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Help a philosophy noob understand Nihilism

 
 
Reply Tue 7 Dec, 2010 09:37 pm
I'm an atheist, and I keep hearing from my fellow skeptics that the only logical position for morals in atheism is nihilism.

Now in the broadest sense, I understand nihilism to be essentially 'the lack of morals' or the idea that there is truly no 'right' or 'wrong', 'good' or 'bad'. I've had discussions with self proclaimed nihilists who basically took the stance that anything we do in life is permitted because morals, essentially, are non-existent.

Now, since I don't believe in a higher being I would say the statement 'there are no objective morals' is a true statement. I do believe that there are actions that we can take to 'moral questions' that do have an objectively better outcome than other actions (by 'better' I mean reduces human suffering or well-being in some manner).

Ultimately I would say that we all have different subjective moral compasses, some which lead us in a direction for the 'better' and others for the worse.

Basically, am I a nihilist? What is nihilism, at least in a rudimentary way?
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sahaja yoda
 
  0  
Reply Tue 7 Dec, 2010 10:14 pm
@skepticthought,
sooo.. aithiest.. good start.. organized religion is a laod of misconception.. to put it nicely.. counterintuitive load of bullshit system of control.. to but it another way.. thats not to say though that were not all one conciessness experiencing ourselves subjectively, that there is no such thing as death.. life is but a dream.. and were the imaginations of ourselves.. regaurdless.. keep seeking.. and you will unravel truth.. now.. the nihilistic theology that there is no right or wrong.. is dead on.. simply enounters and experiences.. to be interpreted subejctively.. basically you are your own master.. with the right to develope your own opinions and define your own moral laws.. the thing iss.. in this parsect of space and time.. the nature of virtue is a constant in the equation of karma.. therefore you are bound to yield pain and suffering through immorality.. now.. inferring you posses the curious nature this post leads me to believe you do.. i am inclined to give you a nudge in a direction of possible exploration.. look up shri mataji nirmala devi.. the choice is yours to escape reincarnation.. or to bask in lifes resplenence
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skepticthought
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Dec, 2010 12:06 am
Any other takers?
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AlwaysCurious
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Dec, 2010 05:42 am
@skepticthought,
What's nihilism? Well, it's... Oh never mind, what's the point anyway Smile

The atheists you alluded to, do have a point about morals being relative. Even some theists would agree by arguing that Divinely revealed morals are after all relative to the Divine being itself as well. As I recently replied elsewhere (still learning to navigate this site), morals require a frame of reference, they do not exist in a vacuum. One really must define the source of morals, else they become an argument of "which way is North in depths of space?" - "North" of which meaningless unspecified frame of reference?

re: objective vs subjective morals on Earth, in the here and now, perhaps not tomorrow though Smile but right now: as human beings formed ever larger communities the subjective or tribal morals "clumped" together to form more objective ones covering entire societies. They often involved distinctions between those morals which benefited entire society (such as productivity being overall "good") from those which did the opposite. These morals however often take into consideration the reality in which they evolved. As an oversimplified illustration how reality influences morals - consider that it is seen as moral behaviour to shovel the elderly neighbor's driveway clearing it of snow in winter; also consider in the tropics there is no snow to speak of, there is no opportunity for the indigenous people to perform such specific moral act of "shoveling snow", yet the natives needn't subsequently be considered "immoral/amoral" for not shoveling neighbor's snow.

All morals are relative to a particular reality. Whether atheists arguing it's all relative to societies or "well-armed powers that be", or theists arguing it's relative to a higher being, point is, they are indeed relative to something, as they do not exist in a vacuum - just as there is no "north/south" to speak of in the middle of magnetically-neutral "nowhere".
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Wed 8 Dec, 2010 08:33 am
@skepticthought,
skepticthought wrote:

I'm an atheist, and I keep hearing from my fellow skeptics that the only logical position for morals in atheism is nihilism.

Now in the broadest sense, I understand nihilism to be essentially 'the lack of morals' or the idea that there is truly no 'right' or 'wrong', 'good' or 'bad'. I've had discussions with self proclaimed nihilists who basically took the stance that anything we do in life is permitted because morals, essentially, are non-existent.

Now, since I don't believe in a higher being I would say the statement 'there are no objective morals' is a true statement. I do believe that there are actions that we can take to 'moral questions' that do have an objectively better outcome than other actions (by 'better' I mean reduces human suffering or well-being in some manner).

Ultimately I would say that we all have different subjective moral compasses, some which lead us in a direction for the 'better' and others for the worse.

Basically, am I a nihilist? What is nihilism, at least in a rudimentary way?


But there is Nothing to understand about nihilism. That is the point.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Wed 8 Dec, 2010 11:57 am
@skepticthought,
skepticthought wrote:
Now in the broadest sense, I understand nihilism to be essentially 'the lack of morals' or the idea that there is truly no 'right' or 'wrong', 'good' or 'bad'. I've had discussions with self proclaimed nihilists who basically took the stance that anything we do in life is permitted because morals, essentially, are non-existent.

That's certainly not my understanding of the term "nihilism," although that term is used in a variety of philosophical contexts, often without much clarity. What you're describing can more accurately be termed "moral relativism" or "amoralism."

skepticthought wrote:
Now, since I don't believe in a higher being I would say the statement 'there are no objective morals' is a true statement.

Why would you say that? Why is a higher being necessary for the existence of a system of objective morality?

skepticthought wrote:
I do believe that there are actions that we can take to 'moral questions' that do have an objectively better outcome than other actions (by 'better' I mean reduces human suffering or well-being in some manner).

If you believe that those "better" actions are "moral," then you believe in some sort of morality. If you don't, then there's no reason to choose those actions over others that you perceive as "worse."

skepticthought wrote:
Ultimately I would say that we all have different subjective moral compasses, some which lead us in a direction for the 'better' and others for the worse.

Then you're a moral relativist.

skepticthought wrote:
Basically, am I a nihilist? What is nihilism, at least in a rudimentary way?

It's clearly not what you think it is.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Dec, 2010 11:15 pm
@AlwaysCurious,
Babies have no morals, not until they have been enculturated. This is a reason to adopt the perspective of cultural and moral relativism. That is to say all cultural systems have their own (relatvely) distinct morals. And it leaves me at a loss to grasp why some people take an absolutist position.
I behave as if my morals (and values) are absolute, but I know they are not.
dogdog
 
  2  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2010 11:19 am
There are different forms of nihilism. Existential, moral...

I, for one, am somewhat of an existentialist, but as Camus pointed out, we create our own meaning. Is it nihilistic to say life has no meaning, but my life does (at least to me regardless of whether it is "true" meaning or just some fantasy I've dreamed up to keep me from shoving a gun in my mouth)?

From a moral perspective I don't buy the nihilistic view. The Golden Rule, Kant's categorical imperative... there is a long history of recognizing that our behaviors impact others, and that we ought not behave in ways that cause suffering. Society functions only because most people have some sense of conscience or guilt or empathy for others. Meaningless? Perhaps. But from a practical standpoint I prefer to believe that living in such a way as to improve the lives of others as well as self makes life more tolerable, and yes, maybe even meaningful.

We don't need gods to tell us not to be assholes.
Dasein
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2010 01:14 pm
Before we get into what Nihilism really is let's look at the world's collection of definitions.

Nihilism: -noun
1. total rejection of established laws and institutions
2. anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity
3. total and absolute destructiveness
4. (a) in Philosophy: an extreme form of skepticism; a denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth
(b) nothingness or nonexistence
5. annihilation of the self, or the individual consciousness
6. a delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one's own mind, body, or self does not exist.
7. An approach to Philosophy that holds that human life is meaningless and that all religions, laws, moral codes, and political systems are thoroughly empty and false. The term is from Latin nihil, meaning “nothing”.

Right from the beginning it seems that the 'world' and the 'they' don't want you to become Nihilistic. If you become nihilistic, you'll have to totally reject “established laws and institutions”, become an anarchist, a terrorist, “perform revolutionary activities”, and become totally and absolutely destructive.

If you are not the type of person to be outwardly destructive, you can become skeptical and deny “all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth”. If you can't keep your thoughts to your self you will be branded as 'delusional' and that you have same form of 'mental disorder'. (It's kinda like posting on the “Philosophy Forum” - LMFAO)

Definition #6 equates one's 'self' as the same as the 'world', the 'mind', and/or the 'body'. It's important to notice that definition #6 basically says that 'you' are a measurable, definable, thing. You are not Be-ing, you are a 'thing' called mind, body, or self and defined by world's definitions. If you refuse to be defined by the world that's Nihilism or your a “bad thing”.

Definitions 4b, 5, and 7 are kind of interesting. They point to what Nihilisim might be but they don't hit the mark because they define Be-ing as a thing called “nothingness or nonexistence” (def. 4b). Definition 5 then goes on to say that the thing called 'self' has another thing called 'consciousness' and definition 5 threatens your Be-ing by saying both 'self' and 'consciousness' can be annihilated. So, correct me if I am wrong here, the dictionary (some man typing on a computer) has determined that Be-ing is a 'thing' of this world and that 'things' of this world (body, mind, consciousness, etc.) can be annihilated. Wow, this is another good reason to not become Nihilistic.

All of the definitions above are up-side down. What they 'define' doesn't happen the way life actually happens.

Let's attempt to flip all of the definitions above right-side up. Are 'morals' and 'ethics' something that is defined by the dictionary or an ethics class and imposed from the 'outside' (society) on its members? If that were true there wouldn't be any corruption or criminals in the world, right? 'Morals' and 'ethics' come from who 'you' are and then they show up in the dictionary, in a ethics class, or as law, right?

If who you are Be-ing is a 'sense of fair play' then 'morality' and 'ethics' show up in your relationships, in your business dealings, in ethics classes, and in the law. If you're not Be-ing or ignoring your 'sense of fair play', then your relationships and business dealings are about domination and manipulation and looking for 'loopholes' in the law.

I don't want to get into a discussion about ethics and morals here. I only want to point out that ethics and morals come from who 'you' are Be-ing.

All the definitions above purport to define you from the 'outside' in. In other words, those definitions are attempting you 'sell' you on the idea that 'you' are defined by the world, society, and the 'they' (measurabilty and definability) and that the world, society, and the 'they' have the 'divine' right to tell to tell you who you get to be (more domination and manipulation through confusion and doubt).

Nihilism is not a category and it doesn't happen at the level of definition (what the world and the 'they' have to say about it). The definition Nihilism keeps us from experiencing Nihilism.

Nihilism happens at the level of Be-ing. What follows is a modified excerpt of my discussion on the “Philosophy Forum” called 'Death'.

Quote:
In terms of the measurable, definable, world, and the 'they', 'death' is interpreted as that which happens at the end of 'life'. Another word we use for the end of life is 'demise'.

For the purpose of this conversation I will use 'death' (demise) when I am speaking about what happens in the measurable, definable, world and I will use 'death' (Be-ing) when I am speaking of Be-ing.

Be aware, when people speak of 'death' they are most likely speaking about 'demise'. You can't count on them to make the distinction for you. Humans Be-ing readily interchange (confuse) the two words when they come face-to-face with their own mortality and are meaning 'demise' (what happens to a physical body, plant, animal, or man).

Let's clear up the matter of 'demise' first and be done with it. It is rather simple. 'Birth' and 'death' (demise) are two sides of the same coin. When you are 'born', 'death' (demise) is inevitable and nobody can take it away from you or do it for you. It is the only certain/uncertain certainty you have. Just about everything you do between 'birth' and 'death' (demise) is an avoidance of 'death' (demise).

Let me be very clear here. 'Death' (demise) is to be avoided at all cost and for as long as possible.

Monuments (headstones, statues, buildings) are an attempt to extend 'living' past the point of 'death' (demise) or immortality. All of this points to one thing and that is: The moment you are born you are already 'dead' (demise), you just don't know when it will happen. Put down the turd, 'death' (demise) and refuse to play patty-cake with it, you can't do anything about it anyway.

Have you ever had a bad enough accident that it made you confront how you are living your life? Have you ever been in a precarious situation and said something along the lines of “If you'll get me out of this I'll never do such and such again” and experienced a shift in your outlook on life? What I just said is a hint that points to 'death' (Be-ing). When you 'close the door' on the way you have been Be-ing, that's another hint that points to 'death' (Be-ing). Those 'hints' are all evidence you need to assure you of the possibility of 'death' (Be-ing).

You should avoid 'death' (demise) at any cost, however, you should run towards 'death' (Be-ing) and experience 'death' (Be-ing) as many times as you can. That's where you'll find 'living' (Be-ing who you are).

'Death' (demise) is a concept we 'play patty-cake' with to remind us to 'live'. However, 'living' is not the opposite of 'death' (demise). 'Living' is something else. It doesn't happen in the realm of the measurable, definable, world, it happens in Be-ing/knowing.

'Death' (demise) is just one of a whole world of concepts we use to hide behind. Your lot in life is to deconstruct the concept of 'death' (demise) and uncover the possibility of 'death' (Be-ing/liv-ing).

Let me say it again. Your lot in life is to de-construct the 'concepts' of life and uncover the possibility that the 'concepts' of life (the measurable, definable, world, and the 'they') don't define who you are. They can only define you as a measurable, definable, thing.

Deconstructing concepts of things like gun, car, airplane are so easy that you don't even take notice. The difficult concepts are the ones that humans Be-ing use to define Be-ing. Since “you should avoid 'death' (demise) at any cost”, when you come close to 'death' (Be-ing) you turn the possibility of not being able “to prove your existence in this world” into a concept (animal rationale) and then use it to represent Be-ing.

As you de-construct the 'concepts', one by one, and disentangle your 'self' from the labyrinth of measurabilty and definability, you come to a point where you recognize that using the 'measurabilty and definability of the world' to prove your existence never 'captured' who 'you' really are. When you discover that the 'world's concepts can no longer capture 'you', you come face-to-face with the possibility that 'you' can't prove 'you' exist, not even to your 'self'.

Physics has proven that two things cannot occupy the same space, so, when 'you' existing, come face-to-face with the possibility that you don't exist, a very interesting thing happens. When both 'you existing' and 'the possibility that you don't exist' try to occupy the same space, they cancel each other out and both disappear. What gets left in their place is 'you', Be-ing.

What you have just experienced is 'death' (Be-ing).

When you experience 'death' (Be-ing), you will discover that you are no longer a slave to proving/not proving (explaining) your existence and that now you have 'room' for you to replace 'explaining your existence' with something else. This is the essence of human freedom.

In 'death' (Be-ing) you answer the question "Who am I?"

This is Nihilism.

"Religion is a marketing strategy designed to manipulate huge populations of people by convincing them that there is life after death (demise) and holding their 'salvation' hostage." - Dasein
0 Replies
 
Dasein
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2010 01:21 pm
@dogdog,
I like your comment about Gods and Assholes.

Here are a few for you to chuckle at:

I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until they open their mouth.
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dogdog
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2010 01:45 pm
"With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
Steven Weinberg, quoted in The New York Times, April 20, 1999
US physicist (1933 - )
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AlwaysCurious
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2010 08:11 pm
@JLNobody,
Agreed. "Morals" indeed require a frame of reference, I mean, kind of silly to "adjust our spaceship's course to North-by-North-East" in a region of deep space halfway between Milky Way and Andromeda with no magnetic fields to speak of, let alone nonexistent geographic reference points requiring spherical bodies and such to gain any meaning. "Frame of reference"...

But, as per your inquiry, why would some people take an absolute position? I suppose if one accepts a particular frame of reference for an absolute, then, and only then, could any morals be measured against such absolute standard, hence "taking an absolute position". "Divine Beings" are as absolute as such standards get, IMHO... Like you, I too behave as though my morals are absolute, though I can never quite shake the feeling my human incompetence might have played a role in my misunderstanding something along the way so as to reduce my particular "absolute moral", not merely to some category of relative values, but, downright to some utterly moronic piece of crud Smile

Albeit I do enjoy debates exploring people's reasons for considering anything as absolute. The intriguing part, for me, is the fact that I believe there actually are absolutes, albeit they always apply to the reality in question; still, ultimately, that underlying issue of "what do people consider reality to be" that enables them to be so confident when they proclaim even the ground beneath their feet is indeed solid, despite the fact it may ultimately prove to be a fantasy within some dreamscape of a dreamer about to awake from a dream.

Fascinating topic when it involves people's take on reality - I actually do enjoy all sincere views, from the weird to sensible or even "potentially coherent with that odd aftertaste" - still, if it involves (among others) absolutes with explanations, I enjoy reading/listening to them all, stimulates the mind in the least, expands it at best, enables me to partake in my fellow human beings' philosophical struggles for sure either way.
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Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Sat 11 Dec, 2010 11:27 pm
@dogdog,
That was a short good piece of reading...Thanks !
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classicalcynic
 
  1  
Reply Wed 14 May, 2014 06:10 am
nihilism..
critical thinking.
worthlessness.
pointlessness.
there is no truth.
devaluation.
renunciation.
extreme skepticism.
Gorgais.
Schopenhaurer.
diogenes the cynic.
Niccolo Machiavelli
King Solomon
fathlessness
anti-belief.
When conditions in the social organization are so unhealthy as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility that is nihilism.
Regards everything from the critical point of view
very creative.
dadaism
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Wed 14 May, 2014 10:51 am
I am against absolutism because I see no Kantian "Thing in itself". Everything is the experience of appearance (I guess that makes me a subjectivist-phenomenologist) and everything is contingent on something or, in a sense, everything else.
This, it appears to me, is absolutely so. Although grammar forces me to use the "I" form three times above, I (there I go again) do not exist as some thing* behind experience. There is only experience.

* My being is not a solid "thing" (no thingness) ; emperically all things are processes best described with the gerund verb "be-ing". Zen master Dogen reminds us that "being" is always a process, being-time. Time/process/impermance is essential to its nature. As I recall, Nietzsche (following Heraclitus) notes that instead of beingness (qua thing-in-itself) there is only becoming (something else).
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