Nihilist paradox


As Nietzsche is an obvious example, I am focusing on him.

I think that there are no nihilist philosophers, because if someone is a nihilist, why would the nihilist even bother telling us? As a nihilist he must not care about anything.

Arda Özdağ

Posted 2019-01-13T23:11:36.580

Reputation: 29


Nihilism is the rejection of what is claimed to be, in Nietzsche's case, to be valuable. What one should care about is a separate matter. Nietzsche's was a pretty actionable nihilism:"Nihilism is... not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one's shoulder to the plough; one destroys". And he even cared, and had an ideal, for what should come after the destruction, the superman. So he was only a nihilist about the rotten culture (as he saw it) that he found around himself. See IEP's nihilism.

– Conifold – 2019-01-14T00:26:43.763

2But Nietzsche actually was in disdain of nihilists. He would never call himself a nihilist. Well, if we talk about existential nihilism, of course. He could be a moral nihilist, for sure. But regarding your question: to me there is no meaning but only desires. I wish the world to be different, despite it being meaningless. The universe needs not to be different. – rus9384 – 2019-01-14T09:20:42.923

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Philip Klöcking – 2019-01-16T16:21:00.510



Nihilism does not imply that "one does not care about anything". For that can fit into another definition : Apatheism (although apatheism means one does not care about God's existence or non-existence).

Anyway, Nihilists like any other philosophers, do actually care about purpose (or, in this case non-purpose).

It is clear that there is a metaphysical problem : one cannot prove / disprove the existence of purpose or meaning in the physical world.

To understand part of the problem, suppose that everything that exists has meaning, therefore it follows that everything X has a meaning and purpose on which it depends.

If x is the meaning/purpose of y, then y cannot contribute to the meaning of x, since this would be circular.

From this, one can infer that if everything has purpose / meaning, then everything is infinite, since every x needs an element y (as its source of meaning), so that x is not part of the set of all things that contribute to the meaning / purpose of y.

Which means that either beings are infinite, or the ultimate reality Y that contributes to the meaning/purpose of all existing and finite elements does not have itself meaning. So, everything has meaning/purpose, except the ultimate reality itself.

This is I think one of the best arguments for Nihilism, and I don't think Nihilism implies not caring about such and such.


Regarding my argument for Nihilism, that the ultimate reality does not have an intrinsic meaning or purpose to it. It is only a product of my analytical study of the subject, and I do not remember the source of this particular idea.

To read more about Nihilism and the meaning of life :


Posted 2019-01-13T23:11:36.580

Reputation: 2 341

The same argument can work for unknowability and undefinability ... If everything is definable and knowable the everything has an element that contributes to its definition / knowledge. It follows that things are either infinite, or that there is some ultimate reality that is unknowable and undefinable in principle. – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T11:29:01.160

1Would you have a reference for the reader to get more information about this perspective? +1 – Frank Hubeny – 2019-01-14T12:20:13.917

Unfortunately the part where I said that if Nihilism is false then everything has meaning, which implies that all things are infinite (as everything must have meaning, and it can be something above and beyond itself), is a product of my learning and study of different philosophies and my analytical attempt to reduce these concepts to logical propositions, which means that this very view I may have read before but I do not remember which reference exactly, although it is good to entertain this idea, and I see it as a good argument for Nihilism. – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T14:10:00.830

As for the first part (Definition of Nihilism) I added a reference from stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, thank you ^^ – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T14:15:29.470

Nihilism means nothing has meaning. Not-nihilism is "at least one thing has meaning" then. – rus9384 – 2019-01-14T15:26:36.340

@rus9384 nothing has meaning in essence, Nihilists do not deny that there is meaning and purpose in life, but is this purpose essential to existence, that's what they deny. Most Nihilists tend to adopt Existentialism , which is also a nihilistic philosophy, existentialists claim that purpose (essence) comes after existence ... but before our existence, there is no purpose intrinsic to the Universe.

If Nihilism is taken to be "nothing has meaning" , then it would follow that existentialism is not a nihilistic philosophy, which is not the case. – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T15:41:54.373

@rus9384 Those who misunderstand Nihilism tend to think that it is a pessimistic philosophy – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T15:42:33.073

There are different kinds of nihilism. I actually think nothing has a meaning. Yet, I experience pleasure and happiness. And pain, of course. I want to reduce the latter and increase the former. But that's not about meaning. I actually think that the word "meaning" is applied to life in vain. Meanings are a subclass of thoughts, but life is not a thought. It is the environment. Or the process, depending on the definition. I think existentialists are not nihilists. They are more of relativists. I am not a pessimist. Nothing has meaning - I am free. – rus9384 – 2019-01-14T17:33:04.287

@rus9384 I am a Nihilist too, but Existentialist, I think that there is some 'meaning' to the word meaning, why? because we do understand what 'meaning' is. For example : There is no love in the Universe, but this does not mean that 'love' does not exist, it just exists in a human and social context. Words have meaning, because we know what the meaning is. Even if meaning does not exist in the physical objective world, life has no meaning, but the word 'meaning' and 'purpose' are still useful nevertheless, because they mean something in our daily life context, and can't deny this. – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T17:37:53.703

(Meaning to the word 'meaning') sounds circular, Although I find it sensical and natural. ^^ – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T17:39:01.343

Another example : "Intelligence, like meaning, is not intrinsic to the Universe" , although intelligence has meaning in the human context, but certainly it is not a property of the Universe : so, Intelligence, Meaning, Love...etc all of these concepts work on higher levels of abstraction, which involve many processes that work in a human mind. Meaning exists but only in an intelligent system as a process in our brains, not in the Universe itself. Reality has no meaning or purpose, in the same way it has no intelligence or love. – SmootQ – 2019-01-14T17:41:51.420

When a human speaks you can ask "What do you mean?" Try to ask life that question. As a process it is even impossible. You can't ask speaking about its meaning. You can ask the speaker. As environment (life is the same as reality in this case) you probably will receive no answer. Unless you treat anything as an answer and seek hidden meaning anywhere. Often when people ask "What is the meaning of life?" they mean "What should I do in general?" Well, that's silly. Like these people have no dreams, no wishes. – rus9384 – 2019-01-14T17:49:49.533

"Try to ask life that question" , life itself does not have any meaning to it, yes there is something that life "means" , and that something is unfulfilling to many : life's meaning is chemical replication, mutations and natural selection, that's the "meaning" of life. But this meaning brings forth other meanings that exist inside the system itself : Desire to reproduce, to survive, to thrive, to succeed...etc. But life itself, has meaning, and it's based on chemistry, and chemistry also has meaning which is based on physics, and physics has meaning which is based on an ultimate reality. – SmootQ – 2019-01-15T11:28:43.427

And the ultimate reality has no meaning ... it means nothing as it is the simplest thing. So, there IS meaning in the Universe, but the meaning is not intrinsic to it, it is only produced by it, "meaning" is not original, it appeared late in existence. – SmootQ – 2019-01-15T11:30:27.103


You are assuming that caring motivates action rather than constraint. People really aren't wired like that. It is generally harder to make a child not do something. Isn't it? (From the POV of Cognitive Dissonance Theory, we learn to be lazy to assert the value to our labor, which is caring about something.)

Our most famous nihilist argument is Montaigne, who in the end argues in favor of following tradition and letting everyone get used to it. If our emotions mean nothing, and they are all we really experience, we should just stop making ourselves miserable. Choosing some meaningless set of rules that keeps us from thinking about difficult things like morality is his personal prescription for not suffering. But he doesn't care whether or not you agree.

Classical Skepticism and Cynicism, on the contrary are not nihilisms. They have an agenda. (Or rather they have opposing agendas: the former of allowing for peace, the latter of disrupting undeserved peace.) They express a value. They are closer to Buddhism or the variants of Hinduism out of which it arose. There is a morality embedded in their disavowal of the meaningfulness of reality. And they wish to spread that message because they really think that morality is worthwhile. If we are deluded and suffering, we could stop. Letting us know that is a moral obligation.

From Montaigne's POV, then, why should one not meaninglessly give in to the frustration that no one ever sees this for what it is and they all sanctimoniously try to control everyone else? Then why not write a long annoying book about it? (Especially if it makes your mother feel better.) I see no contradiction there.

And Nietzsche does not qualify. He falls in the other category. He has a definite sense of value, even if it cannot be codified because it includes a devotion to originality and authenticity. It continually undercuts itself, but by his analysis so does every moral code. So why not cut out the middleman? He has an aesthetic ethics of opposing consistent moralities.


Posted 2019-01-13T23:11:36.580


Some nihilists suicide.. But the vast majority go about their mundane routines.. Chewing and pooing. Kids aren't nihilists.. They've no idea they are pointless. But knowing futility removes any motivation for any real undertaking. Why try to educate when nothing changes? I agree with Montaign. My wife and children are pointless as is my love for them.. But I wouldn't wish them to feel that. The ytaditional values offer momentary respite from the yawning void. Nietzche A nihilist who' was motivated by ideology and pride. Essentially his self righteous anger counteracted his nihilism. – Richard – 2019-01-14T18:50:17.470

@Richard Things do change. I can like these changes or don't. Some of them can appear with my effort or without. To a nihilist pooing and doing scientific research are of equal meaningfulness. Of zero meaningfulness. So, there is no argument that can prove me that a human should be a scientist if he has capability for that. It is only a matter of desire to me. The one who wants to become a scientist and has capabilify for that let become a scientist. The one wan'ts, let he doesn't. – rus9384 – 2019-01-14T19:56:52.963

@Richard A nihilist motivated by ideology is inconceivable, one motivated by self-righteousness is insane (and not just psychotic from syphilis, really insane). – None – 2019-01-14T20:00:51.993

@jobermark how so? What is your definition of nihilism? Understanding the futility of life at an existential level doesn't obviate one from the need to eat. Why would it obviate any other aspects of the human condition. Nietzsce was just a man. Who favoured facial hair and dubious ideologies. – Richard – 2019-01-14T20:05:56.720

@Richard An ideology presumes a value set. A Calvinist Christian can understand the futility of life, since everything is predestined. A Buddhist must know that if everything is an illusion, life really has no meaning. But they both believe in a set of values that transcend this life, so they are not nihilists. A (moral) nihilist does not have a value set that confers meaning. (You can't presume I don't believe what I said in the post, at least for the duration of the post's comments) Eating does not mean you believe starving is bad. Holding an ideology does mean you believe something. – None – 2019-01-14T20:44:11.313

@jobermark well.. This is open for huge debate.. We could assume Nietzche wasn't really a nihilist. But he certainly sounded like one to me. I am a predominantly left wing nihilist, my ideological backdrop predates my nihilism. But my nihilism just reenforces my pessimistic left wing outlook. Nietzche on the other hand {contentious) was an elitist. His backdrop was right wing. I believe this created a paradoxical tension in him that manifested as industry. – Richard – 2019-01-14T20:53:47.390

@Richard I am not assuming, I am taking his word for it. When he says he has a hunger for truth that drives him. I take it that he means this. When he labels his work as 'Perspectivism', I assume he knows that the word nihilism exists. When he criticises nihilists like Schopenhauer, I don't hear self-flagellation in his tone. – None – 2019-01-14T22:01:15.133

It is also highly debatable whether elitism is right wing, and therefore whether Nietzsche was right-leaning -- he was notably offended by anti-Semitism and "Germanness" in general (see The Gay Science, and its praise of 'the Southern way'. Since nationalism is another touchstone for the right, I take it he does not fit comfortably on the spectrum you are trying to apply. – None – 2019-01-14T22:08:53.137

@jobermark I'm 80 percent with him. He was an intelligent and complex man. I'm not accusing him of Nazism. I'm accusing him of believing that there existed people who were innately inferior. That is the essence of right wing politics. A lot of his ideas are certainly shared by people on the left.. by me particularly. But he certainly was at his very core.. a highbrow white van driver. Angry and red in the face. His anger was not nihilism . It was ideology.. and it motivated his industry. – Richard – 2019-01-14T22:34:15.370

@Richard our notion of left and right does not apply to the 19th century, especially not to pre-Germany Germany. A large number of socialists were also eugenicists. So is socialism not Left? Or is elitism not Right? The worst strain of the Right wing is all about "We are all born equal. So if they can't compete, they must be lazy sinners. Let them die". Huge chunks of the world, including most folks of his period simply do not fit into the same spectrum we have. You are projecting. – None – 2019-01-14T23:30:18.593

@jobermark the world isnt any more binary now than it was then. But one simply cannot be a socialist and believe in innate inferiority. There are certainly a staggering, overwhelming number of inconceivably stupid people in this world.. some not fit to be trusted with a teaspoon.. but they weren't born like that. To believe that certain people 'deserve' authority is inexcusable. Sadly. Other than that he's the second most 'right' philosopher imo. – Richard – 2019-01-14T23:30:55.743

@Richard Tell that to the people to started socialism: Facts don't seem to matter here. So I am sick of this. I didn;t as your opinion. I would like something like an argument that has actual philosophical content, given the forum you are choosing to post in.

– None – 2019-01-14T23:31:48.603

@jobermark no. There are people who call themselves socialists who who think they're 'more equal'.. Orwell called them pigs. – Richard – 2019-01-14T23:34:57.863

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– None – 2019-01-14T23:35:20.797


Nihilism is best understood contra the philosophy that it was/is trying to overthrow, this is the one predicated upon Christianity, and it's highest value, which is the Good. This is why of course Nietschze declared himself as the anti-Christ, though as someone who declares Christianity to be essentially a philosophy or religion of resentment, there is a great deal of resentiment in Nietzsche too.

It's worth noting that in a book of interviews with highly respected philosophers on the great philosophers, by Brian Magee, it was pointed that a good case can be made that intellectuals seduced by Nietzsche had a significant role to play in fascism - and this was by the way, by a philosopher sympathetic towards N's values.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2019-01-13T23:11:36.580

Reputation: 1