Nihilism as a 'how to feel' philosophy

Iris: I have been thinking about existential nihilism for quite some time (especially your post). But questions do not cease and there still does not seem to be any clarity. Tell me, when does one say something is self-defeating? For something to be self-defeating, must it not have a purpose to start with? If so, it is clear that nihilism does not have any purpose, and like you say even annihilation does not work. Nihilism's 'everything is meaningless' motto is a mere statement; one without a purpose/aim. Then how can it be self-defeating? I am only thinking in terms of destruction and chaos that naturally ensues from its practice though that is not the purpose of nihilism. So what is nihilism then? It feels intuitively that it is self-defeating but logically I am unable to conclude so. I think, that is why Komal's comment made so much sense that even annihilation is a self-important act and nihilism does not permit that.

Me: @SamadK on twitter said this to me, but in a different way. He said Nihilism is not a 'how to live' philosophy but rather 'this is how it is' philosophy. But I think it is deceptive. How can something that claims that everything is meaningless does not claim to have any bearing on how we should live? At the very least, it appears to have an impact on how to live, that is why you feel it intuitively. A nihilism that is a mere descriptive statement is barren, useless, because it doesn't stop us from actually have a meaningful life, or living as if we have a meaningful life. Yet if someone who is living as if he has a meaningful life, but nonetheless continue to state that everything is meaningless, I would have to call it self-defeating, if not self-contradictory!

Iris: Yes, Awais. It is deceptive to say that nihilism is just a statement and nothing else. But to use the 'impact' theory, I feel, perhaps is insufficient to call it self-defeating. Every thing has an impact on everything here since existence itself is intertwined; not so much because of nihilism itself. If all nihilists die or live, it would anyway have an impact. And just because nihilism has an impact, we cannot conclude that it hence says something about either living or dying which it claims not to do. It is exactly because it does not say anything about how to live that it stays justified of its meaningless. For a nihilist, if everything is meaningless, why even define how to live or to die? If it did so, that would tantamount to giving a meaning or a purpose. Again, Komal makes sense to me only in this light.

Let's look at it this way. The fact that a nihilist 'brushes his teeth' regularly each morning of his life might be a meaningful act but it is still meaningless to him. This is why nihilism, it seems to me, is not really a 'how to live' philosophy as much as it is 'how to feel' philosophy. It leaves its followers orphans because all it cares for is this 'orphaned' feeling and not so much as what the orphans do or do not.

I have friends who have everything: job, spouse, children and yet they say that life is totally meaningless. They always say that do not know why they are doing what they are doing. This is a very clear example of nihilism. In fact, depression (in some cases) is a manifestation of this existential nihilism. These friends of mine are depressed because of this lack of meaning in spite of all the acts they do. They are not conscious practitioners of nihilism but what they do is just that. But the fact that they 'do things' is not a proof enough that it has a meaning and it tells them how to live.

Me: 'And just because nihilism has an impact, we cannot conclude that it hence says something about either living or dying which it claims not to do.' Hmm. That makes a good point. I think you are right here. I had not appreciated this aspect of it.


Qasim Aziz said…
Very interesting points raised there by Iris. I am still not sure whether my personal view is in consonance with her or not but surely if nihilism is seen as a 'how to feel' philosophy then nothing is emptier than our feelings and darker than our thoughts.