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Old 01-09-2005, 06:50 PM
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Default Nihilism vs. Existentialism

What is your working definition of both of these terms, if you have ever even thought of them enough to define them?
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Old 01-09-2005, 07:04 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Don't know much about existentialism (end up having to look it up whenever it gets brought up...) but nihilism starts with relativism, the idea that there are no objective values, truths etc... and uses that to draw the conclusion that life is meaningless and valueless. It rejects or ignores the idea that people can create meaning in their own lives.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on Nihilism "Nihilism is often described as a belief in the nonexistence of truth"
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Old 01-09-2005, 07:10 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

I lurves me some existentialism! My working definition, since that's what you asked for, as opposed to any dictionary definition, is simply the study of existence. What exists? What exists in our physical, known universe? Does anything exist outside of it? What exists at a sub atomic level? Does god exist? Do I exist? Do underpants gnomes exist? What does it mean for me to exist? Is it my phyiscal body, my consciousness? Blah blah blah. It's all very exciting for me.

Nihilism, me no likey. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth. This one I did look up:
From dictionary.com, their definition #1, as relates to philosphy
Quote:
An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
Dunno, seems kind of pointless to me. Like solipsism (the differences I hope will be made glaringly obvious by the more educated members of this board). I mean, what's the point? If nothing exists, can be known, or communicated, then shut the fuck up and leave me to my fantasy.
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Old 01-09-2005, 07:41 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ymir's blood
Wikipedia has an interesting article on Nihilism "Nihilism is often described as a belief in the nonexistence of truth"
Hey, I was just reading that article yesterday.

When I was about 23 I was having a discussion with some philosophy grad student from U of M*, and he told me my views struck him as nihilistic. Ever since then I've used the word (among others) to characterize my philosophy, but it didn't even occur to me how many different possible meanings that can have depending on the context. So now my working definition isn't working.

I don't know much about existentialism either, besides having read some authors who are frequently described as existentialists - like Camus, Sartre, Dostoevsky, etc. - when I was in my early 20's.

* As soon as I wrote that I remembered that this dude's cat died at some point, and it made him so sad that he put it in his backpack and carried it around with him for several days. :eek: So all I can say is it's quite possible that he had a dead cat in his knapsack while we discussed nihilism.
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Old 01-09-2005, 07:50 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Wikpedia discusses existentialism too

Quote:
Existentialism emphasizes the idea that existence precedes essence, i.e., that one must be alive in order to create meaning, and that each person is therefore gifted with individual moments to make choices.
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Old 01-09-2005, 08:42 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

I stay away from both terms, probably because the common definitions rather miss the point.

For instance, look at this:

"...but nihilism starts with relativism, the idea that there are no objective values, truths etc... and uses that to draw the conclusion that life is meaningless and valueless."

Let's look at values for a moment. Let's say there are no objective values. Fair enough.

It then goes on to draw the conclusion that life is valueless. But saying 'life is valuless' is looking at it from an objective standpoint. It's like saying, 'there is no objective beauty' and then drawing the conclusion 'the Mona Lisa is not beautiful'.

The problem comes from trying to look at subjective terms using an objective lens. Is the Mona Lisa objectively beautiful? No. Why? Because beauty is a subjective property. Saying it's objectively beautiful is ascribing some property, beauty, to the painting, which is denied by relativism.

What can instead be said is that the painting is beautiful-to-me. This is a property, not of the painting, but of me. Perhaps it should instead be said that while there is no such thing as objective beauty, there is such a thing as perceptions of beauty. Or it could be rephrased as 'I have the property of finding this painting beautiful'.

This confusion - I think Zoot has referred to it before as a period where a part of one's thinking has failed to catch up with the rest - is why the conclusions of nihlism (e.g. there is no such thing as beauty) are valid, but completely miss the point of relativism.
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Old 01-09-2005, 09:39 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Often when people describe other people or points of view as nihilistic it's a simple derogatory term. "You don't value anything." I wouldn't assume this has anything substantial to do with a philosophical position.
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Old 01-09-2005, 10:26 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by viscousmemories
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ymir's blood
Wikipedia has an interesting article on Nihilism "Nihilism is often described as a belief in the nonexistence of truth"
Hey, I was just reading that article yesterday.
Oh, sorry. Thought you were done with it. :wink:
Quote:
When I was about 23 I was having a discussion with some philosophy grad student from U of M*, and he told me my views struck him as nihilistic. Ever since then I've used the word (among others) to characterize my philosophy, but it didn't even occur to me how many different possible meanings that can have depending on the context. So now my working definition isn't working.
Like JoeP said, 'nihilist' gets used as an epithet for someone who doesn't share your values. 'True' nihilism would be indistinquishable from an extremely depressed state, I would think. Without values, then there can be no joy or pleasure, because enjoyment is found only when we are experiencing something deemed valuable.
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Old 01-09-2005, 10:59 PM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ensign Steve
I lurves me some existentialism! My working definition, since that's what you asked for, as opposed to any dictionary definition, is simply the study of existence. What exists? What exists in our physical, known universe? Does anything exist outside of it? What exists at a sub atomic level? Does god exist? Do I exist? Do underpants gnomes exist? What does it mean for me to exist? Is it my phyiscal body, my consciousness? Blah blah blah. It's all very exciting for me.
What you describe here is Ontology, a subdiscipline of Metaphysics. Existentialism is a specific school of thought about how one should go about thinking about Ontology in relation to humanity. The specific maxim "existence precedes essence" means that for humans, essence is defined by existence; IOW we are what we do, or how we act.
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Old 01-10-2005, 12:53 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Thanks for the comments all!

Wade, you seem to have the kind of understanding/interpretation I was especially looking for. Could you compare and contrast nihilism and existentialism for me? Do you think they are mutually exclusive philosophies or worldviews (hell I don't even know what to correctly call them) or compatible?

I am asking all this based on an II discussion and the discussion of mortality here.
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Old 01-10-2005, 03:00 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

They both begin with relativism, the idea that there is no objective value or truth. Nihilism concludes from this that nothing matters, while existentialism concludes that what matters is what we do.
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Old 01-10-2005, 03:30 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

aahhh my pet! Zoot and David Gould are going to strangle me mwahaha!

I call myself a non-practicing nihilist, because I intellectually acknowledge nihilism to be the One True Philosophy, but I'm too weak to be able to accept it. At an absolute rudimentary level, I believe everyone should suicide.

It's a long argument but it basically comes down to the fact that I personally believe everyone necessarily believes in some kind of objective meaning - even if we consciously say 'objective meaning' is itself meaningless (like I do).

Nihilism works - I think - because it follows strict logic. Why I don't like existentialism (and as an aside, saying 'existentialism' is like saying 'religion' and hoping everyone will know precisely what you mean, it's pretty broad) is because at some point somewhere there is a circular argument of "I pursue it because I pursue it". Nihilism requires no such logical anomoly. All that nihilism really violates is our peace of mind and it is why no one likes it very much, I think. It doesn't provide any solutions we would traditionally think of as being 'constructive'. It is necessarily destructive, since it denies any purpose to living.

I can prove with some effort that there is no more reason to live than to suicide. What I have been thusfar unsuccessful in acheiving is convincing anyone that it is in fact more logical to suicide than to live, though I honestly do believe that this is the case.

To boil it down: if there is no objective meaning to existence, then subjective meaning is arbitrary, decided upon purely by circumstance. I take as a logical assumption that if there is no reason to believe something, it is not logical to believe it. (You still can if you want to, however, but this isn't being logical). So if we reject subjective meaning (because it itself has no meaning) we find the value of all actions are equal. If all actions are equal, all we have to grade actions are the expenditure of energy. If all humans operate on a path-of-least-resistance paradigm (which they must) then humans should most logically choose the path of smallest energy expenditure, which is always suicide.

That's horrendously cut down, but it gives you an idea. :)
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Old 01-10-2005, 03:38 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Thanks justaman. I appreciate your comments. Could you expand on a few points for me?. Why must we take everything to it's "logical" conclusion? What's wrong with "I pursue it because I pursue it" or "I value it because I value it" or even, my POV "I live because I am alive"?
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Old 01-10-2005, 03:48 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea
Thanks justaman. I appreciate your comments. Could you expand on a few points for me?. Why must we take everything to it's "logical" conclusion? What's wrong with "I pursue it because I pursue it" or "I value it because I value it" or even, my POV "I live because I am alive"?
In truth nothing. But I always equate it to someone worshipping pebbles. They aren't wrong to do it, there's little point in arguing, but there also would appear little reason in pursuing it.

I personally believe that while the logic is ultimately 'I value it because I value it', this isn't what we really believe. No one actually thinks their beliefs are so arbitrary. We think it is virtuous to believe what we do, so we believe there must be some element of importance.

So the reason I say it is by some measure 'wrong' to say 'I value it because I value it is good enough' is because you are sort of deceiving yourself. You actually believe there is a reason for you to value what you value, else you simply wouldn't value it. When we are most logical, then, when we remove emotive bias from our decision making, we cannot be satisfied by valuing for the sake of valuing.

The argument against this, of course, is that much of what we value results in pleasure, which provides this motivation. It is the argument I am most subjected to. It fails, however, because strictly logically pleasure amounts to the same circular reasoning. "I enjoy it because I enjoy it". So while this again cannot be criticised as being 'wrong' it is still equivalent to a pebble-worshipper. It is not logical, it is emotive.

This has, I think, implications on our ability to criticize the 'accuracy' of belief systems for any other. I really do liken atheists with wills to live on the precise same level as fundamentalist Christians living because God tells them to. (I put myself on this level also, though I'm occasionally dangling from it :P )
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:00 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Hmm, I still don't understand why you think we should choose logic over emotion. Sure, I think my reasons for valuing X are good ones, but I also know that my opinion is subjective and arbitrary.

Quote:
I really do liken atheists with wills to live on the precise same level as fundamentalist Christians living because God tells them to.
Huh? I enjoy living, I like being alive because it's all I know. Non existence is the only alternative and the known eventuality, and I see no reason to hasten that. How does that equate with living because some deity tells you to?

Sorry to keep peppering your with questions. I am trying to understand, your points just don't make any sense to me...yet.
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:03 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

I'm tired and a bit mentally burned out right now, but one thing that seems to go missing in all these recent philosophy threads is the fact that we don't appear to always consciously choose how we behave. There seems to be this underlying assumption that we aren't the products of our genetics and environment, but these purely rational beings that weigh moral consequences and choose every action according to our beliefs.

I think a very large part of the reason I haven't killed myself despite my firm belief that I am nothing but a single link in a massive evolutionary chain in an indifferent universe is inertia. Certainly not because I think there's any meaning or value beyond whatever I pretend there is.
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:04 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea
Thanks justaman. I appreciate your comments. Could you expand on a few points for me?. Why must we take everything to it's "logical" conclusion? What's wrong with "I pursue it because I pursue it" or "I value it because I value it" or even, my POV "I live because I am alive"?
Nothing at all wrong with any of that. And it's all perfectly consistent with "taking things to their logical conclusions". Logic in itself doesn't tell you whether you've got a good theory of what values are, after all! It just tells you what would entail that theory, and what it would entail in turn.

Neither nihilism nor existentialism has a very precise definition. Wade's are as good as any for these purposes. A general existential attitude towards life might be this: There's no general principles of fairness or meaning or significance to life, beyond those we construct in one way or another. Nihilism is far less well-defined; it probably makes most sense as a topic-specific sort of thing. Eg., one can be a nihilist about art, about morality, and so forth. As to being a nihilist across the board, it's hard to know quite what that amounts to. Presumably anyone who says they are has managed find some value or meaning in the project of telling you, f'r instance. And what argument can be given for such a view, that doesn't presuppose the normativity of reasoning? I.e., the idea that you ought to believe the conclusions of sound arguments, etc?


There's a large and generally unreadable literature on existentialism. (Two large wars in France in 20 years but Sartre survives? Sheesh.) But the very readable bits in the literature include Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (great literature the way I like it: short and funny), Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling (neither very short nor very funny, but flaming dogdish the man could write) and Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide five-part trilogy (as keen a limning of absurdity as anything Sartre ever imagined, but without the leaden prose and narcoleptic effect).
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:05 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Justaman,

Happy New Year.

One of my objections to your formulation is that if there is no logical difference between staying alive and suiciding then the only reason to choose one over the other has to be emotional. There is no other means open to us. (This includes your energy formulation. There is no logical reason to choose not to expend energy. After all, in the context of our lives we can always get more.)

So we have to make an emotional choice: live, or not live. Most people exist in the emotional state of enjoying life sufficiently to choose to live.
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:08 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyShea
Hmm, I still don't understand why you think we should choose logic over emotion. Sure, I think my reasons for valuing X are good ones, but I also know that my opinion is subjective and arbitrary.
Because emotion is logic, but necessarily biased. If we (and atheists usually are) are interesting being as objective as possible, we need to remove as much bias from our reasoning as possible. So following emotive logic is following something we should be avoiding if we want to believe what is most likely to be objectively true.

Quote:
Huh? I enjoy living, I like being alive because it's all I know. Non existence is the only alternative and the known eventuality, and I see no reason to hasten that. How does that equate with living because some deity tells you to?
Because there is no reason whatever to prefer life over nothingness. Even if you are enjoying the crap out of life, even if life is friggen awesome being dead is not worse. There is no regret in death, no avenue for comparison.

The interesting thing, however, is that it is quite possible to prefer death over life. When life starts biting the ass, death can become an attractive alternative because once again, there is no regret.

It is absolutely impossible for death to ever be a 'wrong' decision. The only way this could be so is if there are consequences. If we believe in a nihilistic death - as all atheists do by definition - then this premise will always hold true. It's only if there is a god to kick us in the ass for doing the wrong thing that this premise is false.

Quote:
Sorry to keep peppering your with questions. I am trying to understand, your points just don't make any sense to me...yet.
Not at all. Nihilism is in fact why I started chatting on philosophy forums. Any excuse to talk about it is fine by me :P
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:13 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide five-part trilogy (as keen a limning of absurdity as anything Sartre ever imagined, but without the leaden prose and narcoleptic effect)
Oh I read the whole series twice, loved every word. Sartre sounds kinda boring, but I'll take a cautious look ;). I also enjoyed Camus' The Stranger, but I read it as a look at sociopathy rather than existentialism.
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:14 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Gould
Justaman,

Happy New Year.
Hey man! You too :)

Quote:
One of my objections to your formulation is that if there is no logical difference between staying alive and suiciding then the only reason to choose one over the other has to be emotional. There is no other means open to us. (This includes your energy formulation. There is no logical reason to choose not to expend energy. After all, in the context of our lives we can always get more.)
This is only true so long as you choose to entertain the notion that emotive logic has value. Your decision to do that is a logical error, I think, though again it isn't objectively 'wrong'. It simply violates our usual stance of being objective and not believing purely out of desire.

Quote:
So we have to make an emotional choice: live, or not live. Most people exist in the emotional state of enjoying life sufficiently to choose to live.
Which I have always conceded, but it is the choice to exist in the emotional state of enjoying life which - I think - can be made without emotion.
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:15 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

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Originally Posted by LadyShea
Sartre sounds kinda boring, but I'll take a cautious look ;).
He was also a dwarf man, like 5"3 or something.

I think that's worth taking into account.
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:18 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

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I think a very large part of the reason I haven't killed myself despite my firm belief that I am nothing but a single link in a massive evolutionary chain in an indifferent universe is inertia. Certainly not because I think there's any meaning or value beyond whatever I pretend there is.
:eh?: Inertia? Care to expand just a bit?
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:22 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Justaman, if nothing has any value, then why do you apparently value logic?
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Old 01-10-2005, 04:26 AM
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Default Re: Nihilism vs. Existentialism

Quote:
Originally Posted by justaman

This is only true so long as you choose to entertain the notion that emotive logic has value. Your decision to do that is a logical error, I think, though again it isn't objectively 'wrong'. It simply violates our usual stance of being objective and not believing purely out of desire.
What is the logical reason people should suicide?

My suspicion is that there is not one. In other words, if this question is put:

'Should I stay alive?' is there a difference between the answer 'Yes' and the answer 'No'? It seems to me that your argument is based on the fact that both answers are equivalent - there is no logical reason to pick one over the other.

However, we still have no choice but to make a choice. Logic has failed us. Emotion is all we have to go on. And that is why suicide is an emotional decision.

Now, in your play you posited the notion of a person who suicided not with any emotion but simply due to the logical conclusion that it did not matter either way. If nothing matters then suicide is not a bad decision in any sense - I agree with that. But there is still no logical reason to suicide. (There is also no logical reason not to suicide, of course.) So the person made an non-logical decision. It had to be such a decision. And the only thing we have apart from logic is emotion.

Quote:

Which I have always conceded, but it is the choice to exist in the emotional state of enjoying life which - I think - can be made without emotion.
Hmmm. I do not think that that is possible. I do not think that we can choose such a thing without emotion. Indeed, I do not see how emotion can be removed from the decision making process. I guess you could introduce a randomiser of some sort - for example, ask yourself every day whether you will live or die and toss a coin that will activate a laser to kill you if it lands heads down. But the decision to set up such a machine would have to be taken emotionally in the first place.
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