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Claim: There are benefits to nihilism


A philosophy prof, , the author of Nihilism, explains:

Nihilism is a constant threat. As the 20th-century philosopher Hannah Arendt recognised, it is best understood not as a set of ‘dangerous thoughts’, but as a risk inherent in the very act of thinking. If we reflect on any specific idea long enough, no matter how strong it seems at first, or how widely accepted, we’ll start to doubt its truth. We might also begin to doubt whether those who accept the idea really know (or care) about whether or not the idea is true. This is one step away from thinking about why there is so little consensus about so many issues, and why everyone else seems to be so certain about what now appears to you so uncertain. At this point, on the brink of nihilism, there’s a choice: either keep thinking and risk alienating yourself from society; or stop thinking and risk alienating yourself from reality.

In epistemology (the theory of knowledge), nihilism is often seen as the denial that knowledge is possible, the stance that our most cherished beliefs have no bedrock. The argument for epistemological nihilism is based on the idea that knowledge requires something more than just a knower and a known. That something more is typically seen as what makes knowledge objective, as the ability to refer to something outside of one’s personal, subjective experience is what separates knowledge from mere opinion.

But for epistemological nihilism, there is no standard, no foundation, no ground upon which one can make knowledge claims, nothing to justify our belief that any particular claim is true. All appeals to objectivity seen from the perspective of epistemological nihilism are illusory. We create the impression of knowledge to hide the fact that there are no facts. For example, as Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), we can certainly develop very complicated and very successful models for describing reality, which we can use to discover a wealth of new ‘facts’, but we can never prove that these correspond to reality itself – they could simply derive from our particular model of reality.

Nolen Gertz, “Nihilism” at Aeon

The benefit claimed would seem, to judge from the rest of the essay, to be liberation from the demands of reason or ethics, on the grounds that we either evolved or were conditioned to think that way, and therefore we can have no independent grounds for certainty.

On that view, naturalist atheists (nature is all there is), often called “materialists,” should properly be nihilists as well, in the sense that they do not think that the state of the universe includes any moral law.

Nihilism would suit the war on math and the war on science well because—for the nihilist—there are really no laws or facts anyway and those who pretend that there are such things are merely powerseekers like themselves. And, for the present, the defenders are less fashionable power seekers than the attackers.

News, IEP:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. In the 20th century, nihilistic themes–epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness–have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Mid-century, for example, the existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt its destructive potential. By the end of the century, existential despair as a response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference, often associated with antifoundationalism.
The self-referential incoherence [thus absurdity], practically screams at us. Fail. Non-starter. KF kairosfocus

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