Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Undeniably Nihilist

For quite some time I have been thinking about questions regarding meaning, purpose, and value. Ever since I became an atheist back in 2009 I've been operating under the assumption that we have to make our own meaning. It wasn't until this year however that the implications of this really unpacked themselves for me.

During much discussion amongst friends, and in a group that I'm part of at my university, on the topic of morality I came to realise that I am a moral nihilist. I don't think moral facts exist. Morality to me is a useful fiction that allows society to function as a cohesive unit. I even gave a presentation to the group (we regularly hold academic lectures after class time at university, usually from guest speakers, though I gave this talk) on the topic of morality and the is/ought problem. The video of the presentation will be uploaded to youtube soon, and I'll post it here when it is. The crux of my presentation was that morality simply cannot be objective, and to suggest that it is seems like a category error. Morality isn't the kind of thing that can be objective, moral propositions aren't the kind of things that can be true or false, they are something else.

That aside, acknowledging my moral nihilism caused me to look further into nihilism. I realised that I had never really understood what nihilism actually was. I fell for the common misconception that nihilists were people who didn't believe in, or care about anything. This simply isn't the case, it's a caricature of the position. Nihilism is, and always has been the rejection of any inherent meaning, purpose, or value in life or the universe. At this stage I'm uncertain whether I'm willing to go so far as to reject the possibility of knowledge, though I am willing to concede that all of our knowledge of the physical universe is at a base level, drawing off assumptions and intuitions. Take for example the idea that we can trust our perceptions, and that the data we collect about the physical world is real. These cannot be proven, they are simply brute assumptions we have to accept on an intuitive level, though they seem to be useful.

My actual moral positions have not changed as a result of this revelation however. With the possible exception of a heightened sense of (subjective!) value for meaningful self-determination. My nihilism didn't arise out of pessimism, though I certainly express a considerable amount of pessimism at the idea of human progress, but that can wait till another time.

Think about it. I certainly will.


  1. I am really interested in your point of view . I am looking for different definitions in my life relating to morality , reality , existence , culture and religion etc. It will be really nice of you if you email me your whole presentation with the video . Thanks.

  2. Have you read the various experiments run by psychologists where they ask volunteers to imagine choices such as diverting a train from one line to another so that they can save 5 workers lives at the expense of killing 1 who is working on the other line?

    The researchers claim to have spotted common moral preferences which are not entirely rational, but which they think may be instinctive.

    1. Yeah I have come across those before, very interesting results.

  3. Thanks for posting.
    Have you read The Evolution of Morality?

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