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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why Nihilism

I really do not want to make this post. I discussed nihilism and its meaning in some of my earliest posts. I thought that this whole topic is obvious and does not need any further discussion. Indeed, a book on nihilism will only consist of blank pages. There is nothing else to be said on this topic. But it does confuse people, and nihilism makes me seem evil in the eyes of the others. So I have forced myself to write this post even though it bores me to near death.

I will not explain what nihilism is. You can read what I believe here. It is not appropriate to ask an nihilist, "why are you a nihilist?". Because nihilism is simply the default position that we can have. In a similar manner it is inappropriate to ask an atheist, "why are you an atheist?". The atheist will simply tell you that atheism is our starting point, it is the default position from skepticism, and so the question that should be asked is rather "why are you a theist?" rather than "why are you an atheist?". When I get asked "why nihilism?", I consider that question to be highly inappropriate because the question I should ask instead is, "why should I not be a nihilist?".

I am a nihilist because the question of "what is the meaning of life?" is a human constructed concept. There is no meaning whatsoever, there is no meaning to life as far as I can tell. Meaning is a human concept that we attach to various things. In the same way the question "where does value come from" is non-sensical. There is no "value". Value is a human concept attached to various things. Hence, there can be no objective value or meaning because humans attach those notions.

Thus, nihilism is simply the default position of disbelief resulting from seeing any reason for believing in objectivity of values. As a result I do not believe in any kind of objective morality. Because morality is obtained from a system of values. Since I reject objectivity in values I cannot possibly accept any kind of objective moral system.

There are some atheists who do believe in secular objective morality. But how do they come to this position? Well, they choose a certain quantity of measurement and say "what is moral obeys this concept, and we arrive to morality, objectively, from working with this concept". To illustrate an example let us take utilitarianism. There are atheists who subscribe to this view and consider it to be "objective morality". I do not.

I agree with David Hume, there is no way to deduce an "ought" from an "is". There are objective statements. The Pythagorean theorem is an objective statement about (Euclidean) triangles and the universal law of gravitation is an objective statement in physics. There are mathematical and scientific statements of truth. But all these statements are just "is" statements, if you know what I am trying to say. They do not give value to what has to be. They do not say whether this is good or bad, they just say how things are.

All the science and mathematics and philosophy that we known of can at best tell us how things are and what are their properties and the laws that they follow. But from information we cannot possibly deduce what needs to be. Because what "needs" and what "ought" to be is a human value concept.

Utilitarians simply assert that "pain is bad and pleasure is good". But by what standard to they come to this? From whence do they conclude the wickness of pain from application of science? Nowhere. They simply choose a preference, a set goal they would like to attain, and then apply their moral system, which they claim is objective, to realize the conclusions of utilitarianism.

It is for these reasons that I simply do not believe in objective morality. Now I know that the Juden claim to have objective morality from the Torah. They say that God created objective morality. But even if YahWeh existed it still does not convince me. If you read the Torah it is not a book of a moral system but rather a book of obedience and authority. God does not have a moral system, he simply demands your obedience to him and the recognition of his authority. Any action can be moral if God commands it. Hence what is "moral", from a Jewish point-of-view, is equivalent to being "obedient to God". Any actions, therefore, can be moral, if God demands it. If God demands to mutilate your children then that is considered to be moral. If God demands to humiliate the poor then that is considered to be moral. Anything can be moral or immoral depending on what you perceive God to say. Thus, even if YahWeh did exist, I still question objective morality, because I see no moral system in Judaism, just a system of complete obedience.

As I said the book of nihilism is filled with blank pages. Nihilism is the rejection to any moral system, or a concept of value, or justice, from an objective point-of-view. There is nothing that nihilism professes other than that all systems are false. Hence the blank pages.

I see the abyss, and I can see it stare at me. What most people fear is the abyss. Humanity is terrified of the abyss. Humanity's ability to be intelligent has caused it to fear the abyss and develop delusions to live a more comforting life.

Therefore, what people have done is create illusions in front of the abyss so that it does not stare back at them. These illusions can vary from the simplest things to the most complex. Consider family, for example. It is just a means to escape from this abyss. A husband loves his wife, and the parents love the children. The husband believes that his wife and children are the most important things in his life, and so he keeps his family close to himself. But ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, from the standpoint of the celestial clock, all of his family is pointless. It is completely unimportant. It will be no cosmic loss if his children and wife suffered a painful cruel death in a torture chamber which mutilated them.

But those are some of the simplest fights against the abyss, more complex ones include philosophies that people form. Like moral systems, for instance. Be they utilitarianism, hedonism, egoism, Objectivism, whatever they happen to be, they are just curtains pulled over this abyss. People are terrified from the inability to have answers to these questions, and terrified even more when are told that there are no answers at all. They rebel against this by creating these objective systems of values and morals to deal with the world.

Nihilism is therefore the acknowledgement that all systems that people create are simply man-made inventions with no objectivity to them at all. Nihilism is not only the acknowledgement of our inability to have answers to certain questions but the acknowledgement that there are no answers to these questions at all.

The abyss is actually not frightening. As a nihilist I am not worried nor scaried about this at all. I guess it just takes time to get used to it. I am also not afraid of not knowing answers to questions or even suggesting that no answers can exist. I am fine living without knowing, it does not bother me. Richard Feynman nicely summarized what seems to be a nihilist message, here, in under a minute.


  1. You set up Nihilism as some kind of brave code in opposition to the poor idiots who need a teddy bear to sleep at night.

    That is bullshit and a false dichotomy. Plenty of people of faith are the bravest people around and plenty of nihilists are cowards. Nihilism is a failure of imagination...nothing more.

  2. "That is bullshit and a false dichotomy.":

    Why is it a false dichotomy?

    "Plenty of people of faith are the bravest people around and plenty of nihilists are cowards.":

    Okay. But what does this have to do with whether or not to be a nihilist?

    "Nihilism is a failure of imagination...nothing more.":

    Nihilism is not anything beyond what I said. Nihilists themselves can be very imaginative people. I am sure you would say that Richard Feynman was quite imaginative.

    I myself have a load of things to say on this blog and I have to refrain myself from going over a limit I set to myself. I am also a nihilist. Do I have a lack of imagination therefore?

    You are confusing the nihilist with nihilism. The nihilist may be very imaginative and he can be very boring. Nihilism by itself does not say anything more than what I wrote here.

  3. "I am sure you would say that Richard Feynman was quite imaginative."

    I don't think it quite fair to say that Richard Feynman was a nihilist. I would suggest instead that he was simply not very interested in matters of religion or whether there was an ultimate purpose.

    In this sense he was someone who liked to take things apart and solve problems for enjoyment. This does not mean that he thought life was devoid of meaning. Rather, it is more likely that he was good at compartmentalization.

  4. "I don't think it quite fair to say that Richard Feynman was a nihilist.":

    Why not? Why is it when I say there is no ultimate purpose then I am a bad nihilist. But when Ferynman says the exact same thing then somehow he is not a nihilist?

    All what nihilism means is giving up the foolish notion that there is an ultimate purpose to anything and live on. From that point on one can be as imaginative as he likes or as boring as he likes. The kind of person someone is, whether he is kind or not, imaginative or not, intelligent or foolish, does not make him a nihilist or not.

    "In this sense he was someone who liked to take things apart and solve problems for enjoyment. This does not mean that he thought life was devoid of meaning.":

    Justify this.

    I also like to solve problems for enjoyment. And so what? Just because I enjoy solving problems and am highly curious about a like of things does not make me not a nihilist. I have things I care for very much about but I simply recognize that ultimately they are worthless matters.