Comments on “190-proof nihilism: intoxicating intellectual idiocy”


"But what if it's true?"

(This next paragraph is going to sound a little harsh, and I apologize.)

“But what if nihilism is true?” is the obvious counter-argument. You kind of make it sound like not being a nihilist requires motivated reasoning to accept, and that what you’re offering only works if you agree not to think about it. It sounds a little like you’re about to engage in apologetics.

That said, I get why it isn’t: “Nihilism is true, therefore you should be a nihilist,” is one of those arguments that is so confused and wrongheaded that it’s not going to be easy to argue with somebody who takes it seriously. This is especially true for those who’ve learned to think objectively by abstracting out their own point of view and interests. The problem is that I can (maybe) imagine a universe in which nothing means anything, but I can’t seriously live in this universe with the attitude that nothing means anything.

Being willing to admit you are mistaken

The pages in this section—I expect about a dozen of them—will explain why specific arguments in favor of nihilism are wrong.

The point here is not that a nihilist should abandon rational reasoning in order to accept a dubious metaphysical claim. Quite the opposite!

Rather, the point is that nihilistic reasoning is not rational, by the standard criteria for rational argument.

It’s a feature of philosophical arguments that they can go on for ever; for every counter-argument, there is a counter-counter-argument, and a counter-counter-counter-argument, ad infinitum. No argument cannot be weaseled out of.

However, in the case of the arguments for nihilism, this cannot be continued in good faith. The arguments for nihilism are bad, by usual criteria of argumentation, and the arguments against it are good.

Rational arguments against nihilism

Thanks for the response. I’m definitely looking forward to your arguments, since I obviously still have a nihilistic part of my brain.

It occurred to me just now: there’s probably a strong overlap between the nihilists who will be least benefited by the remainder of this section, and those who will have the reaction I did to the way this is written. So maybe this is exactly how it needs to be written.

I am looking forward to this

I am looking forward to this section. I used to be a nihilist, but eventually found a way to permanently accept meaning into my life. On the way, I learnt that the realization that eternalism is a wrong stance is much easier than the work you have to do after that realization.

You recommend that a committed nihilist ask themselves the question “Why am I trying to prove that nothing is meaningful?”, hoping to provoke a response along the lines of “I try to hide behind my intellectual ideas to avoid responsibility”. But we (or rather, our committed nihilist) could equally ask the opposite question, namely “Why am I trying to prove that something is meaningful?”. One answer may be: Because my biological drives want me to keep existing and I thus need find a rationalization that allows me to do so. It seems to be that there is a moral / social / biological imperative towards a non-nihilistic stance (but not necessarily a complete stance), which also seeps through when you write “… you have to want to exit nihilism…”.

My own approach towards meaning was less focused on developing an accurate picture of meaning itself (as you do wonderfully in your work) but finding things that I find meaningful without a shred of doubt. And that turned out to be the very thing I was already doing as I was thinking about these questions: the pursuit of truth. Not truth itself, but the pursuit of it. For me, that was the key to resolve nihilism once and for all.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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This page is in the section Nihilism: the denial of meaning,
      which is in Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

This is the last page in its section.

The next page in book-reading order is ⚒︎ Sartre’s ghost and the corpse of God.

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