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Defining Nihilism

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Burning ghost
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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Burning ghost » January 18th, 2018, 5:36 am

Judaka -

It seems most deeply rooted in pessimism from an initial belief of eternal optimism; and from there all dichotomies are dissolved ... which was the point of my comparison of nihilism to buddhism, one comes at the prospect of dissolution of reason rising from pessimism, whilst the other falls down from optimism to the depths of pessimism.

It was a strange thought I had encouraged by my reading of Nietzsche.

As a way of locating a more pronounced meaning it could be useful to think of how and where nihilism comes into play for the narcissist or solipsism? Again, I am likely still stuck in my comparison with Buddhist philosophy here.

The end game of infinite subjectivity is essentially nothingness. The very frame of the subject dissolves.

Nietzsche's pronouncement of "God is dead" was not made in triumph. It was basically his way of announcing nihilism into western society in its strong form. How to live your life is a serious problem for secular society having been founded on certain mythos it is, as Jung said too, a seriously bad idea to simply throw away everything that is bad when you take away some essential good with it.

My "vain hope" was obviously a whole lot less vain than I first thought. I'm not here to play nice for the sake of playing nice. Something strange about communication cover the internet I've found is that it either helps people understand how to moderate themselves more, or it simply turns them into ideologues/demagogues ... then they find themselves on the streets justifying "Punch a Nazi," as a means of "defense" against violence.
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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Judaka » January 18th, 2018, 7:26 am

It seems most deeply rooted in pessimism from an initial belief of eternal optimism; and from there all dichotomies are dissolved ... which was the point of my comparison of nihilism to buddhism, one comes at the prospect of dissolution of reason rising from pessimism, whilst the other falls down from optimism to the depths of pessimism.
I do not understand when Nihilism is talked about in this way, there is nothing pessimistic about nihilism as it is simply a rejection of objective meaning. I do not know of any argument against Nihilism that makes logical sense, only that God bypasses the rules of subjectivity. Most people have what I call pseudo objective moral law which means objective morality without God and really, I've never heard any sensible explanation for pseduo-OML. Most rejections of Nihilism I am confronted with, are rejections of the perceived outcomes of Nihilism and so pseudo-OML is their convenient lie. I would have no problems with this lie if I believed it was beneficial. I also disagree with Buddhism's answer to the view that "all misery stems from desire" , a view I agree with.

Buddhism says desire causes misery, so eschew it. I think desire is also largely responsible for happiness, so I don't like the idea of eschewing it just because it's dangerous, rather I want to control desire because it's dangerous and Nihilism is necessary for that.
The end game of infinite subjectivity is essentially nothingness. The very frame of the subject dissolves.
I disagree. My answer to infinite subjectivity is utilising the ego to make actions subjectively meaningful. People already do this, you already do this, in this philosophy forum! You argue about things even you agree are subjective; passionately and with belief in their meaning and you defend your pride in arguments, as you did against me in your thread about living one's life forever.

The ego is a catalyst of meaning for all actions, thoughts and feelings. Self-improvement for the sake of the ego, earn money for the ego, beat others in debates for the ego, get fit for the ego and the list goes on forever. Obviously this is not a simple topic and my solution is not simple, this is my very short explanation of one way of living happily with Nihilism.

I believe eternal and unwavering happiness is obtainable using entirely philosophy and without lifting a finger, Nihilism is key to that. I think Nietzsche was an idealist, his views about "the super man" lack the pragmatism for how I believe values ought to be organized. Without a proper framework behind an idealistic pursuit, it becomes a source for misery and despair. Most value systems are essentially created to be "you must become the change I wish to see in the world", they are not inspired by a pragmatic approach to give an individual what they need or what is best for them.

So I agree that throwing away values or eschewing desires, both really bad ideas because what they offer is too valuable and almost essential. However we don't need objective morality for that and many would be better off without it.

My main argument for this is that objective morality essentially means there is no flexibility when it comes to measuring values by empirical benefit. You forfeit the right to say "what is good for you", you can only think "this is right for all". Many values simply cannot be good for everyone, many values are competitive and there must be losers, many values force us to adopt counter-productive and self-inhibiting attitudes. It is not certain that a value will be undesirable, it is only necessary that if a value is undesirable then people should be able to identify that and get rid of it. Objective morality not only stops people from being able to do that, it also means that people cannot utilise the social advantages of a subjectivity-based assessment of values.

If a value is only relevant subjectively, we can modify it. You may be able to agree with me if I use examples of things that you would agree, do not fall under the category of objective morality but are entirely subjective: a social outcast believes in the same values as others, presumably some of these values explain his isolation - this individual could be a homosexual, a nerd, a loner - doesn't matter, as long as it's something you agree there's no objective validity to whether this thing is good or bad. That social outcast now has the problem of convincing both themselves and others, that they are not deserving of their isolation. If someone like that posted here, I wonder what you might say to them?

What I would advise is to change your value system, so that you don't hate yourself for being the way you are - gay, fat, ugly or whatever. You find ways to give yourself confidence, make a value system which finds fault in others that you can use to make strong arguments for your worth, something you can't do with their value system which basically says you're an undesirable. You invest in yourself and stop investing into a value system which is depriving you of your success.

I think this is a better solution than breaking through that with charisma, courage, hard work and perseverance. Assuming you even can break through it, something which is often not possible. However you can't do what I am saying if it's an issue of objective morality. If it's well understood in your culture that you have an irredeemable trait which you must spend your life working around then it becomes even harder, Fundamentalist Islamic culture's attitudes to women is an easy example.

Objective morality from what I've observed, extends past "right and wrong", it encompasses many values and attitudes. Many people do not and refuse to recognise the entirely subjective nature of their distinctions. You tell them that the only difference difference in value between a doctor and a gambling addict is your opinion and they will shake their heads in disbelief. Hence putting pressure on themselves to succeed in a very competitive world, standards on their behaviour and image that become necessary for contentment but a source of stress, disappointment and embarrassment. If you evaluated these values purely on practical benefit and nothing else, one could recognise that this emotional baggage is an obstacle to lasting happiness and success.

So the my conclusion is, if we recognise the positive benefits of values and desire, we can't choose buddhism. If we recognise the dangers and inefficiency of values then we'd rather not view values and morals as having intrinsic worth. So if it's possible to live a meaningful life without objective morality, the only remaining question is, how to maximize the benefits and minimize the dangers and that is the start of my philosophy. The answer must involve nihilism, that is my belief. However I do not want to call something nihilism if it means something else, I'm also concerned that peoples negative views of nihilism will just prove an obstacle in using the definition even if it's applicable but I'm not sure what to do about that.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Steve3007 » January 18th, 2018, 8:40 am

From the OP:
Judaka wrote:I have come to believe that nihilism is only a rejection of objective moral law, which makes things like moral relativism synonymous with nihilism.
Yes, on the face of it, nihilism seems to be approximately equal to moral relativism. But I suspect people generally tend to think of it as a pejorative or negative value-term (as opposed to a value-judgement-free descriptive term) much more often than they do for "moral relativism", as shown by this remark in post #2:
Burning ghost wrote:Well, I cannot offer any direct definition of what nihilism is. Generally it is a kind of extreme pessimism...
Why? I think very few people would go so far as to describe "moral relativism" as "extreme pessimism".

If there were such a person as a "linguistic nihilist" then I guess they would be a strong advocate of the view that words have no objective meaning but that their current meaning is determined entirely by the way in which they are currently used. If that principle were applied to the word "nihilism" then I think it would show that, in actual usage, it is not a simple synonym for "moral relativism" but is closer to words like "pessimism" or "despair". I think this stems from an implicit assumption that absence of objective meaning and morality automatically means absence of any meaning and morality.

The word "nihilist" with its etymological link to words for emptiness/nothing helps this assumption along to a much greater extend than the term "moral relativism", which implies the existence of a particular understanding of morality rather than a complete non-existence.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Judaka » January 18th, 2018, 8:45 am

Good points, I should probably start using moral relativism as my terminology rather than nihilism for the reasons you listed.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Steve3007 » January 18th, 2018, 8:48 am

Only if you're a linguistic nihilist! :)

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Judaka » January 18th, 2018, 8:52 am

Actually, based on your definition, I am :D.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Steve3007 » January 18th, 2018, 8:56 am

Yes, but my attempt to construct an amusing paradox fails because we can simply call you a linguistic relativist.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Burning ghost » January 19th, 2018, 2:47 am

Judaka -

This is certainly complex. I will stick to a limited reply for now or I may have to write a whole book! haha!

My issue is that how you're defining nihilism I guess (which is pertinent to the topic!) If you eliminate objectivity you eliminate subjectivity. You cannot construct meaning without any objective foundation (without any certainty.) We have objective certainty because we are able to create rules and therefore anything that breaks these rules no longer operates within that particular objective framework.

So my confusion comes very early on in what you've presented:
I do not understand when Nihilism is talked about in this way, there is nothing pessimistic about nihilism as it is simply a rejection of objective meaning.
I do not understand you here and you do not understand me, so I am not going to move further than this just yet.

By what I've said above the quote you can probably see my problem. If you reject objective meaning, by way of how I read what you've written (likely wrongly?), there is nothing left for subjectivity.

Being interested in the phenomenological "stance," objectivity is little more than "inter-subjectivity" (as termed by Husserl), so if you - to reuse my analogy - turn off the lights, darkness and light will eventually desist in the memory. They are a spectrum of "meaning" so if one goes ALL meaning goes including subjectivity.

What is more I find it equally intriguing that you seem to reject Nietzsche whilst proclaiming something awfully similar to his thoughts on how to deal with nihilism.

So I view nihilism as the endless and infinite extension into the abyss; the continual and infinite extension of relativism, pessimism and

WOW! Just had a quick glance at Wiki ... seems I really have SOME grasp of Nietzsche after all ! :mrgreen: :mrgreen: Joy is me!
One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche calls passive nihilism, which he recognises in the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer's doctrine, which Nietzsche also refers to as Western Buddhism, advocates a separating of oneself from will and desires in order to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterises this ascetic attitude as a "will to nothingness", whereby life turns away from itself, as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears inconsistent.
And I may as well make a brief comment to tie in how I have read what you put:

I said :
The end game of infinite subjectivity is essentially nothingness. The very frame of the subject dissolves.
Your reply:
I disagree. My answer to infinite subjectivity is utilising the ego to make actions subjectively meaningful.
Given what I've already said you can probably see my problem here. For clarity ... rejection of objective truth (which exists within abstract limitations - math being the most obvious example, but there is MUCH digging to be done there!) means "no meaning," ergo no "ego" or "embodied ego" with a subjective claim on ... well nothingness! That is the point. Rejection of objective meaning (utter rejection) leads to the dissolution of all relative meaning - including the subject as any sort of embodied "meaning.")

Within here we can at least see absurdism peeking around the corner to offer a helping hand through existentialist claims to laugher in the face of limited meaning rather than no meaning at all.

note: I hope you see my problems here? I accept my translation may be faulty and maybe the gap of explanation is necessary for any translation to take place ... which is my basic argument against more resolute nihilistic views. As a means of "bottoming out" I think nihilism can lead to greater production than buddhist philosophy. Anyway, enough! I may not shut up.
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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Burning ghost » January 19th, 2018, 2:54 am

Steve -

I don't see how nihilism cannot be framed as inherently pessimistic? It is after all, if you follow through the thought, a complete rejection of the idea of optimism as a possibility. For how can anyone be optimistic about anything if there is nothing? Nihilism, taken to its height, is like a childs tantrum at realizing it cannot fly in the sky like the birds - all is then meaningless because realization of human limitation is met and rather than make the best of what you have the nilhilist rejects the world, embraces moralistic and existential ignorance and if they're lucky finds some engaging solace in narcissistic solipsism that MAY explode them back into a state of actually engaging with the world as meaningful rather than as inherently a prison (hence my comparison to the "modern" perspective of buddhism.)
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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Judaka » January 19th, 2018, 4:05 am

If you eliminate objectivity you eliminate subjectivity
Nihilism does not eliminate objectivity. Objectivity and objective (insert concept) are different things, objectivity cannot exist without intelligent life, it is the quality of focusing on empirical evidence when taking a stance on something. If something is objectively valid, it is independent of all opinion and perspective, it exists regardless of whether someone is there to see it or not and its existence is demonstrable (in principle demonstrable, we may not be able to). Nihilism has no stance on objectivity, arguably most nihilists are great fans of objectivity because nihilism itself is quite dismissive of anecdotal evidence and such.
We have objective certainty
I would argue there is no such thing as objective certainty, only you can tell us whether you are certain of something or not and you may be wrong or using a different definition, it's a subjective distinction.
therefore anything that breaks these rules no longer operates within that particular objective framework.
The framework is not objective, even if objective morality existed you don't have the ability to prove what is right or wrong. All you can do is use your best guess, based off religious texts or whatever arguments you espouse. The only difference between a moral relativist and a moral absolutist is their view that moral distinctions can be objective. It's not as though moral absolutists don't argue amongst themselves about what is right and wrong.
If you reject objective meaning, by way of how I read what you've written (likely wrongly?), there is nothing left for subjectivity.
What do you mean by subjectivity? You mean I can no longer have preferences and opinions? Since I already do reject objective meaning and I still have preferences and opinions, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are using terms incorrectly. Subjectivity is the opposite of objectivity, it means an opinion based on preferences, perspectives and other influences which exist only because I exist.

The impact of rejecting objective meaning depends upon how much your views rely on it to begin with, if you can only act the way you do because you belief in the unquestionable righteousness of your views and actions then Nihilism could be devastating. In Nietzsche's time, this could have devastated a lot of world views even for common people. It's much harder to say in western society today that many people would have that kind of response.

As Nietzsche predicted, political fanaticism has replaced religious fanaticism because the practical, undeniable validity of political ramifications are more attractive to nihilistic-minded people. How can the issue of objective or only subjective morality curtail a political movement?

When a political movement exists because people value different things and argue about the impact of politics. Even if objective morality said "x y and z, they're the best things" , you can still argue about what best achieves z, y and z. Subjectivity dwarfs objective truth in importance, it is infinite and complex and not at all threatened by objective morality.
This mowing away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although in this, the nihilist appears inconsistent.


This is not what I advocate at all, this would make nihilism not at all synonymous with moral relativism and it's the reason I made this thread. I always held the view that throwing away all values would be extremely contrary to the nihilistic belief that there's no inherent value in anything, since there's no practical benefit to throwing away all values, one could only assume that they are doing it because of a value - such as a value in objective validity which creates the belief that if no objective validity exists for morals and values exists then there's no point in doing anything.
For clarity ... rejection of objective truth
I believe that's ontological nihilism, in any case nihilism does not reject objective truth as a concept. You use objective truth and objective meaning interchangeably here but they are completely different things.
I hope you see my problems here?
Most of your problems are just misunderstanding the terminology being used, this thread was made because the terminology is confusing for me but it seems you're even more confused than I am :D.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Burning ghost » January 19th, 2018, 4:07 am

To add ...

The subject is bound by the certitude of uncertainty; by its lack of definitiveness. If we talk about subjectivity and objectivity I feel we should address 'definitiveness' as a means of unravelling the two, as both the subjective and objective are ideals aimed towards or simply undefined.

I wrote the above a few years ago. I've been down this path a few times since. My general conclusion is "limit is necessary for meaning." Nihilism is obviously the unobtainable ideal of rejection of both; the willful arrogance not to be rather than to face undesirable limitations.
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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Burning ghost » January 19th, 2018, 4:13 am

Judaka -

Okay, posted before I read your piece above. I was looking at the complete reach of nihilism into every area. Like I have said I certainly see it as a useful perspective, but it is also quite a dangerous perspective ... then again I guess all positions are if held to too strongly!

I think I have a reasonable enough grasp of nihilism. Like I said at the start every category has its own flavours. I can understand that one can be a conservative in one area and a liberal in another. When it comes to philosophical positions the borders of limitation as less well defined so I generally reject following through nihilism, but to dabble is okay :)
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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Steve3007 » January 19th, 2018, 4:30 am

Burning ghost wrote:I don't see how nihilism cannot be framed as inherently pessimistic? It is after all, if you follow through the thought, a complete rejection of the idea of optimism as a possibility. For how can anyone be optimistic about anything if there is nothing?...
As with so many of these "movements" it seems to me to depend entirely on which of the many vague and shifting definitions of it that you accept. Moral nihilism seems to me reasonably closely related to moral relativism. As I said, this doesn't in itself imply a belief that there is no such thing as morality. It simply says that there is no such thing as morality as a thing which exists in the absence of human minds. Maybe that could lead to pessimism in some people. I don't know. I guess it probably depends on the personality of the nihilist/moral relativist in question.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Judaka » January 19th, 2018, 5:26 am

I think I have a reasonable enough grasp of nihilism
I mean you can say that but many of your definitions were just wrong, you used terms incorrectly throughout your entire post and completely misrepresented nihilism.

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Re: Defining Nihilism

Post by Burning ghost » January 19th, 2018, 5:41 am

Steve -

And I think such divisions are disingenuous. The context matters a lot. If we take moral nihilism to mean there is no morality, of say mountains, then it is utter nonsense. It is a battle of words more than thoughts, that is the sea I find a lot of post-modern thoughts falling into, which is not a problem if you can swim.

Given that we cannot possible talk about "morality" without another person and language with which to say "morality," whenever we talk about "subjective/individual morals" we're talking about an individual relative to the group consensus. Killing is 'wrong' and so is 'lying', but there are situations in which we could say they are not completely wrong.

I always get an attitude about nihilism as being something like psychological adolescence (or perhaps infancy?) The task at hand is hard, it hurts, you feel loss. That is part of life. Then there are different approaches

a) Nothing has meaning so don't bother fooling yourself.
b) It's too hard so give up forever.
c) Continue trying to understand and/or do something else more immediately problematic and come back to the issue later.

(a) is arrogant and contrary, because you choose not to believe anything other than your own immediate perspective is 'correct.'
(b) is simply passive and cowardly, a willful avoidance of failure; which will ironically lead to ignorance of either success or failure - a perverse kind of nihilism.
(c) is taking responsibility and actively facing your fears in order to strengthen yourself.

I'll be damned if there is anyone who will not, at some point in their lives, submit to all three.
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