Nihilism--why did it get turned into a dirty word?

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Reply Mon 4 Jan, 2010 05:53 pm
Nihilism is one of those words you have to read an entire book to understand, and most people don't have the patience to do that so, if you think about it, Nihilism in its popularly used context means nothing, it's just thrown around when someone's perspective seems too... I don't know, cynical? But it seems to me that it has been turned into a word just used to discredit a person (e.g. "You're a nihilist, no one cares what you think") without anyone ever actually knowing what it means. And that includes me. It seems to me that Nihilism means that nothing matters, but that seems like a drastic oversimplification, and I don't know what the point of this topic even is.
 
Quinn phil
 
Reply Mon 4 Jan, 2010 06:21 pm
@Merry Prankster,
Merry Prankster;117088 wrote:
Nihilism is one of those words you have to read an entire book to understand, and most people don't have the patience to do that so, if you think about it, Nihilism in its popularly used context means nothing, it's just thrown around when someone's perspective seems too... I don't know, cynical? But it seems to me that it has been turned into a word just used to discredit a person (e.g. "You're a nihilist, no one cares what you think") without anyone ever actually knowing what it means. And that includes me. It seems to me that Nihilism means that nothing matters, but that seems like a drastic oversimplification, and I don't know what the point of this topic even is.


I see what you're getting at. I guess in a sense, I can be a "Nihilist" sometimes. Sometimes it seems like no one is worth pleasing, so nothing really matters. Even survival. That seems to be a mood thing for me, however, not a set perspective. So, for something to be called an "ism", I think it should be of a more set and stone idea. Like, "Determinism". I believe in determinism, I guess I'm a determinist, then. To define a nihilist though, you'd have to define what really "matters". And, I think that's kind of subjective.
 
Merry Prankster
 
Reply Mon 4 Jan, 2010 07:10 pm
@Quinn phil,
I think Nihilism and Determinism go hand in hand. Because we are each set on a trajectory through life at the moment of birth and there is no way for us to change this original point of departure (which is basically everything you are) that where you end up in the future is largely out of your control and the aspects that you can control you can't predict how they will affect you (for example, the way different people affect you cannot be understood) so there is no point in trying to plan out the future because it is simply impossible except in very superficial ways (your job). So, I think accepting that nothing you do matters enables you to tear down the delusion of control and see through to the mechanisms of determinism and when you are more aware about how life really is largely out of your control you can better see the pattern and how it is likely to play out and that will help you stay on your heels and simply go with the flow.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 5 Jan, 2010 03:18 am
@Merry Prankster,
I am very unaffected to be reading this thread
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Wed 6 Jan, 2010 02:54 pm
@Merry Prankster,
Nihilists don't think nothing matters, but that nothing has intrinsic value. Life is given meaning and placed on a pedestal by theists because they claim it is a gift from 'god'. Once you remove that notion from your understanding of life (biological life, not all of existence), you basically automatically become a nihilist, in that we create our own value for life in our actions and thoughts.
I think I'm a nihilist, if I'm understanding the philosophy correctly. I don't think there is anything important about life. Organisms exist to consume and create and continue to exist, without inherent meaning or purpose. The value of life is mine to determine and appreciate.
People who believe in Destiny, God, or any type of Given Purpose, will reject this philosophy.
"What more can you say as the Earth gets further and further away? Planets are small as balls of clay." The only difference is the date on the dust.
 
amist
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 03:23 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;117879 wrote:
Life is given meaning and placed on a pedestal by theists because they claim it is a gift from 'god'. Once you remove that notion from your understanding of life (biological life, not all of existence), you basically automatically become a nihilist, in that we create our own value for life in our actions and thoughts.


What you have just described here is Existentialism(See, Jean-Paul Sartre), not Nihilism. Nihilism does not place value on anything, period.

There are also many atheists who believe there is at least objective morality if not an objective meaning to life, atheistic Kantians for example. Yeah though, your definition is away off.

People are put off by Nihilism and generally view it as a bad thing because if one is a Nihilist, one is not allowed to make even the simplest, most intuitive moral claims, such as 'The holocaust was bad'.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 04:55 pm
@amist,
Here's a little background on a term that is for me no longer useful.

Though the term nihilism was first popularized by the novelist Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) in his novel Fathers and Sons,[6] it was first introduced into philosophical discourse by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[7], and in particular Immanuel Kant's "critical" philosophy in order to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilism, and thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, "The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichte's idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichte's absolutization of the ego (the 'absolute I' that posits the 'not-I') is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God."[8] A related concept is fideism.
With the popularizing of the word nihilism by Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called the Nihilism movement adopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing "that then existed found favor in their eyes."[9]
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 05:11 pm
@Merry Prankster,
Reconstructo has provided an excellent summary from a literary and cultural viewpoint. Personally, I think it is an affliction, and a very common one at that. Even if it does not stand for 'nothing means anything' it is very, very close. And many people feel like that in the modern world. I associate it with anti-spirituality and hyper-individualism. So really I support the 'first philosophical usage' noted in the post above.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 05:24 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;125897 wrote:
Reconstructo has provided an excellent summary from a literary and cultural viewpoint. Personally, I think it is an affliction, and a very common one at that. Even if it does not stand for 'nothing means anything' it is very, very close. And many people feel like that in the modern world. I associate it with anti-spirituality and hyper-individualism. So really I support the 'first philosophical usage' noted in the post above.



Thanks.

Nihilism reminds me of teenage angst (which has paid off well). Also, it's such a vague and facetious word. I agree that "nothing means anything" is what many users of this word are aiming at. But what do they really mean by "mean" in this case? Obviously, an organism has needs and must value the satisfaction of those needs. I suspect that "nothing means anything" is close to the "death of God" experience. It's the lack of a super-meaning and the reduction (apparent if not actual) of man to his mess of little meanings -- his hunger, his lust, his vanity....
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 06:01 pm
@Merry Prankster,
absolutely! Hit the nail on the head (not that it means anything and that anyone gives a ...)
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 06:16 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;125923 wrote:
absolutely! Hit the nail on the head (not that it means anything and that anyone gives a f***)


I love the way you ended this. Satire is perhaps the best response to nihilism.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 06:29 pm
@Merry Prankster,
yes well I chickened out and deleted my faux obscenity. Don't want to upset the mods. But I am glad someone got it:-)
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2010 12:45 am
@Merry Prankster,
This is nihilism:

"Nihilist: We believe in nothing, Lebowski. Nothing. And tomorrow we come back and we cut off your johnson"

Sure there's an actual philosophy of nihilism, just like there is for satanism. But the words mean what they mean in our culture, that's not going to change.
 
hue-man
 
Reply Thu 18 Feb, 2010 09:03 pm
@Merry Prankster,
Merry Prankster;117088 wrote:
Nihilism is one of those words you have to read an entire book to understand, and most people don't have the patience to do that so, if you think about it, Nihilism in its popularly used context means nothing, it's just thrown around when someone's perspective seems too... I don't know, cynical? But it seems to me that it has been turned into a word just used to discredit a person (e.g. "You're a nihilist, no one cares what you think") without anyone ever actually knowing what it means. And that includes me. It seems to me that Nihilism means that nothing matters, but that seems like a drastic oversimplification, and I don't know what the point of this topic even is.


It's not hard to see why some people feel that nihilists are automatically discredited in an argument about values since nihilists claim to negate any and all values. However, as a philosophical problem, I believe that nihilism is of the most vital importance in a post-Christian world. By post-Christian I mean a world where the validity of traditional Christian values are doubted or commonly rejected. Christianity (unfortunately) provided the Western world with the false premise of objective or transcendent values and the equally false notion that the lack of a transcendent source of values would render life meaningless.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Thu 18 Feb, 2010 09:47 pm
@hue-man,
Turgenev's nihilist Bazarov was a believer in science and progress. He did not believe in nothing. He believed that the old ways of tradition and religion were nothing. Bazarov believed that the old ways must be swept away to make way for the new. Fathers and Son's is a novel about the generation gap in 19th century Russia. Turgenev painted Bazarov as a tragic and ultimately self-destructive figure. Bazarov is frightening in many respects but there is also something admirable about him as is the case with all tragic heroes. Turgenev's novel is very nuanced and not merely a piece of anti-nihilist propaganda.

Nihilism was a political and cultural stance among some of the young Russian intelligencia. Some of them engaged in revolutionary violence such as bombings and assassinations. "Nihilism" began as a term of derision and (as often happens with such terms) some of these young people ended embracing the term as a badge of honor as Bazarov did. Something of this sort: "If you call those who want to overthrow the old corrupt and debunked traditions and political dogmas a 'nihilist' then Yes! I am a nihilist!" It was a statement of defiance against the old order.

The coolest thing about the nihilists was what they wore. I don't know where the costume came from but they wore tartans (Scottish plaid), long beards, boots, and blue sunglasses and they often carried around huge walking sticks. I'm not making this up. Basically, it's the best Halloween costume ever!

There are other definitions of nihilism of course including black turtle necked sprockets of the Big Lebowski but when I hear the word I always imagine the 19th century Russians. That said, I'm not at all sympathetic to that cause, quite the opposite.

Also, the original coinage of the word "nihilism" is usually traced back to Jacobi, a defender of Faith, in a polemic against Kant's new philosophical system or I guess it was a letter against Fichte who was the self-proclaimed successor of Kant.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Thu 18 Feb, 2010 09:55 pm
@Deckard,
Deckard;129808 wrote:
Turgenev's nihilist Bazarov was a believer in science and progress. He did not believe in nothing. He believed that the old ways of tradition and religion were nothing. Bazarov believed that the old ways must be swept away to make way for the new. Fathers and Son's is a novel about the generation gap in 19th century Russia. Turgenev painted Bazarov as a tragic and ultimately self-destructive figure. Bazarov is frightening in many respects but there is also something admirable about him as is the case with all tragic heroes. Turgenev's novel is very nuanced and not merely a piece of anti-nihilist propaganda.


This is a great novel. Strange how differently the term is understood these days. Turgenev's nihilism is the status quo for some. And indeed, it was anything but valueless. It generally reminds me of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment.
Bazarov is a good example of someone with a new kind of faith, a faith in science and progress. But many of those with faith in science and progress don't like it described as faith. Nevertheless, it seems to ground characters like Bazarov as others might be grounded by religion.
 
Scottydamion
 
Reply Thu 18 Feb, 2010 11:38 pm
@jeeprs,
amist;125845 wrote:
What you have just described here is Existentialism(See, Jean-Paul Sartre), not Nihilism. Nihilism does not place value on anything, period.

There are also many atheists who believe there is at least objective morality if not an objective meaning to life, atheistic Kantians for example. Yeah though, your definition is away off.

People are put off by Nihilism and generally view it as a bad thing because if one is a Nihilist, one is not allowed to make even the simplest, most intuitive moral claims, such as 'The holocaust was bad'.


The below helped me put together my thoughts for the above. That Nihilism may serve as a critical philosophy by questioning claims about value but may not serve as a pragmatic philosophy. In other words, it may be an absolute minimum but as such is a good place to address something with skepticism: "Suppose I am a Nihilist... convince me"

Reconstructo;125888 wrote:
Here's a little background on a term that is for me no longer useful.

Though the term nihilism was first popularized by the novelist Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) in his novel Fathers and Sons,[6] it was first introduced into philosophical discourse by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism[7], and in particular Immanuel Kant's "critical" philosophy in order to carry out a reductio ad absurdum according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilism, and thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith and revelation. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, "The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichte's idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichte's absolutization of the ego (the 'absolute I' that posits the 'not-I') is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God."[8] A related concept is fideism.
With the popularizing of the word nihilism by Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called the Nihilism movement adopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing "that then existed found favor in their eyes."[9]


---------- Post added 02-18-2010 at 11:45 PM ----------

Deckard;129808 wrote:
Turgenev's nihilist Bazarov was a believer in science and progress. He did not believe in nothing. He believed that the old ways of tradition and religion were nothing. Bazarov believed that the old ways must be swept away to make way for the new. Fathers and Son's is a novel about the generation gap in 19th century Russia. Turgenev painted Bazarov as a tragic and ultimately self-destructive figure. Bazarov is frightening in many respects but there is also something admirable about him as is the case with all tragic heroes. Turgenev's novel is very nuanced and not merely a piece of anti-nihilist propaganda.

Nihilism was a political and cultural stance among some of the young Russian intelligencia. Some of them engaged in revolutionary violence such as bombings and assassinations. "Nihilism" began as a term of derision and (as often happens with such terms) some of these young people ended embracing the term as a badge of honor as Bazarov did. Something of this sort: "If you call those who want to overthrow the old corrupt and debunked traditions and political dogmas a 'nihilist' then Yes! I am a nihilist!" It was a statement of defiance against the old order.

The coolest thing about the nihilists was what they wore. I don't know where the costume came from but they wore tartans (Scottish plaid), long beards, boots, and blue sunglasses and they often carried around huge walking sticks. I'm not making this up. Basically, it's the best Halloween costume ever!

There are other definitions of nihilism of course including black turtle necked sprockets of the Big Lebowski but when I hear the word I always imagine the 19th century Russians. That said, I'm not at all sympathetic to that cause, quite the opposite.

Also, the original coinage of the word "nihilism" is usually traced back to Jacobi, a defender of Faith, in a polemic against Kant's new philosophical system.


Perhaps proof that Nihilism is much more useful when referring to a certain context rather than as an all-encompassing belief.

Christians used to call people who did not believe in their god atheists. In the same sense a nihilist concerning Christianity is much more useful a term than "We believe in nothing, Lebowski", though I do love that quote.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 01:46 pm
@Scottydamion,
How can a person have no beliefs? That doesn't even make sense.
I don't think any nihilists exist according to that definition...
 
Minimal
 
Reply Sat 27 Feb, 2010 03:31 am
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;131099 wrote:
How can a person have no beliefs? That doesn't even make sense.
I don't think any nihilists exist according to that definition...


This is why, practically speaking, a Nihilist would be just an individual who recognises ultimately there is no intrinsic meaning to anything bar what we personally instil. You can recognise the nihilistic imperative and still have a moral system for pragmatic reasons.

- Minimal.

---------- Post added 02-27-2010 at 07:56 PM ----------

Merry Prankster;117108 wrote:
I think Nihilism and Determinism go hand in hand. Because we are each set on a trajectory through life at the moment of birth and there is no way for us to change this original point of departure (which is basically everything you are) that where you end up in the future is largely out of your control and the aspects that you can control you can't predict how they will affect you (for example, the way different people affect you cannot be understood) so there is no point in trying to plan out the future because it is simply impossible except in very superficial ways (your job). So, I think accepting that nothing you do matters enables you to tear down the delusion of control and see through to the mechanisms of determinism and when you are more aware about how life really is largely out of your control you can better see the pattern and how it is likely to play out and that will help you stay on your heels and simply go with the flow.


I do not see how you made a connection to Nihilism being related to Determinism. Determinism is looking at life as some mechanical construct with no volitional capacity. Nihilism is the view that all our conceptions of "value" are not present objectively in the fabric of the universe and that our values are personal construct of society and conscious experience. Although Nihilism introduces itself as a synthetic and sterile concept it is not necessarily the mechanistic view of a Determinist - with that being said, you can be a nihilistic Determinist.

The major distinction here is that Nihilists can recognise the capacity of volition - a conflation of "determined" constituents that are predictable can allow for the emergence of volition. A Determinist will argue that we still manifest the predictability of our constituents and not recognise the conflation and emergence of different capacities - "freedom" is an illusion. A Determinist sees the bricks and mortar and refuses it can make a house; a Nihilist thinks this metaphorical "house" gives us the capacity to make value systems for pragmatic reasons. You also need to recognise that these systems of value are not "useless" they are just not objectively a part of reality (that is intrinsically present), however they are derived from social views of ethicality/morality and circumstances to serve practical agendas - they matter at a microcosmic level as opposed to the universal order ;-)

- Minimal.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 07:52 pm
@Minimal,
"This is why, practically speaking, a Nihilist would be just an individual who recognises ultimately there is no intrinsic meaning to anything bar what we personally instil. You can recognise the nihilistic imperative and still have a moral system for pragmatic reasons."

That's what I said earlier in this forum and someone said that I was describing existentialism.
I don't think that a nihilist is someone who recognizes ultimately there is no intrinsic meaning to anything, but that a nihilist is literally someone who holds no beliefs about life or the world. They don't trust that their bed will be there in the morning and must have live extremely timidly.
But like I said, even if you say you hold no beliefs you are, I think, holding the belief that there is no truth...Impossible and paradoxical, I think.
 
 

 
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