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.

For non-nihilists: what you can learn from nihilism

I will suggest to non-nihilists that understanding nihilism in detail is important. You are right to reject it: nihilism is harmful and mistaken. However, it is not an abstruse philosophical irrelevance, because everyone falls into nihilism at least occasionally. I’ll suggest that you may be more nihilistic than you realize, and it may be causing you more trouble than you think.

What is at stake here is our understanding and control over our own lives. Nihilism matters because meaning matters, and the best-known alternative ways of relating to meaning are also wrong.

Fear of nihilism is a main reason people commit to other stances, such as eternalism and existentialism, that are also harmful and mistaken. A clearer understanding of what’s wrong with nihilism can help you avoid those too.

For nihilists: this is not the usual denunciation

The usual arguments against nihilism are nonsense. I will confirm that you are right to reject them. I will agree with much of what you believe about meaning, and agree that it is important. Meanings are, for example, not cosmic, eternal, or personal, and this matters.

Realizing that eternalism and existentialism are wrong is the main reason people try to be nihilists, which makes it a more intelligent stance.

However, nihilism itself—“nothing is meaningful”—is harmful and mistaken. This chapter explains why, with detailed analyses that are unlike those you have seen before.

I hope to persuade you that you cannot actually be a nihilist, because you are too intelligent to fully convince yourself that nothing is meaningful. However, committing to nihilism, and attempting to live by it, may be causing you more trouble than you realize.

For both nihilists and non-nihilists: a better alternative

Fortunately, there is another possibility, not well-known, the complete stance. It is not harmful or mistaken.

However, you can only get there once you understand exactly why nihilism and eternalism are both mistakes. That is why you may find it worth your while to read this chapter—whatever you currently think about nihilism.


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

The next page in this section is Rumcake and rainbows.

This page’s topic is Nihilism.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2017 David Chapman.