What Is Nihilism?

What Is Nihilism?

Nihilism stands at the door. Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Writings from the Late Notebooks

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Nihilism. The nineteenth-century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, “There can be no doubt that morality will gradually perish: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe”. And, with chilling predictions like these, ‘Nihilism’ was born. The hard view that morals are pointless, loyalty is a weakness and ‘truths’ are illusory, has excited, confused and appalled western thinkers ever since. But what happened to Nietzsche’s revolutionary ideas about truth, morality and a life without meaning? Existentialism can claim lineage to Nietzsche, as can Post Modernism, but then so can Nazism. With so many interpretations, and claims of ownership from the left and the right, has anything positive come out of the great philosopher of ‘nothing’?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nihilism on the In Our Time podcast

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Short Article of the Day

...“God is dead,” Nietzsche wrote in a famous passage from “The Gay Science.” “God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

There is much debate about the meaning of Nietzsche’s famous claim, and I will not attempt to settle that scholarly dispute here.  But at least one of the things that Nietzsche could have meant is that the social role that the Judeo-Christian God plays in our culture is radically different from the one he has traditionally played in prior epochs of the West.  For it used to be the case  in the European Middle Ages for example ─ that the mainstream of society was grounded so firmly in its Christian beliefs that someone who did not share those beliefs could therefore not be taken seriously as living an even potentially admirable life.  Indeed, a life outside the Church was not only execrable but condemnable, and in certain periods of European history it invited a close encounter with a burning pyre.

Whatever role religion plays in our society today, it is not this one....

Continue reading Sean D. Kelly's short article: Navigating Past Nihilism

Further Reading

...Responding in part to the cultural situation in nineteenth-century Europe—historical scholarship continuing to erode fundamentalist readings of the Bible, the growing cultural capital of the natural sciences, and Darwinism in particular—and in part driven by his own investigations into the psychology and history of moral concepts, Nietzsche sought to draw the consequences of the death of God, the collapse of any theistic support for morality. Like his contemporary, Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose character, Ivan, in The Brothers Karamazov, famously argues that if God does not exist then everything is permitted, Nietzsche's overriding concern is to find a way to take the measure of human life in the modern world. Unlike Dostoevsky, however, Nietzsche sees a complicity between morality and the Christian God that perpetuates a life-denying, and so ultimately nihilistic, stance....

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Existentialism by Steven Crowell

Related Topics

 Nietzsche

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