Nihilistic Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Nihilism is a common philosophy in the modern world. This is what it is, what it means, and how to identify it in yourself and other people.

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As the Western world has become more and more based around secular concepts, skepticism and modern philosophy have overtaken many schools of western thought. As more and more religions have been rejected by philosophers and thinkers, people have had to wrestle with the concept of divine meaninglessness. These specific kinds of thoughts have formed the foundation for the philosophy of nihilism. 

Understanding what nihilism is is one of the most important things you can do to help understand philosophy and the Western world in new ways. It’s a new perspective on life and human existence that can help to inform the purpose and meaning of human nature. This is what nihilism is, where the word itself comes from, and how nihilism impacts the world today. 

What Is Nihilism? 

The English language dictionary defines nihilism (ni-hil-i-sm) as the rejection of all religious and moral principles, and due to that, life itself is entirely meaningless and not bound by morality. 

While religions like Christianity and Buddhism try to provide an intrinsic meaning for life and the soul, nihilism believes in the negation of the importance of life and that we are all fundamentally nothingness. 

There are many forms of nihilism and ways it practically shows up in people’s lives, like ethical nihilism, political nihilism, existential nihilism, and epistemological nihilism. In all of these kinds of nihilism, the whole idea is based on extreme skepticism of the meaning of life at large and the rejection of idealism. This philosophy has entered many Western cultures and serves to inform many people’s active and passive philosophies. 

Whether or not people believe that they are a nihilist, almost everyone will adopt nihilistic behaviors and mentalities in many areas of their life. When people refuse to care about the destruction they cause in life towards themselves or others, they live in a nihilistic way.

When nihilism is embraced subtly, it is known as passive nihilism, while full-on embracement of the concepts of nihilism is known as active nihilism. 

What Is the Etymology of Nihilism? 

Nihilism is a word that primarily comes from the Latin and English languages. The Latin nihil means “nothing,” and when combined with the English suffix “-ism,” it essentially translates to the idea of “nothing-ism.” This sums up many of the thoughts behind nihilism, the lack of purpose and existence, and the embracing of absurdism for its own sake. 

Another common place where the word is seen in modern languages is the German nihilismus, the English term for nihilism. Since many of the founders of the thoughts of nihilism came from Germany, the word for it was translated into the English language. 

Where Did Nihilism Come From? 

Despite mainly being seen as a modern philosophy, nihilism has a long history that goes back to the 5th and 6th centuries BC, as discussed by the Buddha. The concept of nihilism was condemned by him, even though some people thought that it was a similar idea as nirvana. However, Buddhism believes that everything has a purpose, in stark contrast to the meaninglessness of nihilism. 

Around the 19th century, existentialism and nihilism started to be brought to the forefront of philosophy by thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Jacobi, and Ivan Turgenev. These thoughts were adopted and embraced into many parts of 19th-century Russia. This led to a revolutionary movement in which the concepts of the “death of God” were prevalent. 

Throughout the 20th century, more thinkers like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche started to delve more deeply into the concepts of nihilism. His studies of psychiatry and relativism influenced and were compounded by people like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and helped to influence the future of secular thought and philosophy at large. 

What Does Nihilism Look Like Today? 

Nihilism is one of the most dominant forms of thought amongst atheists and agnostics in the modern world. Nihilism is based on the belief that the world came from nothing and is going to nothing. It is on the idea that the world doesn’t have any kind of defined intrinsic morality, so relativism of thought is the most common and important thing to embrace. 

In many ways, this allows for lots of freedom of belief and conviction. Modern nihilism typically allows anyone to believe whatever they want because they think the world is whatever people make of it. If something has meaning, you attribute meaning to it by yourself. This is how most people operate in the world, whether or not they really believe in nihilism actively. 

Nihilism also has a very close relationship with existentialism, which is also based on the lack of meaning that everything has if there is no objective truth and meaning. The idea of an existential crisis is based on the fear of lack of meaning and purpose in life. It embraces the idea that there fundamentally isn’t truth behind anything. 

In many cases, people who choose to live in a way where their consequences don’t affect them are seen as functional nihilists. In many ways, most people have periods of their lives in active nihilism simply due to a lack of care for how their lives affect themselves and others.

Finding purposes and things to fight for and live for can help remove yourself from active nihilism and get back into a more meaningful lifestyle! 


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  1. Skepticism | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Nihilism | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  3. nihilism | Definition & History | Britannica