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

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Mentally Ill
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 04:37 pm
@topnotcht121,
I'm in agreement with the idea that there is no purpose to life, that the first living cell was a byproduct of geothermal chemical reactions, or in other words, an accident.
I don't believe there is any reason we exist, no mission to carry out, so to speak. We're just here, incidentally.
Now that we're here though, intellectual and aware, we have choices to make. This is where Nihilism falls short in my opinion.
It may be true that nothing matters, categorically, but our lives are full of hypothetical imperatives that create a necessity for behavioral rules, or ethics.
E.G. If we want to survive on planet Earth we must feed ourselves.
If we want to feed ourselves we must harvest food from plants and animals.
If we want to continue to survive we must not deplete these resources.
If we feed ourselves in excess we will deplete these resources.
Therefore, it is ethically wrong to eat in excess.
If we produce so much offspring that our resources are no longer able to support our families, even as we eat in moderation, then we must not reproduce so frequently.
So on and so forth.

A series of hypothetical imperatives is what restrains our behavior as sentient creatures on a planet with limited resources and possibilities.
Nihilist propositions that nothing matters are only true if people have no desires. We know that people have desires. Therefore, nihilism is utterly useless and irrelevant.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 05:07 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;154146 wrote:
Nihilist propositions that nothing matters are only true if people have no desires.


You're actually arguing for nihilism, not against it. Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters intrinsically. The fact that you care about yourself isn't an argument for why you matter. You may care about yourself but I wouldn't even notice if you had never existed.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 05:49 pm
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;154153 wrote:
You're actually arguing for nihilism, not against it. Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters intrinsically. The fact that you care about yourself isn't an argument for why you matter. You may care about yourself but I wouldn't even notice if you had never existed.


I know. I'm arguing that Nihilism is true but irrelevant and useless.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 09:04 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;154179 wrote:
I know. I'm arguing that Nihilism is true but irrelevant and useless.


Whether or not something is relevant or useful to living is a matter of taste. There is no disputing about taste.
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 09:22 pm
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;154260 wrote:
Whether or not something is relevant or useful to living is a matter of taste. There is no disputing about taste.


Whether or not something is relevant is not a matter of taste, it's a matter of significance. And whether or not something is useful is not a matter of taste, it's a matter of utility.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 09:29 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;154268 wrote:
Whether or not something is relevant is not a matter of taste, it's a matter of significance. And whether or not something is useful is not a matter of taste, it's a matter of utility.


Significance and utility are also matters of taste. You might think some things are significant and useful that I don't. Who is to say which of us is right?
 
Mentally Ill
 
Reply Mon 19 Apr, 2010 09:37 pm
@Night Ripper,
Night Ripper;154274 wrote:
Significance and utility are also matters of taste. You might think some things are significant and useful that I don't. Who is to say which of us is right?


If we're trying to fix a leaky gasket and someone brings a band-aid, that's not useful. And it won't become useful just because that person says he believes it's really a matter of taste what's useful and what's not.
 
Minimal
 
Reply Sun 25 Apr, 2010 08:46 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;153304 wrote:
Why thanks! I came of age in the 60's so a lot of what I say is out of the genre of 'baby boomer spirituality'. I had some spontaneous spiritual realizations in my late childhood, which were really very like memories of a previous life, although there was no detail of what that might be, other than the sense that one had known something of great significance which was right 'on the tip of the tongue', while remaining elusive (strong resemblance to Plato's 'anamnesis', I realized later). Then in my teenage years, numerous experiences with entheogens, which led to a realization of a 'higher awareness' although one impossible to sustain by those means. This was followed by the discovery of Eastern spiritual masters including Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, and Krishnamurti. Then I discovered Buddhism and have been practicing Buddhist meditation more or less ever since (with frequent and regrettable lapses.....)

All of this has given rise to a distinct sense of being 'outside' the Western view of life, in some ways. (Mind you this was a deliberate aim of the 60's counter culture.) The Indian view of life is different to the European, and 'dharma' is fundamentally different to religion. It is experiential and inclusive, rather than dogmatic and exclusive. The basic attitude to life is that one is solely responsible for what happens; there is no vindictive deity keeping score and meting out punishments, but a succession of states of existence, each of which largely depends on the quality of your intention in the prior one. There is also an over-arching state of awareness which the spiritual masters realize, variously known as nirvana, moksha, liberation, or enlightenment, and which we are engaged in pursuit of through many lives. That is the basic view of Indian spirituality.

When I went to Uni, in Sydney, in the late 70's, I was struck by how prominent the assumed non-existence of God was in the humanities subjects. Philosophy and psychology at the time were largely behaviourist, marxist, positivist, or some other form of materialism or atheism. I formed the view that Western culture was in a centuries-old movement away from religion as defined by them. I mean, these same academic atheists would have been, 500 years previously, prelates and curates and bishops of the One True Church. Having spent millenia forcing their version of God down everyone's throats, they were now convinced that it had all been a delusion. So here we are and it is still going on.

Now I know what I have said here contains sweeping generalizations, I have recently been thoroughly flamed for having what some think is debased view of Western intellectual culture. C'est la vie. That anyway is the background to my philosophical thinking, such as it is.


Thank you very much for this response! Sorry for my belated reply, my studies have been keeping me busy and some problems cropped up. Your post made me realise a few things about myself really. Firstly, I have this dislike for the westernised conception of religion. Secondly, I have a very limited knowledge of the, from a westerners perspective, deviant teachings of the counter culture faiths/philosophies. I think the fact you can have a faith in a philosophy or teachings somehow gives a new dimension to the understanding of how spirituality functions. I personally define spirituality as emotional and psychological congruence, that ability to transcend dilemmas and view our core values we will uphold - an intellectual and moral nobility. This is what infuses value, and by having such a strong emotional connectivity to our beliefs means we hold them as real or objectively present in the universe. This therefore thwarts nihilism and by extension leads one to believe the universe personifies our core values.

There is also a danger in this mentality as it can propagate ignorance and rejection of contrary facts. This is not to say all religious people are wilfully ignorant but en masse there is a set of parameters a religious affiliation requires - when it supersedes the societal mores, that is liberties endowed by the legal system, I have a problem with religion. For instance, I have a vehement dislike for schools that are affiliated with one religious group and likewise I dislike purely atheism festering in the education system - teach religion and secularist/humanist thinking side-by-side; even the creation stories versus evolution by natural selection. I view education as intellectual liberation, the pathway to view new perspectives and test your own beliefs not a reaffirmation of what your parents have been told - "My ancestors believed in this and were good people, so I will too!" Or even worse, a believer fears the repercussions of deviating from the religious doctrine. I find psychologically coercive indoctrination, that is by threats such as "hell fire" or whatever other torturous means, abhorrent.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a constant theme of most denominations of Christianity - although I have read of interesting groups who firmly believe there is no reasoning to take hell fire to the literal extent many other denominations do. Despite this vehement dislike for the methodology of how morals and belief are taught, I am very much for the morals that Christian-based religions supposedly endorse - family is your first responsibility; do as to others as you would yourself; love your neighbour and God is love. This idea of agape love is profound and not only an ethical imperative derived from Christian reasoning - if we are all energy, at some ultimate level we are hurting ourself by hurting another. Transcending the Darwinian egoism in principle is an easy task for me at least.

Perhaps my distaste for all forms of faith is that it assumes too much; the installation of control, both psychologically and physically, requires some masquerade of precedence over another teaching - "This way of thinking is better than another." I prefer the position of pointing to the mechanics of society and reality and thinking how the dynamics work - the why part is never addressed beyond gene distribution and increased adaptability to environment in my mind. I admit this mechanistic understanding does not soothe the emotional seat of my mind but I let reality arbitrate the facts, not my principles. I do not hold my values as absolute but the conflation of my experiences, emotions and knowledge.

Unlike yourself, I lack the higher education and the age to have been brought up with diverse religious belief - I am an intellectual youngster compared to most of the people who frequent this board. My transition from boy to man has just occurred, although I feel older than I am in both mind and body - I often get mistaken for being a lot older than I am. I know this may seem an unusual request, but does this thinking fit into your personal experiences? At present, I feel very alone in my thinking.

- Minimal.
 
Night Ripper
 
Reply Sun 25 Apr, 2010 08:53 pm
@Mentally Ill,
Mentally Ill;154280 wrote:
If we're trying to fix a leaky gasket and someone brings a band-aid, that's not useful. And it won't become useful just because that person says he believes it's really a matter of taste what's useful and what's not.


Alright, now that we've got that gasket/band-aid problem settled, let's talk about morality.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 01:43 am
@Minimal,
Minimal;156622 wrote:
I personally define spirituality as emotional and psychological congruence, that ability to transcend dilemmas and view our core values we will uphold - an intellectual and moral nobility. This is what infuses value, and by having such a strong emotional connectivity to our beliefs means we hold them as real or objectively present in the universe. This therefore thwarts nihilism and by extension leads one to believe the universe personifies our core values.


Well said. I couldn't put it any better myself. This is like the meaning of dharma. 'Dharma' comes from the root word meaning 'that which upholds'. It is the ethical law; the article I linked to in the earlier post explains more about dharma and distinguishes it from religion. They key thing is to find a way to realize the meaning of it ('realize' as in 'make real') which is very much what you are saying above.

Minimal;156622 wrote:
I view education as intellectual liberation, the pathway to view new perspectives and test your own beliefs not a reaffirmation of what your parents have been told - "My ancestors believed in this and were good people, so I will too!" Or even worse, a believer fears the repercussions of deviating from the religious doctrine. I find psychologically coercive indoctrination, that is by threats such as "hell fire" or whatever other torturous means, abhorrent.


That is indeed the meaning of education. The root 'Educere' means 'to bring forth'. The uses to which religious doctrines have been put for political ends, as means of control through reward and punishment, has of course led to a lot of suffering and an enormous reaction against anything religious. But is that the real meaning of religion in the first place? Consider again the attitude of the Buddha, in his famous teaching to the Kalamas. They had approached him perplexed by the various and contradictory teachings of all the various religious movements of the day, to which the Buddha replied:

Quote:
Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" - then you should abandon them.'....

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' - then you should enter & remain in them.
Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas (AN 3.65)

I don't think it means, though, that our spiritual heritage is something to be rejected wholesale, but rather re-interpreted. There are many spiritual treasures in all the religious traditions, provided their meaning is understood correctly (that is actually a whole discipline in itself, called hermeneutics. If sometimes wish I had encountered some of the more spiritual and philosophical schools of Christianity at a younger age.)

Minimal;156622 wrote:
Unlike yourself, I lack the higher education and the age to have been brought up with diverse religious belief - I am an intellectual youngster compared to most of the people who frequent this board. My transition from boy to man has just occurred, although I feel older than I am in both mind and body - I often get mistaken for being a lot older than I am. I know this may seem an unusual request, but does this thinking fit into your personal experiences? At present, I feel very alone in my thinking.


Don't be hard on yourself. There is time to learn, the only pre-requisite is the will to do so. You do seem a careful thinker as I said before. Many people sign up on this board and throw out few barely formed sentences just to see what happens. (Of course are some very smart and learned contributors also. All types - that's what makes this place so interesting!)

As for being alone in your thinking, as someone said the other day 'the road less traveled is never crowded'. Don't be afraid of it. Being an independent thinker is important. When I went to university, I really had to pursue my own curriculum, and I still am. So stay with it, whatever else you do.

One of the current books I would recommend is The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. She is an historian of religion with a deep philosophical understanding of religious traditions. She is not representing a particular religious agenda, but is really good at explaining the inner meaning of it. Review: The Case for God by Karen Armstrong | Books | The Observer.
 
 

 
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