What is active nihilism?

When people ask how you can be a nihilist and still be striving for something other than self-pleasure, remember this: nihilism means denial of inherent value. It does not mean denial of functionality, or loss of a desire for our actions to be constructive and produce aesthetic beauty in life. Nihilism simply states that there is no inherent morality, or in other words no morality of method, so we must be willing to do immoral things for moral ends.

Nature parallels this vision. In nature, predators consume their prey with vicious violence but that consumption creates smarter animals. The majority of intelligent creatures are the predators; the majority of stupid creatures are primarily prey. There is no morality of murder, or other outcome-based judgment, because such logic would stop the whole process of evolution. Instead, nature works by a basic principle of morality of consequence: if the ends (evolution) require vicious means (predation), so be it.

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What is passive nihilism?

Nihilism as a philosopical doctrine is simple: the denial of inherent meaning. Nothing inherently, automatically and irrefutably “means” anything. Meaning is a projection of the human mind and does not exist outside of it, much like while we may use a symbol for “God” we cannot say God exists in the human form we project; we’re using a variable or metaphor to describe God but that symbol is not equivalent to the thing itself.

When we look for inherent meaning, we are inevitably talking about morality of method. This type of morality assumes that the instance of any one thing is equivalent to its essence, like our word and conception of God being the same God who exists to other species on other planets. For a morality to be inherent, it must be a morality of outcomes (effects) and not their causes, or the effects they in turn create. The only moral object that is inherent is the action; its consequences unfold over time and so are not inherent in the same way that material change is.

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What is nihilism?

If we could successfully encapsulate philosophies in a paragraph, we would have far fewer philosophical tests or debates. However, any sufficiently unique idea requires explanation not so much for its essence as symbols, but for its implications. If I say that my philosophy is to eat only the brains of cretins, I’m going to need to explain how to harvest those brains, what the justification is, and what implications it has for a social order that needs to breed captive morons for slaughter. And that’s a super-simplified example.

The definition of nihilism expands. It’s like a doorway, more than an endpoint. We can start with the simplest definition:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.

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What’s not nihilism

The marketing/social-friendly “nihilism” could more accurately be described as the intersection of fatalism, or believing that we have no control over the outcome of our actions, and selfishness, or the doctrine of acting only for the self. They are inherently materialistic — meaning that they recognize no dimension to reality except the physical comforts, wealth and convenience we can achieve — because they are based on removal of giving a damn.

However, they’re also completely destructive because they are limited in scope to right now. What do you want right now? How to look cool right now? Life is a process of many moments knitted together, and when we deny that future and past, we lose the ability to build. There is no need to be productive or constructive when you are living for one moment only, but if you live for many in sequence, you start wanting to have your life show its meaning in what you have done with it.

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