What is nihilism and what are its ideas?

Nihilism is a philosophical current that denies any belief, principle or dogmawhether of a religious, political or social nature. Similarly, he argues that existence is meaningless and claims that there is no higher or supernatural entity to endow it with meaning, goal or purpose in itself.

This current is often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche, who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical beliefs. This would precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.

However, for Nietzsche nihilism can be a bridge to a new way of being. He believed that if we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could discover the right course for humanity. In this case, our task would be to transform the ancient Christian way of being human towards what he calls Nietzsche the superman.

Origin of nihilism

Nihilism It comes from the Latin Nothing, which means ‘nothing’ or ‘that which does not exist’. The first use of the term is recorded in a letter sent by philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi to Fichte in 1799. There he used it as a critique of Kant’s transcendental idealism.

However, the first philosophical positions that could be traced back to a nihilistic perspective are those of the skeptics. They denied the possibility of certainty and denounced that traditional truths were unjustifiable opinions.

Similarly, the Cynic school of ancient Greece could be included as another philosophical antecedent of nihilism. Cynics criticized the prevailing order and morality through satire and the practice of anaideiameaning ‘cheekiness, provocation and irreverence’.

Expansion and disclosure

The notion of nihilism became popular after the novel was published Fathers and sons by Ivan Turgenev (1862). There, he used it to describe the crude scientism espoused by his Bazarov character, who preaches a creed of total denial.

At the same time, nihilism in Russia was identified with a loosely organized revolutionary movement (1860-1917) which rejected the authority of the state, the church and the family. Eventually, this movement deteriorated into a spirit of subversion, destruction and lawlessness. In the late 1870s, a nihilist was anyone associated with underground political groups that advocated terrorism and murder.

However, It was Friedrich Nietzsche who endowed nihilism with a formal articulation within philosophical thought. For this thinker there is no objective order or structure in the world except what we give it. Likewise, he argued that nihilism was the result of God’s death.

This means that we no longer have referents and that we are installed in an enormous existential void. Consequently, he insisted that we must overcome it, giving a new meaning to reality.

Friedrich Nietzsche.
Friedrich Nietzsche is the most recognized representative of this philosophical trend.

types of nihilism

Friedrich Nietzsche stated that, faced with the acceptance of the absence of meaning of existence, two opposite attitudes could be assumed: passive nihilism or active nihilism.

active nihilism

Also called positive nihilismthat’s what advocates the destruction of all beliefs and values that gave meaning to existence (such as faith in God). This would be done to replace them with other dogmas that give rise to a new historical moment, a new morality and a new man.

passive nihilism

Also known as negative nihilism, denies traditional values ​​and beliefs about existence. But faced with this, she responds with attitudes such as desperation, inaction and renunciation of the desire to live. Well, life, which until now had an external entity that gave it meaning, is unsustainable.

Nihilism in different aspects

Nihilism has been transferred to different areas of human activity. Among the most notable are the following.

In politics

In this respect, nihilism is associated with the belief that the destruction of the entire existing political, social and religious order is a prerequisite for any future improvement. An example is the extreme political current of anarchismwhich finds points of contact with nihilism.

in ethics

The possibility of absolute moral or ethical values ​​in nihilism is rejected. Instead, it is argued that good and evil are nebulous notions and the values ​​that address this issue are nothing more than the product of social and emotional pressures.

In literature

Literature has used nihilism on various occasions. For example, it appears in the works of authors Ivan Turgenev and Anton Chekhov.

In a book by the latter author, entitled “The Three Sisters”, the phrase usually appears “it’s important?” in response to the events of the narrative. Furthermore, even the work of the Marquis de Sade has been classified as nihilisticfor his radical satire on the moral values ​​of his time.

At Cinema

There are contemporary films that have been interpreted from various nihilistic perspectives. We have various tapes such as the following:

  • Matrix (1999): existential questions indicate a philosophical break with reality.
  • Fight Clubs (1999): the antagonist embarks on a liberating feat from prevailing social values, instead embracing the insignificance of existence
  • The Big Lebowski (1998): the characters are labeled nihilistic in response to their lack of vital aspirations.
nihilistic literature.
Literature and cinema have used nihilistic philosophy to develop complex characters.

Can nihilism be applied in everyday life?

In 2018, on opposite sides of the world, two high school students showed up TEDx speaks on nihilism. Elias Skjoldborg, a third year high school student Hanwood Union in Vermont, took the stage to present his case optimistic nihilism.

During his presentation he reminded the audience that if we were to die right now, overall it would make no difference. If we were never born, nobody would care. This is the good news. If our lives aren’t necessary, then the only direction we have is to figure out how to find happiness. In our momentary flash of awareness.

The other student, Siddharth Gupta, presented his chat entitled “Confessions of an existential nihilist”. The oldest student in the school Kodiakanal International in India, he confessed that his belief that life was pointless gave him the opportunity to find meaning in everything he does.

Questioning and denying the values ​​imposed by status quo it is a form of nihilism. The important thing is not to fall into despair, immobility and renunciation of the will to live. Instead, what is needed is to create new meanings and purposes.

Don’t confuse the terms

The term nihilistic It has been used in popular culture as a synonym for rebellion, pessimism, depression, despair, or even suicide. None of these connotations have a real connection with the original concept. You can use nihilism to question established orders and find purpose.

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