currently identified with postmodern antifoundationalism. Nihilism, in fact, can be understood in several different ways. Political Nihilism, as noted, is associated with the belief that the destruction of all existing political, social, and religious order is a prerequisite for any future improvement. Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values.
Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is, no doubt, the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today. For Stirner, achieving individual freedom is the only law; and the state, which necessarily imperils freedom, must be destroyed. Even beyond the oppression of the state, though, are the constraints imposed by others because their very existence is an obstacle compromising individual freedom.
Friedrich Nietzsche and Nihilism Among philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche is most often associated with nihilism. For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it.
Inevitably, nihilism will expose all cherished beliefs and sacrosanct truths as symptoms of a defective Western mythos. This collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose will be the most destructive force in history, constituting a total assault on reality and nothing less than the greatest crisis of humanity: What I relate is the history of the next two centuries.
I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end.
In his study, Spengler concludes that Western civilization is already in the advanced stages of decay with all three forms of nihilism working to undermine epistemological authority and ontological grounding. Existential Nihilism While nihilism is often discussed in terms of extreme skepticism and relativism, for most of the 20th century it has been associated with the belief that life is meaningless. Existential nihilism begins with the notion that the world is without meaning or purpose.
Given this circumstance, existence itself—all action, suffering, and feeling—is ultimately senseless and empty. In The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Futility of Life , Alan Pratt demonstrates that existential nihilism, in one form or another, has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition from the beginning.
In antiquity, such profound pessimism may have reached its apex with Hegesias of Cyrene. Because miseries vastly outnumber pleasures, happiness is impossible, the philosopher argues, and subsequently advocates suicide. When we abandon illusions, life is revealed as nothing; and for the existentialists, nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom but also existential horror and emotional anguish. The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible.
In retrospect, it was an anecdote tinged with desperation because in an absurd world there are absolutely no guidelines, and any course of action is problematic. Passionate commitment, be it to conquest, creation, or whatever, is itself meaningless.
Enter nihilism. Camus, like the other existentialists, was convinced that nihilism was the most vexing problem of the twentieth century. Although he argues passionately that individuals could endure its corrosive effects, his most famous works betray the extraordinary difficulty he faced building a convincing case. In The Stranger , for example, Meursault has rejected the existential suppositions on which the uninitiated and weak rely.
In Caligula , the mad emperor tries to escape the human predicament by dehumanizing himself with acts of senseless violence, fails, and surreptitiously arranges his own assassination. And in his last novel, the short and sardonic, The Fall , Camus posits that everyone has bloody hands because we are all responsible for making a sorry state worse by our inane action and inaction alike.
In these works and other works by the existentialists, one is often left with the impression that living authentically with the meaninglessness of life is impossible. Camus was fully aware of the pitfalls of defining existence without meaning, and in his philosophical essay The Rebel he faces the problem of nihilism head-on.
In it, he describes at length how metaphysical collapse often ends in total negation and the victory of nihilism, characterized by profound hatred, pathological destruction, and incalculable violence and death. In his study of meaninglessness, Donald Crosby writes that the source of modern nihilism paradoxically stems from a commitment to honest intellectual openness. When sincere inquiry is extended to moral convictions and social consensus, it can prove deadly, Crosby continues, promoting forces that ultimately destroy civilizations.
And both optimistically discuss ways out of the abyss by focusing of the positive implications nothingness reveals, such as liberty, freedom, and creative possibilities.
In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists.
The philosophical, ethical, and intellectual crisis of nihilism that has tormented modern philosophers for over a century has given way to mild annoyance or, more interestingly, an upbeat acceptance of meaninglessness. The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is. This epistemological cul-de-sac, Rorty concludes, leads inevitably to nihilism. In The Banalization of Nihilism Karen Carr discusses the antifoundationalist response to nihilism.
Such a development, Carr concludes, is alarming. If we accept that all perspectives are equally non-binding, then intellectual or moral arrogance will determine which perspective has precedence. Worse still, the banalization of nihilism creates an environment where ideas can be imposed forcibly with little resistance, raw power alone determining intellectual and moral hierarchies. Conclusion It has been over a century now since Nietzsche explored nihilism and its implications for civilization.
Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength. It is possible. Complete Works Vol.
The Banalization of Nihilism: Twentieth-Century Responses to Meaninglessness
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche , who provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture. Karen L. Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Interpreting is something we can not go without; in fact, it is something we need. One way of interpreting the world is through morality, as one of the fundamental ways that people make sense of the world, especially in regard to their own thoughts and actions. Nietzsche distinguishes a morality that is strong or healthy, meaning that the person in question is aware that he constructs it himself, from weak morality, where the interpretation is projected on to something external.