Ahead of Existentialism

‘Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?’

– John Milton, Paradise Lost (1674) Book X, 743-5


When asked to give a definition for nihilism, a true nihilist would sigh and say: “It’s useless to define it, it’s useless to provide an example.” and quote Cormac McCarthy, “The point is there ain’t no point.” I think we can do a little better than that.

In philosophy, nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. It is also the philosophical doctrine which holds all values to be baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.

“A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

In psychiatry, the term nihilism is used to refer to a certain delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that an aspect of the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.

“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,
Signifying nothing.”
– William Shakespeare

Existential Fear

‘This desire for an adequate life – for-filling one’s own potentials, of the relative highest values, by doing that for what one is ‘destined’ to do – does not concern life-problems as much as the deepest meaning of existence. This fear, coming from the feeling ‘being thrown in the existence’, as explained by Kierkegaard and Heidegger, the ‘existential fear’ and the realisation of being guilty of missing the right direction – these feelings are more and more common today.’

– Bühler C. 1962. Psychologie in de Moderne Wereld [Psychology in the Modern World] Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier (1971) p. 389