What is Nihilism?

What Does Nihilism Mean

We explain what nihilism is, what was the origin of this famous term and what Russian nihilism consisted of.

Nihilism denies that existence has any intrinsic meaning.

What is Nihilism?

When talking about nihilism, it usually refers to the denial of traditional forms of moral and religious values , or to any form of thought that finds guiding principles in life. Formally, nihilism is a philosophical and also artistic current, whose fundamental axis was precisely the denial that existence has any intrinsic meaning.

The latter means the denial of any idea of transcendence, order and mission in life , and may even consider it as something irrelevant, capricious, deep down as something superfluous or insignificant.

Forms of nihilism can be identified in countercultural currents such as punk culture or even anarchism , and sometimes the term was used in a derogatory way by the more traditional sectors of society , to indicate that some person or movement lacked ethics or scruples.

However, nihilism is not comparable to any form of terrorism or criminal denial of life (especially other people's), nor is it really a belief “in nothing”. Nor is it necessarily pessimistic.

It is simply the opposition to deterministic and / or hierarchical narratives that traditionally give human existence a mission on Earth , a series of guiding commandments or some form of transcendent explanation, as religions do for example .

See also: Existentialism

Origin of nihilism

The term "nihilism" comes etymologically from the Latin word nihil ("nothing"), and was used for the first time in a letter from Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi to the philosopher Fichte , at the end of the 18th century, in which the ideas of Immanuel Kant were criticized. .

The term later became popular thanks to the Russian writer Iván Turgénev in his novel Parents and children (1862), in which he explains it as a political position similar to anarchism : opposed to all authority and all forms of faith. The term soon spread throughout imperial Russia, being frowned upon by conservatives and embraced instead by revolutionary sectors.

In the philosophical field, nihilism is linked to the work of two great German philosophers: Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. The first used that term to describe Christianity: by denying the meaning of everyday life, preferring the promise of an afterlife in which there is no suffering, no mortality, no suffering, Christian thought would have a great emptiness at the center which Nietzsche called "the death of God."

For his part, Heidegger described nihilism as a state of being in which "nothing in itself" remains , which would be equivalent to reducing being to a mere value, to a thing. Heidegger saw this denial as the construction of a new starting point.

Russian Nihilism

Russian nihilism is the name by which a generation of young artists of imperial Russia (in the midst of Tsar Alexander II) was known. They took advantage of the granting of some civil liberties, such as that of the press, to attack the religious, moral and idealistic ideas that the conservative class held.

Thus, they proceeded to ridicule and combat them through stark sincerity , using texts considered "bad taste" and through derogatory and sustained provocation. These attitudes were what inspired Turgenev for the generational portrait made in his famous novel Parents and children .

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