Having a beer (virtually) the other night with a friend, I “admitted” that I am a nihilist. “Admitted,” because nihilism seems to be a dirty word. I was a bit relieved he wasn’t shocked or horrified. I’ve been a nihilist for some 30 years now. I recall coming across a definition and thinking that pretty well sums it up. To my surprise, it popped right up on a Google search all these years later. It must be pretty standard:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.https://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/
Today I would qualify each of the elements of that definition. Nothing can be known with certainty, nothing can be communicated precisely, and all values are lacking a definitive base.
In fact, my recovery from nihilism is grounded in giving up on any expectation that knowledge be certain, communication be precise, and values be grounded in some absolute. I think I’m a “better” person for having gone through nihilism and for incorporating it into my being rather than shying away from it. I am more tolerant of uncertainty, freer, and more appreciative of people who believe things I think are crazy. I did not go on a killing spree, nor sink forever into paralysis.
The article cited above says Nietzsche thought nihilism would “precipitate the greatest crisis in human history” but that “we could–at a terrible price–eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind.”
I haven’t read Nietzsche, but that sounds a lot like what happened to me on a personal level.
- Have you experienced nihilism? If so, what came of it?
- Am I still a real nihilist if I have to add those qualifications to the standard definition?
- Is nihilism compatible with any kind of religious belief or practice? Did the Buddha anticipate nihilism?