Nihilism, as the latin name for it describes, literally means “nothing”. It was a developing philosophy primarily during the time of Nietzsche when he had proclaimed his famous quote that “God is dead”. Nietzsche had simply believed that as people evolved, God was no longer needed as a means of meaning and order in the lives of people. Free will was the major idea being thrown around at the time, as well as beliefs in humanism and existentialism. People no longer began to focus on living for God, but rather for their own lives. Out of this selfish desire, the idea of nihilism was born. Nihilism is the belief that nothing matters in any sense. No object or person or idea has any meaning in life. In a sense, it tackles a more pessimistic viewpoint, believing that we as humans, hold no meaningful ties to our own emotions, connections to others, or even our own lives. If God is no longer the means to which we live for, then we are without any means. The irony of these depressing viewpoint of humans and the world is that the idea of nihilism works in both a positive and negative light, depending on how someone wishes to view it. I find myself often agreeing in the sense that Nihilism does hold a correct belief in asserting that nothing matters, because it can be an inspiration or a downfall depending on how an individual manages to take it. The idea can also mean nothing at all, especially to those ignorant or unable to grasp the concept.
Arguments for Nihilism
One of the first arguments that stuck to me when tackling the idea of nihilism was the Albert Camus’ viewpoints through The Myth of Sisyphus, because of how he chooses to view it from a pardioxical standpoint while still managing to believe that nothing matters. Though Camus was a man who seemingly believed that nihilism and existentialism, he found ways in his novels to convince readers that though these beliefs are different and out of the ordinary, people could still find their contentment with the world and the absurdity of living. These people in a sense have come to terms with the absurdity of life and understanding of how meaningless life can be, and yet they may also find contentment in this. Author Ronald Aronson describes Camus’ interest in the absurd best by claiming,
“Camus’s understanding of absurdity is best captured in an image, not an argument: of Sisyphus straining to push his rock up the mountain, watching it roll down, then descending after the rock to begin all over, in an endless cycle. Like Sisyphus, humans cannot help but continue to ask after the meaning of life, only to see our answers tumble back down.” (Aronson 2007)
We are Sisyphus. We continue to look for a meaning only to see no answer being found, and stuck repeating the never ending cycle till we are never content. It begs to force people to believe in accepting the absurdism of the world rather than seeking further questions to no avail.
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The other guiding piece I found to support in this overall belief in nihilism ties into the classic human conditioning we are built with in the modern times. Humans tend to live their lives in ignorance and going through the motions, and only begin to lose faith when we are dissatisfied. Thaddeus Metz, an author of The Meaning of Life on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains it well by stating, “For instance, some nihilists make the Schopenhauerian claim that our lives lack meaning because we are invariably dissatisfied; either we have not yet obtained what we seek, or we have obtained it and are bored.” (Metz 2011) Humans in turn feel that only when things in a sense have gone wrong. Those who are fine going through the motions of everyday life with a positive outlook remain the same, but there are many who take a negative stance towards the issue, and feel at times as if living can be a meaningless hassle.
Evaluation of Nihilism
Both points chosen each offer strengths and weaknesses that come with them. In the case for the Camus point of Sisyphus, not everyone will seek further answers in life. Some people are simple to the core, and they live just for the sake of enjoying themselves and being happy. Some wish to further understand what it means to live and where our fate lies. The strength of Sisyphus comes from those who further wish to understand more but realize they never will. They have already reached a point of nihilism or soon to come, because they seek questions in life. If one’s life is going right, they should never seek to understand the meaning of life. However, those that do believe in nihilism and choose it, can use the myth of sisyphus as a means of understand the absurdism that the world truly offers to those who wish to learn more. The weakness of this belief is apparent in those who choose to not seek further questions. If someone is content with how their life is and is not curious in learning more, then they have no need to understand nihilism or to formulate their opinions on the matter.
As for the belief in nihilism in relation to human conditioning, it holds strengths and weaknesses alike, depending on the person. The weakness is that those who are living a happy life, feel they have a meaning or are just genuinely ignorant to philosophical matters, have no need to believe that nothing matters. If they enjoy living their life then the idea will never cross their mind. The strength comes from those who do feel dissatisfied with their lives. Those that feel this way, are people that have reached certain low points and feel as if they no longer have a meaning in their life. They turn to nihilism as a means of no longer caring about things they do not possess even if they may have wanted it before. Someone who idolized wealth or love may no longer feel the same way if a traumatic experience hinders their beliefs and they formulate different ways of thinking. This will lead them towards nihilism, and is where the belief that nothing matters can hold strength.
Where I stand with nihilism is that I believe that it is a correct way of asserting that nothing matters, primarily because of the way it can be a positive change. People can be so absorbed in a negative connotation that nihilism gives off, that they believe they have to live their whole life believing that nothing is important to them and just die. I connect strongly with Camus’ point that you ultimately just have to accept the absurdity of the world and live with it. People can choose to believe in nihilism and still try to continue to live their lives as best they can. It can help out with little problems such as not letting issues get the better of you or mistakes being held over your head. I believe that ultimately realizing that things do not matter in the grand scheme can help overcome daily issues that can hinder someone who cares too much about everyday problems. Nihilism stemmed from a negative belief, but that does not mean it can only be looked at in a negative light. There are pros and cons to every type of belief and nihilism holds no different. It all depends on how the person chooses to deal with the belief.