If you think you are not nihilistic—I think you are mistaken.
If you think you are a nihilist—I think you are mistaken.
I hope this chapter on nihilism will be useful both to people who think they aren’t nihilists, and to people who think they are.
Nihilism is a thing you and I, personally, do sometimes. Everyone does, sometimes.
If nihilism were just a conceptual philosophy—something to think and talk about—you could safely ignore it. But doing nihilism is bad for us: bad enough that it’s worth the effort to stop. This chapter explains how.
Let’s distinguish six attitudes to “nothing means anything”:
Full-strength nihilism: Nothing is meaningful at all. Period.
Nihilism Lite™: OK, maybe some things are “meaningful” in some trivial sense, but not really meaningful. Those meanings don’t count! Therefore, everything is awful.
Miserabilism: Everything is awful, so nothing means anything.
Existentialism: Nothing is objectively meaningful, but subjective meanings are real.
Materialism: There are no higher meanings, but mundane goals like food, safety, sex, power, money, and fame seem meaningful to us, due to evolution.
The complete stance: Meaning is neither subjective nor objective; meanings are real but nebulous; this is fine!
All these might be called “nihilism,” but they are entirely different in their implications, and in their rational and emotional workings. I will devote a page, or several, to discussing each, separately. Here, I’ll summarize my treatment of each, with an eye particularly to seeing the distinctions between them.
For the nihilism section of the book, I’m collecting reasons to think everything is meaningless. I’m hoping to get a complete set, so I can address them comprehensively.
Can you help?
Oddly, I haven’t been able to find any discussion of nihilism that covers many reasons, or even any that argues seriously for any of them. Generally, they say something like “after we’re all dead, nothing will be meaningful, therefore nihilism,” which doesn’t actually follow.
Can you recommend books/articles/blog posts that make good arguments for nihilism?
Which of the following reasons do you find most convincing, and why?
Are there reasons to think everything is meaningless that I’ve missed in this list?