The term nihilism is often used as a derogatory label intended to impugn the moral credibility of a certain target. In this normative sense, it is meant as nothing more than an exclamation of negative sentiment; a way of expressing distaste for the thing being refferred to.
Taken seriously as a philosophic concept, however, it acquires a more interesting dimension. Literally, nihilism is a doctrine of nothingness. It is an extreme form of skepticism which holds that any genuine knowledge of the world, wether it be moral, scientific, metaphysical, political or theological is impossible. It is an epistemological doctrine stemming from the conviction that man is incapable of knowing the worlds true nature either because the world has no true nature or because the nature of the world is inaccessible to man's intuitive, intellectual or sensory apparatus.

The nihilist is in an unusual position in relation to the world. Unlike a cartesian, the nihilist is never able to satisfy himself that the world is as it seems. He has no archimedian point on which to stand, and no way to be certain of what is real or imaginary, or of what is true or false. This skepticism about man's ability to understand the world was described by Nietzsche as the death of God. Man's loss of faith in God and the eternal truths that he ensures undermines all structures of authority, leaving man in a position where, apart from his will to do so, he has no justification for asserting anything as true or false. This responsibility for one's perspective is potentially crippling and may lead to feelings of despair and negativity. If nothing can be known for certain, and if there are no objective standards by which to judge truth and falsehood, life could be seen as meaningless and absurd. Further if life is meaningless and absurd then there is no justification for choosing life over death.

All nihilists must deal with the issue of how and if life has value. this is the very topic which propelled Albert Camus' writing career, and as he observed the nihilist is not comitted to life denial or suicide. He may instead elect to suffer through life in uncertainty, struggling each and every day with feelings of negativity as an option against suicide and death. As another option he may choose to rebel against this negative propensity and instead of feeling resentment towards his situation, will himself to experience the exhilaration of interpretive freedom. The choice of the nihilist is, then, not necessarily the choice between living and dying, but the choice between adopting a passive or an active stance towards the world. Both Camus and Nietzsche advocate the choice of active over passive nihilism.

Passive nihilsim is indicative of a decline in spiritual power. It is characterized by the inability to create, or in the extreme to react. The passive nihilist is one who, when faced with the world's uncertainty, withdraws and refuses to enagage the world. For him, uncertainty is a sufficient condition not to proceed through life, and so paralysed by fear of the unknown and unknowable he does nothing. Nietzsche described this condition as ".. the weary nihilism that no longer attacks..a passive nihilism, a sign of weakness".

Active Nihilism on the other hand, is indicative of a relative increase in spiritual power. the active nihilist sees freedom where the passive nihilist sees absurdity or meaninglessness. He chooses action and creation instead of passivity and withdrawal. For him, the lack of objective standards of truth motivates self created standards and criteria. The active nihilist is not active despite the unknown but because of it. He possesses a store of creative energy and power which allows him to impose personal meaning on the world while never forgetting that hes is the source and progenitor of that meaning. He is heroic in this sense, facing the world with courage and purpose.


John Marmysz - From night to day : Nihilism and the walking dead

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