Nihilism is the philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 doctrine suggesting the negation
In logic and mathematics, negation, also called logical complement, is an operation on propositions, truth values, or semantic values more generally. Intuitively, the negation of a proposition is true when that proposition is false, and vice versa. In classical logic negation is normally identified...

 of one or more putatively meaningful
Meaning of life
The meaning of life constitutes a philosophical question concerning the purpose and significance of life or existence in general. This concept can be expressed through a variety of related questions, such as "Why are we here?", "What is life all about?", and "What is the meaning of it all?" It has...

 aspects of life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value
Intrinsic value (ethics)
Intrinsic value is an ethical and philosophic property. It is the ethical or philosophic value that an object has "in itself" or "for its own sake", as an intrinsic property...

. Moral nihilists assert that morality
Morality is the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are good and bad . A moral code is a system of morality and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code...

 does not inherently exist, and that any established moral values are abstractly contrived. Nihilism can also take epistemological, metaphysical
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, or ontological
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

 forms, meaning respectively that, in some aspect, knowledge is not possible, or that contrary to popular belief, some aspect of reality does not exist as such.

The term nihilism is sometimes used in association with anomie
Anomie is a term meaning "without Law" to describe a lack of social norms; "normlessness". It describes the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community ties, with fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. It was popularized by French...

 to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realizing there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws. Movements such as Futurism
Futurism (art)
Futurism was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane and the industrial city...

 and deconstruction
Deconstruction is a term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Although he carefully avoided defining the term directly, he sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading...

, among others, have been identified by commentators as "nihilistic" at various times in various contexts.

Nihilism is also a characteristic that has been ascribed to time periods: for example, Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.-Life:...

 and others have called postmodernity
Postmodernity is generally used to describe the economic or cultural state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity...

 a nihilistic epoch, and some Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 theologians and figures of religious authority have asserted that postmodernity and many aspects of modernity
Modernity typically refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period, one marked by the move from feudalism toward capitalism, industrialization, secularization, rationalization, the nation-state and its constituent institutions and forms of surveillance...

 represent a rejection of theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

, and that such a rejection entails some form of nihilism.


Though the term nihilism was first popularized by the novelist Ivan Turgenev
Ivan Turgenev
Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was a Russian novelist, short story writer, and playwright. His first major publication, a short story collection entitled A Sportsman's Sketches, is a milestone of Russian Realism, and his novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century...

 (1818–1883) in his novel "'Fathers and Sons
Fathers and Sons
Fathers and Sons is an 1862 novel by Ivan Turgenev, his best known work. The title of this work in Russian is Отцы и дети , which literally means "Fathers and Children"; the work is often translated to Fathers and Sons in English for reasons of euphony.- Historical context and notes :The fathers...

, it was first introduced into philosophical discourse by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi was an influential German philosopher, literary figure, socialite and the younger brother of poet Johann Georg Jacobi...

 (1743–1819). Jacobi used the term to characterize rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

 and in particular Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

's "critical" philosophy in order to carry out a reductio ad absurdum
Reductio ad absurdum
In logic, proof by contradiction is a form of proof that establishes the truth or validity of a proposition by showing that the proposition's being false would imply a contradiction...

 according to which all rationalism (philosophy as criticism) reduces to nihilism, and thus it should be avoided and replaced with a return to some type of faith
Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. In religion, faith is a belief in a transcendent reality, a religious teacher, a set of teachings or a Supreme Being. Generally speaking, it is offered as a means by which the truth of the proposition,...

 and revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

. Bret W. Davis writes, for example, "The first philosophical development of the idea of nihilism is generally ascribed to Friedrich Jacobi, who in a famous letter criticized Fichte's idealism as falling into nihilism. According to Jacobi, Fichte’s absolutization of the ego (the 'absolute I' that posits the 'not-I') is an inflation of subjectivity that denies the absolute transcendence of God." A related concept is fideism
Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths...


With the popularizing of the word nihilism by Turgenev, a new Russian political movement called the Nihilism movement adopted the term. They supposedly called themselves nihilists because nothing "that then existed found favor in their eyes."


Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

 (1813–1855) posited an early form of nihilism which he referred to as
levelling. He saw levelling as the process of suppressing individuality to a point where the individual's uniqueness becomes non-existent and nothing meaningful in his existence can be affirmed:
Kierkegaard, an advocate of a philosophy of life
Philosophy of life
There are at least two senses in which the term philosophy is used, a formal and an informal sense. In the formal sense philosophy is an academic study of the fields metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, logic, and social philosophy...

, generally argued against levelling and its nihilist consequence, although he believed it would be "genuinely educative to live in the age of levelling [because] people will be forced to face the judgement of [levelling] alone." George Cotkin asserts Kierkegaard was against "the standardization and levelling of belief, both spiritual and political, in the nineteenth century [and he] opposed tendencies in mass culture to reduce the individual to a cipher of conformity and deference to the dominant opinion." In his day, tabloids (like the Danish magazine Corsaren
Corsaren was a weekly satirical and political magazine published by Meïr Aron Goldschmidt who also wrote most of its content. The first issue was published on the 8 October 1840 in Copenhagen, Denmark....

) and corrupt Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 were instruments of levelling and contributed to the "reflective apathetic
Apathy is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical or physical life.They may lack a sense of purpose or meaning in...

 age" of 19th century Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. Kierkegaard argues that individuals who can overcome the levelling process are stronger for it and that it represents a step in the right direction towards "becoming a true self." As we must overcome levelling, Hubert Dreyfus
Hubert Dreyfus
Hubert Lederer Dreyfus is an American philosopher. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley....

 and Jane Rubin argue that Kierkegaard's interest, "in an increasingly nihilistic age, is in how we can recover the sense that our lives are meaningful".

Note however that Kierkegaard's meaning of "nihilism" differs from the modern definition in the sense that, for Kierkegaard, levelling led to a life lacking meaning, purpose or value, whereas the modern interpretation of nihilism posits that there was never any meaning, purpose or value to begin with.


Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

, who provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture. Though the notion appears frequently throughout Nietzsche's work, he uses the term in a variety of ways, with different meanings and connotations, both positive and negative. Karen Carr describes Nietzsche's characterization of nihilism "as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value (or need) and how the world appears to operate." When we find out that the world does not possess the objective value or meaning that we want it to have or have long since believed it to have, we find ourselves in a crisis. Nietzsche asserts that with the decline of Christianity and the rise of physiological decadence, nihilism is in fact characteristic of the modern age, though he implies that the rise of nihilism is still incomplete and that it has yet to be overcome. Though the problem of nihilism becomes especially explicit in Nietzsche's notebooks
Nachlass is a German word, used in academia to describe the collection of manuscripts, notes, correspondence, and so on left behind when a scholar dies. The word is a compound in German: nach means 'after', and the verb lassen means 'leave'. The plural can be either Nachlasse or Nachlässe...

 (published posthumously), it is mentioned repeatedly in his published works and is closely connected to many of the problems mentioned there.

Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. This observation stems in part from Nietzsche's perspectivism
Perspectivism is the philosophical view developed by Friedrich Nietzsche that all ideations take place from particular perspectives. This means that there are many possible conceptual schemes, or perspectives in which judgment of truth or value can be made...

, or his notion that "knowledge" is always by someone of some thing: it is always bound by perspective, and it is never mere fact. Rather, there are interpretations through which we understand the world and give it meaning. Interpreting is something we can not go without; in fact, it is something we need. One way of interpreting the world is through morality, as one of the fundamental ways in which people make sense of the world, especially in regard to their own thoughts and actions. Nietzsche distinguishes a morality that is strong or healthy, meaning that the person in question is aware that he constructs it himself, from weak morality, where the interpretation is projected on to something external. Regardless of its strength, morality presents us with meaning, whether this is created or 'implanted,' which helps us get through life. This is exactly why Nietzsche states that nihilism as "absolute valuelessness" or "nothing has meaning" is dangerous, or even "the danger of dangers": it is through valuation that people survive and endure the danger, pain and hardships they face in life. The complete destruction of all meaning and all values would lead to an existence of apathy and stillness, where positive actions, affirmative actions, would be replaced by a state of reaction and destruction. This is the prophecy of "der letzte Mensch", the last man , the most despicable man, devoid of values, incapable of self-realization through creation of his own good and evil, devoid of any "will to power" (Wille zur Macht).

Nietzsche discusses Christianity, one of the major topics in his work, at length in the context of the problem of nihilism in his notebooks, in a chapter entitled 'European Nihilism'. Here he states that the Christian moral doctrine provides people with intrinsic value
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

, belief in God (which justifies
Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal , more simply known as Théodicée, is a book of philosophy by the famed polymath Gottfried Leibniz...

 the evil in the world) and a basis for objective knowledge
Objectivity (philosophy)
Objectivity is a central philosophical concept which has been variously defined by sources. A proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are met and are "mind-independent"—that is, not met by the judgment of a conscious entity or subject.- Objectivism...

. In this sense, in constructing a world where objective knowledge is possible, Christianity is an antidote against a primal form of nihilism, against the despair of meaninglessness. However, it is exactly the element of truthfulness in Christian doctrine that is its undoing: in its drive towards truth, Christianity eventually finds itself to be a construct, which leads to its own dissolution. It is therefore that Nietzsche states that we have outgrown Christianity "not because we lived too far from it, rather because we lived too close." As such, the self-dissolution of Christianity constitutes yet another form of nihilism. Because Christianity was an interpretation that posited itself as the interpretation, Nietzsche states that this dissolution leads beyond skepticism
Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere...

 to a distrust of all meaning.

Stanley Rosen
Stanley Rosen
Stanley Rosen is an American philosopher. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he is currently Professor Emeritus at Boston University. His wide range of research includes metaphysics, political philosophy, and history of western philosophy....

 identifies Nietzsche's concept of nihilism with this situation of meaninglessness, where "everything is permitted." According to him, the loss of higher metaphysical values which existed in contrast with the base reality of the world or merely human ideas give rise to the idea that all human ideas are therefore valueless. Rejection of idealism thus results in nihilism, because only similarly transcendent ideals would live up to the previous standards that the nihilist still implicitly holds. The inability for Christianity to serve as a source of valuating the world is reflected in Nietzsche's famous aphorism
An aphorism is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates...

 of the madman in the Gay Science
The Gay Science
The Gay Science is a book written by Friedrich Nietzsche, first published in 1882 and followed by a second edition, which was published after the completion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, in 1887. This substantial expansion includes a fifth book and an appendix of songs...

. The death of God, in particular the statement that "we killed him", is similar to the self-dissolution of Christian doctrine: due to the advances of the sciences, which for Nietzsche show that man is the product of evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

, that earth has no special place among the stars and that history
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 is not progressive
Progress (history)
In historiography and the philosophy of history, progress is the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, quality of life, etc...

, the Christian notion of God can no longer serve as a basis for a morality.

One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche calls 'passive nihilism', which he recognises in the pessimistic
Pessimism, from the Latin word pessimus , is a state of mind in which one perceives life negatively. Value judgments may vary dramatically between individuals, even when judgments of fact are undisputed. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?"...

 philosophy of Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...

. Schopenhauer's doctrine, which Nietzsche also refers to as Western Buddhism, advocates a separating oneself of will and desires in order to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterises this ascetic attitude as a "will to nothing
Nothing is no thing, denoting the absence of something. Nothing is a pronoun associated with nothingness, is also an adjective, and an object as a concept in the Frege-Church ontology....

ness," whereby life turns away from itself, as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears to be inconsistent:
Nietzsche's relation to the problem of nihilism is a complex one. He approaches the problem of nihilism as a deeply personal one, stating that this problem of the modern world is a problem that has "become conscious" in him. Furthermore, he emphasises both the danger of nihilism and the possibilities it offers, as seen in his statement that "I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism's] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!" According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure.

He states that there is at least the possibility of another type of nihilist in the wake of Christianity's self-dissolution, one that does not stop after the destruction of all value and meaning and succumb to the following nothingness. This alternate, 'active' nihilism on the other hand destroys to level the field for constructing something new. This form of nihilism is characterized by Nietzsche as "a sign of strength," a wilful destruction of the old values to wipe the slate clean and lay down one's own beliefs and interpretations, contrary to the passive nihilism that resigns itself with the decomposition of the old values. This wilful destruction of values and the overcoming of the condition of nihilism by the constructing of new meaning, this active nihilism could be related to what Nietzsche elsewhere calls a 'free spirit' or the Übermensch
The Übermensch is a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche posited the Übermensch as a goal for humanity to set for itself in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra ....

from Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None is a philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts between 1883 and 1885...

and the Antichrist
The Antichrist (book)
The Antichrist is a book by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, originally published in 1895. Although it was written in 1888, its controversial content made Franz Overbeck and Heinrich Köselitz delay its publication, along with Ecce Homo...

, the model of the strong individual who posits his own values and lives his life as if it were his own work of art.

Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche

Many postmodern thinkers who investigated the problem of nihilism as put forward by Nietzsche, were influenced by Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

’s interpretation of Nietzsche. It is only recently that Heidegger’s influence on nihilism research by Nietzsche has faded. As early as the 1930s, Heidegger was giving lectures on Nietzsche’s thought. Given the importance of Nietzsche’s contribution to the topic of nihilism, Heidegger's influential interpretation of Nietzsche is important for the historical development of the term nihilism.

Heidegger's method of researching and teaching Nietzsche is explicitly his own. He does not specifically try to present Nietzsche as Nietzsche. He rather tries to incorporate Nietzsche's thoughts into his own philosophical system of Being, Time and Dasein. In his Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being (1944–46), Heidegger tries to understand Nietzsche’s nihilism as trying to achieve a victory through the devaluation of the, until then, highest values. The principle of this devaluation is, according to Heidegger, the Will to Power
Will to Power
The will to power is a prominent concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and in the psychotherapy of Alfred Adler. The term may also refer to:*The Will to Power , a posthumous publication of Nietzsche's notebooks...

. The Will to Power is also the principle of every earlier valuation of values. How does this devaluation occur and why is this nihilistic? One of Heidegger’s main critiques on philosophy is that philosophy, and more specifically metaphysics, has forgotten to discriminate between investigating the notion of a Being (Seiende) and Being (Sein). According to Heidegger, the history of Western thought can be seen as the history of metaphysics. And because metaphysics has forgotten to ask about the notion of Being (what Heidegger calls Seinsvergessenheit), it is a history about the destruction of Being. That is why Heidegger calls metaphysics nihilistic. This makes Nietzsche’s metaphysics not a victory over nihilism, but a perfection of it.

Heidegger, in his interpretation of Nietzsche, has been inspired by Ernst Jünger
Ernst Jünger
Ernst Jünger was a German writer. In addition to his novels and diaries, he is well known for Storm of Steel, an account of his experience during World War I. Some say he was one of Germany's greatest modern writers and a hero of the conservative revolutionary movement following World War I...

. Many references to Jünger can be found in Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche. For example, in a letter to the rector of Freiburg University of November 4, 1945, Heidegger, inspired by Jünger, tries to explain the notion of “God is dead
God is dead
"God is dead" is a widely-quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It first appears in The Gay Science , in sections 108 , 125 , and for a third time in section 343...

” as the “reality of the Will to Power.” Heidegger also praises Jünger for defending Nietzsche against a too biological or anthropological reading during the Third Reich.

A number of important postmodernist thinkers were influenced by Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche. Gianni Vattimo
Gianni Vattimo
Gianteresio Vattimo, also known as Gianni Vattimo is an internationally recognized Italian author, philosopher, and politician. Many of his works have been translated into English.-Biography:...

 points at a back and forth movement in European thought, between Nietzsche and Heidegger. During the 1960s, a Nietzschean 'renaissance' began, culminating in the work of Mazzino Montinari
Mazzino Montinari
Mazzino Montinari was an Italian scholar of Germanistics. A native of Lucca, he became regarded as one of the most distinguished researchers on Friedrich Nietzsche, and harshly criticized the edition of The Will to Power, which he regarded as a forgery, in his book The will to power does not...

 and Giorgio Colli
Giorgio Colli
Giorgio Colli was an Italian philosopher, philologist and historian. A native of Turin, taught ancient philosophy at Pisa's university for thirty years; he edited and translated Aristotle's Organon and the first complete edition of Nietzsche's work , together with his friend Mazzino Montinari...

. They began work on a new and complete edition of Nietzsche's collected works, making Nietzsche more accessible for scholarly research. Vattimo explains that with this new edition of Colli and Montinari, a critical reception of Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche began to take shape. Like other contemporary French and Italian philosophers, Vattimo does not want, or only partially wants, to rely on Heidegger for understanding Nietzsche. On the other hand, Vattimo judges Heidegger's intentions authentic enough to keep pursuing them. Philosophers who Vattimo exemplifies as a part of this back and forth movement are French philosophers Deleuze, Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

 and Derrida. Italian philosophers of this same movement are Cacciari
Massimo Cacciari
Massimo Cacciari is an Italian philosopher and politician.Born in Venice, Massimo Cacciari graduated in philosophy from the University of Padua , where he also received his doctorate, writing a thesis on Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Judgment." In 1985, he became professor of Aesthetics at the...

, Severino
Severino is an Italian given name and sometimes surname:*Saint Severinus of Noricum, a Roman Catholic saint:*Severin of Cologne, another saint*Isabelle Severino* Lucas Severino, Brazilian footballer* Robson Severino da Silva, Brazilian footballer...

 and himself. Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

, Lyotard and Rorty are also philosophers who are influenced by Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche.


Postmodern philosophy
Postmodern philosophy is a philosophical direction which is critical of the foundational assumptions and structures of philosophy. Beginning as a critique of Continental philosophy, it was heavily influenced by phenomenology, structuralism and existentialism, including writings of Georg Wilhelm...

 and poststructuralist thought question the very grounds on which Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

s have based their 'truths': absolute knowledge and meaning, a 'decentralization' of authorship, the accumulation of positive knowledge, historical progress, and certain ideals and practices of humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 and the Enlightenment.

Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

, whose deconstruction
Deconstruction is a term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Although he carefully avoided defining the term directly, he sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading...

 is perhaps most commonly labeled nihilistic, did not himself make the nihilistic move that others have claimed. Derridean deconstructionists argue that this approach rather frees texts, individuals or organizations from a restrictive truth, and that deconstruction opens up the possibility of other ways of being. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is an Indian literary critic, theorist and a University Professor at Columbia University. She is best known for the essay "Can the Subaltern Speak?", considered a founding text of postcolonialism, and for her translation of Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology. She...

, for example, uses deconstruction to create an ethics of opening up Western scholarship to the voice of the subaltern and to philosophies outside of the canon of western texts. Derrida himself built a philosophy based upon a 'responsibility to the other'. Deconstruction can thus be seen not as a denial of truth, but as a denial of our ability to know truth (it makes an epistemological claim compared to nihilism's ontological claim).

Lyotard argues that, rather than relying on an objective
Objectivity (philosophy)
Objectivity is a central philosophical concept which has been variously defined by sources. A proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are met and are "mind-independent"—that is, not met by the judgment of a conscious entity or subject.- Objectivism...

 truth or method to prove their claims, philosophers legitimize their truths by reference to a story about the world which is inseparable from the age and system the stories belong to, referred to by Lyotard as meta-narratives. He then goes on to define the postmodern condition
Postmodernity is generally used to describe the economic or cultural state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity...

 as one characterized by a rejection both of these meta-narratives and of the process of legitimation
Legitimation or legitimization is the act of providing legitimacy. Legitimation in the social sciences refers to the process whereby an act, process, or ideology becomes legitimate by its attachment to norms and values within in given society...

 by meta-narratives. "In lieu of meta-narratives we have created new language-game
A language-game is a philosophical concept developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein, referring to simple examples of language use and the actions into which the language is woven.- Description :...

s in order to legitimize our claims which rely on changing relationships and mutable truths, none of which is privileged over the other to speak to ultimate truth." This concept of the instability of truth and meaning leads in the direction of nihilism, though Lyotard stops short of embracing the latter.

Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.-Life:...

 wrote briefly of nihilism from the postmodern viewpoint in Simulacra and Simulation
Simulacra and Simulation
Simulacra and Simulation is a philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard seeking to interrogate the relationship among reality, symbols, and society.-Overview:...

. He stuck mainly to topics of interpretations of the real world over the simulations of which the real world is composed. The uses of meaning was an important subject in Baudrillard's discussion of nihilism:

Forms of nihilism

Nihilism has many definitions and is thus used to describe arguably independent philosophical positions.

Moral nihilism

Moral nihilism
Moral nihilism
Moral nihilism is the meta-ethical view that nothing is moral or immoral. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong...

, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical
In philosophy, meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics is one of the three branches of ethics generally recognized by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics. Ethical...

 view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong.
Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human and thus artificial construction, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. As an example, if someone kills someone else, such a nihilist might argue that killing is not inherently a bad thing, bad independently from our moral beliefs, only that because of the way morality is constructed as some rudimentary dichotomy, what is said to be a bad thing is given a higher negative weighting than what is called good: as a result, killing the individual was bad because it did not let the individual live, which was arbitrarily given a positive weighting. In this way a moral nihilist believes that all moral claims are false.

Existential nihilism

Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...


Epistemological nihilism

Nihilism of an epistemological form can be seen as an extreme form of skepticism in which all knowledge is denied.

Metaphysical nihilism

Metaphysical nihilism
Metaphysical nihilism
Metaphysical nihilism is the philosophical theory that there might have been no objects at all, i.e. that there is a possible world in which there are no objects at all; or at least that there might have been no concrete objects at all, so even if every possible world contains some objects, there...

 is the philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 theory that there might be no objects at all, i.e. that there is a possible world
Possible world
In philosophy and logic, the concept of a possible world is used to express modal claims. The concept of possible worlds is common in contemporary philosophical discourse and has also been disputed.- Possibility, necessity, and contingency :...

 in which there are no objects at all; or at least that there might be no concrete objects at all, so even if every possible world contains some objects, there is at least one that contains only abstract object
Abstract object
An abstract object is an object which does not exist at any particular time or place, but rather exists as a type of thing . In philosophy, an important distinction is whether an object is considered abstract or concrete. Abstract objects are sometimes called abstracta An abstract object is an...


An extreme form of metaphysical nihilism is commonly defined as the belief that existence itself does not exist. One way of interpreting such a statement would be: It is impossible to distinguish 'existence' from 'non-existence' as there are no objective qualities, and thus a reality, that one state could possess in order to discern between the two. If one cannot discern existence from its negation, then the concept of existence has no meaning; or in other words, does not 'exist' in any meaningful way. 'Meaning' in this sense is used to argue that as existence has no higher state of reality, which is arguably its necessary and defining quality, existence itself means nothing. It could be argued that this belief, once combined with epistemological nihilism, leaves one with an all-encompassing nihilism in which nothing can be said to be real or true as such values do not exist. A similar position can be found in solipsism
Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. The term comes from Latin solus and ipse . Solipsism as an epistemological position holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure. The external world and other minds cannot be known, and might not...

; however, in this viewpoint the solipsist affirms whereas the nihilist would deny the self
Self (philosophy)
The philosophy of self defines the essential qualities that make one person distinct from all others. There have been numerous approaches to defining these qualities. The self is the idea of a unified being which is the source of consciousness. Moreover, this self is the agent responsible for the...

. Both these positions are forms of anti-realism
In analytic philosophy, the term anti-realism is used to describe any position involving either the denial of an objective reality of entities of a certain type or the denial that verification-transcendent statements about a type of entity are either true or false...


Mereological nihilism

Mereological nihilism
Mereological nihilism
Mereological nihilism is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist , and only basic building blocks without parts exist...

 (also called compositional nihilism) is the position that objects with proper parts do not exist (not only objects in space, but also objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts), and only basic building blocks without parts exist, and thus the world we see and experience full of objects with parts is a product of human misperception (i.e., if we could see clearly, we would not perceive compositive objects).

Political nihilism

Political nihilism
Political nihilism
Political nihilism, a branch of nihilism, following the characteristic nihilist's rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions, in this case the necessity of the most fundamental social and political structures, such as government, family or even law and law enforcement.In some ways this...

, a branch of nihilism, follows the characteristic nihilist's rejection of non-rationalized or non-proven assertions. In this case the necessity of the most fundamental social and political structures, such as government, family, law and law enforcement. The Nihilist movement
Nihilist movement
The Nihilist movement was a Russian movement in the 1860s which rejected all authorities. It is derived from the Latin word "nihil", which means "nothing"...

 in 19th century Russia espoused a similar doctrine. Political nihilism is rather different from other forms of nihilism, and is actually more like a form of Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...


Radical nihilism

Radical nihilism is the belief that there, in the last instance, is not given a foundation for knowledge, ethics nor justice, and not even this lack of foundation can serve as a starting point for (or rejection of) knowledge, ethics or justice. Radical nihilism turns in the light of the missing universal, objective, and ahistorical certainties, towards the historically and culturally transmitted possibilities of cognition and moral/political action, well aware that the true and the good are in the last instants based on faith.


Thomas Hibbs
Thomas S. Hibbs
Thomas S. Hibbs is the dean of the honors college and distinguished professor of philosophy at Baylor University.Hibbs studied at the University of Dallas and the University of Notre Dame. He taught at Thomas Aquinas College and Boston College, thus being on the faculty of one of the most...

 suggested that the show Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

is a manifestation of nihilism in television. The very basis of the sitcom is that it is a "show about nothing." The majority of the episodes focused on minutiae. The view presented in Seinfeld is arguably consistent with the philosophy of nihilism, the idea that life is pointless, and from which arises a feeling of the absurd that characterizes the show's ironic humor.


The term Dada was first used by Tristan Tzara in 1916. The movement, which lasted from approximately 1916 to 1922, arose during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, an event that influenced the artists. The Dada Movement began in Zürich, Switzerland – known as the "Niederdorf" or "Niederdörfli" – in the Café Voltaire. The Dadaists claimed that Dada was not an art movement, but an anti-art
Anti-art is a loosely-used term applied to an array of concepts and attitudes that reject prior definitions of art and question art in general. Anti-art tends to conduct this questioning and rejection from the vantage point of art...

 movement, sometimes using found objects in a manner similar to found poetry
Found poetry
Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and/or lines , or by altering the text by additions and/or deletions...

. The "anti-art" drive is thought to have stemmed from a post-war
A post-war period or postwar period is the interval immediately following the ending of a war and enduring as long as war does not resume. A post-war period can become an interwar period or interbellum when a war between the same parties resumes at a later date...

 emptiness. This tendency toward devaluation of art has led many to claim that Dada was an essentially nihilistic movement. Given that Dada created its own means for interpreting its products, it is difficult to classify alongside most other contemporary art expressions. Hence, due to its ambiguity, it is sometimes classified as a nihilistic modus vivendi
Modus vivendi
Modus vivendi is a Latin phrase signifying an agreement between those whose opinions differ, such that they agree to disagree.Modus means mode, way. Vivendi means of living. Together, way of living, implies an accommodation between disputing parties to allow life to go on. It usually describes...



In the graphic novel Watchmen
Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book limited series created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colourist John Higgins. The series was published by DC Comics during 1986 and 1987, and has been subsequently reprinted in collected form...

, the character The Comedian/Edward Blake displays and is characterized as being a nihilist, both moral and political, to the extent of openly committing murder in order to demonstrate the lack of human concern or nerve (stating that anyone could have stopped him at any moment, but chose not to).
In the novel Fight Club
Fight Club (novel)
Fight Club is a 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist struggling with insomnia. Inspired by his doctor's exasperated remark that insomnia is not suffering, he finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person in several support groups...

by Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk
Charles Michael "Chuck" Palahniuk is an American transgressional fiction novelist and freelance journalist. He is best known for the award-winning novel Fight Club, which was later made into a film directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter...

, the concept of nihilism is frequently displayed throughout the narrator's viewpoint and he and Project Mayhem's actions, with many events having an overall disregard for morals. The rest of Palahniuk's fiction also has a tendency to express forms of nihilism.

Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramatist and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics...

 portrayed nihilism when writing Three Sisters
Three Sisters (play)
Three Sisters is a play by Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov, perhaps partially inspired by the situation of the three Brontë sisters, but most probably by the three Zimmermann sisters in Perm...

. The phrase "what does it matter" or such variants is often spoken by several characters in response to events; the significance of some of these events suggests a subscription to nihilism by said characters as a type of coping strategy.


A 2007 article in The Guardian noted that " the summer of 1977, ...punk
Punk subculture
The punk subculture includes a diverse array of ideologies, and forms of expression, including fashion, visual art, dance, literature, and film, which grew out of punk rock.-History:...

's nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England." The Sex Pistols
Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols were an English punk rock band that formed in London in 1975. They were responsible for initiating the punk movement in the United Kingdom and inspiring many later punk and alternative rock musicians...

' God Save The Queen
God Save the Queen (Sex Pistols song)
"God Save the Queen" is a song by the English punk rock band The Sex Pistols. It was released as the band's second single and was featured on their only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. The song was released during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee in 1977...

, with its chant-like refrain of "no future", became a slogan for unemployed and disaffected youth during the late 1970s.

Black metal
Black metal
Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, blast beat drumming, raw recording, and unconventional song structure....

 and death metal
Death metal
Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It typically employs heavily distorted guitars, tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, minor keys or atonality, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes....

 music often emphasizes nihilistic themes. The Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails is an American industrial rock project, founded in 1988 by Trent Reznor in Cleveland, Ohio. As its main producer, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Reznor is the only official member of Nine Inch Nails and remains solely responsible for its direction...

 album The Downward Spiral
The Downward Spiral
The Downward Spiral is the second studio album by American industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails, released March 8, 1994, on Interscope Records. It is a concept album detailing the destruction of a man, from the beginning of his "downward spiral" to his climactic attempt at suicide...

has several nihilistic themes and concepts throughout the overall storyline, with the narrator rejecting the world and the concept of God and attempting to forge his own versions (with lines such as "God is dead, And no one cares, If there is a Hell, I'll see you there"). Singer Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Manson may refer to:* Marilyn Manson , an American rock musician* Marilyn Manson , the American rock band led by the singer of the same name...

 has been criticized and referred to as a nihilist due to some themes in his lyrics.

Nihilism is also expressed in some gangsta rap
Gangsta rap
Gangsta Rap is a subgenre of hip hop music that evolved from hardcore hip hop and purports to reflect urban crime and the violent lifestyles of inner-city youths. Lyrics in gangsta rap have varied from accurate reflections to fictionalized accounts. Gangsta is a non-rhotic pronunciation of the word...

, as part of a "street code", but it is only one of many viewpoints or perspectives presented in such music. Rapper Tyler the Creator of OFWGKTA
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, often abbreviated OFWGKTA and also known simply as Odd Future or Golf Wang, is an alternative hip hop collective from Los Angeles, California...

 has been referred to as a nihilist due to his lyrical content.


Three of the antagonists in the movie The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski
The Big Lebowski is a 1998 comedy film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Jeff Bridges stars as Jeff Lebowski, an unemployed Los Angeles slacker and avid bowler, who is referred to as "The Dude". After a case of mistaken identity, The Dude is introduced to a millionaire also named...

are explicitly described as "nihilists", with the lead nihilist being portrayed by Peter Stormare
Peter Stormare
is a Swedish film, stage, voice and television actor as well as a theatrical director, playwright and musician.- Early life :...


The character Animal Mother from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. It is an adaptation of the 1979 novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford and stars Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard and Adam Baldwin. The film follows a platoon of U.S...

holds nihilistic beliefs, as does Tyler Durden from the movie Fight Club
Fight Club (film)
Fight Club is a 1999 American film based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. The film was directed by David Fincher and stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. Norton plays the unnamed protagonist, an "everyman" who is discontented with his white-collar job...

, and the character John Morlar
John Morlar
John Frederick Morlar is a fictional character in the novel and film The Medusa Touch. The novel was written by Peter Van Greenaway and published in 1973; the film was released in 1978, starring Richard Burton as Morlar....

 from the Peter Van Greenaway
Peter Van Greenaway
Peter Van Greenaway was a British novelist, the author of numerous thrillers with elements of horror and satire.He was born and educated in London, worked briefly in commercial art and acted in theatre....

 novel and 1978 film The Medusa Touch
The Medusa Touch
The Medusa Touch is a 1973 novel by Peter Van Greenaway, which was adapted fairly faithfully into a feature film in 1978.The novel tells the story of a radically disenchanted novelist with highly destructive telekinetic powers. Its dialogue was described in Kim Newman's book Nightmare Movies as...


See also

External links

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