You’ve got nihilism wrong

NASA nebula image

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.

Rumcake and rainbows

Rainbow image courtesy Eric Rolph

Obviously meaningfulness is either outside your head (“objective”), or else inside your head (“subjective”).

There are excellent reasons to believe it is not outside your head. There are excellent reasons to believe it is not inside your head.

This is the essential argument for nihilism.

But what if meaningfulness is not either inside or outside, and does exist? How could that be?

190-proof vs. lite nihilism

Yes yes yes how deliciously meaningless
Yes yes yes how effervescently meaningless
Yes yes yes how beautifully meaningless
Yes yes yes how profoundly meaningless
Yes yes yes how definitively meaningless
Yes yes yes how comprehensively meaningless
Yes yes yes how magnificently meaningless
Yes yes yes how incredibly meaningless
Yes yes yes how unprecedentedly meaningless
Yes yes yes how mind-blowingly meaningless
Yes yes yes how unbelievably meaningless
Yes yes yes how infinitely meaningless

Let’s distinguish six attitudes to “nothing means anything”:

  1. Full-strength nihilism: Nothing is meaningful at all. Period.
  2. 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.
  3. Miserabilism: Everything is awful, so nothing means anything.
  4. Existentialism: Nothing is objectively meaningful, but subjective meanings are real.
  5. Materialism: There are no higher meanings, but mundane goals like food, safety, sex, power, money, and fame seem meaningful to us, due to evolution.
  6. 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.

Reasons to be cheerless, part 3

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?

Nihilistic anxiety

This page is unfinished. It may be a mere placeholder in the book outline. Or, the text below (if any) may be a summary, or a discussion of what the page will say, or a partial or rough draft.

Nihilistic anxiety is also called existential angst.

Nihilistic anxiety is pervasive; it is not about anything in particular.



General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays, not part the book.

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