Nihilism is the belief in nothing. A true nihilist would have no loyalties, and no purpose. Friedrich Nietzsche argued that nihilism's corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions; cause the collapse of meaning, relevance, purpose, and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. German political philosopher Leo Strauss argued that modern liberalism has within it a tendency towards nihilism. And because of this view, some philosophers (as far back as Plato) have argued that political leaders should invent inspiring myths in order to unite citizens of modern liberal democratic society behind a common purpose, the concept of natural rights as formulated in the Declaration of Independence is often cited as an example of an inspiring myth.
Major types of nihilism include:
- epistemological nihilism which denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this form of nihilism is identified with postmodernism. One famous example of epistemological nihilism is the words Socrates said before his death: "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing."
- Political Nihilism is the belief that the destruction of all existing political, social, and religious order is a prerequisite for any future improvement; this form of nihilism is identified with anarchism.
- Moral nihilism rejects all moral or ethical values; this form of nihilism is identified with moral relativism.
- Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no meaning or purpose.
- Mereological nihilism is the view that objects with parts do not exist, it's a human illusion; this view has been identified with some aspects of Buddhist philosophy and Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism.
In his book, The Decline of the West, German philosopher Oswald Spengler observes that pattern of nihilism was a feature shared by all civilizations on the verge of collapse.
Friedrich Nietzsche saw two kinds of nihilism in the world; pessimistic and joyous. Pessimistic nihilism was that created by the death of God in the minds of men, and corresponds to the idea that life is without meaning or value. Joyous nihilism was that experienced by those few who, like him, experienced the loss of an externally created and imposed moral structure as a liberation and not a great loss, and was the seed that let the herald Nietzsche proclaim the coming of the Übermensch. What Nietzsche truly meant by this is much debated even today, and Nietzsche himself would be disgusted with moral relativists.
Liberalism and the two roads to nihilism: how liberalism can collapse into nihilism through materialism or false idealism by Fred Hutchison, March 7, 2007.
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