The Nihilist by Paul Merwart (1882)
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
~ William Shakespeare
‘God’, ‘immortality of the soul’, ‘redemption’, ‘beyond’. Without exception, concepts to which I have never devoted any attention, or time; not even as a child. Perhaps I have never been childlike enough for them? I do not by any means know atheism as a result; even less as an event: It is a matter of course with me, from instinct. I am too inquisitive, too questionable, too exuberant to stand for any gross answer. God is a gross answer, an indelicacy against us thinkers—at bottom merely a gross prohibition for us: you shall not think!
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine which denies the existence of one or more of those things thought to make life good such as knowledge, values, or meaning. A true nihilist does not believe that knowledge is possible, that anything is valuable, or that life has meaning. Nihilism also denotes a general mood of extreme despair or pessimism toward life in general.
The historical roots of contemporary nihilism are found in the ancient Greek thinkers such as Demosthenes, whose extreme skepticism concerning knowledge is connected with epistemological nihilism. But as historians of philosophy point out, many others including Ockham, Descartes, Fichte, and the German Romanticists contributed to the development of nihilism.[i]The philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche is most often and most closely associated with nihilism, but it is not clear that Nietzsche was a nihilist. So we will begin our study of nihilism tomorrow with the philosopher who had the most influence upon Nietzsche, and who was definitely a nihilist, Arthur Schopenhauer.