Existentialism vs. Nihilism

Existentialism vs. Nihilism
The basic definition is “the philosophy that individuals
create their own meaning in their lives, as opposed to
having a deity or higher power creating it for them.”
An existentialist will find “self” and the meaning of life
through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.
(i.e. creating one’s own system of beliefs)
A brief history
Existentialism developed in the 20th century, particularly
after World War II, when many writers were beginning
to look at the realities of war. While there have been
many writters who have held existential views, JeanPaul Sartre is considered the main voice of
Existentialism takes into consideration the underlying concepts:
* Human free will
* Human nature is chosen through life choices
* A person is best when struggling against their individual nature,
fighting for life
* Decisions are not without stress and consequences
* There are things that are not rational
* Personal responsibility and discipline is crucial
* Society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are
* Worldly desire is futile
Existentialism does not support any of the following:
wealth, pleasure, or honor make the good life
social values and structure control the individual
accept what is and that is enough in life
science can and will make everything better
people are basically good but ruined by society
or external forces
“I want my way, now!” or “It is not my fault!”
Famous existentialists basically agree that human life is in no way
complete and fully satisfying because of suffering and losses
that occur when considering the lack of perfection, power, and
control one has over their life. (What forces DO have control
over our lives?) Even though they do agree that life is not
optimally satisfying, it nonetheless has meaning. Existentialism
is the search and journey for true self and true personal
meaning in life.
Existentialism’s biggest objection is when someone or society tries
to impose or demand that their beliefs, values, or rules be
faithfully accepted and obeyed. Existentialists believe this
destroys individualism and makes a person become whatever
the people in power desire thus they are dehumanized and
reduced to being an object. Existentialism then stresses that a
person's judgment is the determining factor for what is to be
believed rather than by arbitrary religious or secular world
The individual > the group mentality
What are societal/religious factors that keep us “in line”?
Why do we follow the “code” of society?
How do we know society is correct? (Why do we believe the
“truth” that society presents?)
Existentialist movies
The definition of nihilism is “a viewpoint that traditional
values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is
senseless and useless.”
It’s a rejection of any moral code (where an existentialist
would create their own) because “morals” simply do
not exist. It is also a rejection of “truth.”
Let’s talk about this whole “truth”
rejection thing….
Humans cling to truths. Why? They provide us with a sense
of order and logical perception. A nihilist will argue
that there are no truths whatsoever, which can become
problematic when someone first wraps their mind
around that idea. Truths provide comfort; humans
prefer to feel safe. Rejecting all forms of truth will
result in a tail-spin for a person; the person will feel
lost, unsure and hopeless.
Logic and nihilism
Using logic results creates truth.
Stoves are hot.
Heat can burn my skin
The stove can burn my skin if I touch it.
However, logic can be faulty and lead to a non-truth
Muslim extremists flew planes into the World Trade Center.
My neighbor is Muslim.
My neighbor must be an extremists.
Ante up! And the idea of truth
Let’s say you’re playing poker- you are dealt
A♠ K♠ Q♠ J♠ 10♠
You’re a winner, right! Right?
Those five cards, obviously, are inherently worthless. Their only value
comes from what poker players arbitrarily assign to it. They're all,
essentially, pretending the cards have value or meaning. Once a
person realizes there is no meaning in the cards, suddenly the
“truth” of them doesn’t exist.
Oh my…..now what?
Nihilism is the constant questioning, the constant fight to settle
that anything is the truth, the constant battle that “what I
perceive is not the truth.”
Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and
especially human existence of meaning, purpose,
comprehensible truth, or essential value. This observation
stems in part from Nietzsche’s perspectivism, or his notion
that "knowledge" is always by someone of some thing: it is
always bound by perspective, and it is never mere fact.
So if I have no meaning, then what am I??
This is the struggle with nihilism, which is why some characterize
nihilism as a pessimistic, suicidal philosophy. But nihilism is
more than that- it is the “after question” that is more
important. “Can I be okay with the fact that I may have no
meaning or existence at all?” (or for that matter, can I be okay
that nothing really has any meaning or truth?)
An existentialist may CREATE a new existence that is meaningful
to him or her- but an existentialist will still believe that a
meaning for their life is possible.
A nihilist will accept that humans are a random product of the
universe and therefore have no real value or meaning, which
makes anything the humans create meaningless as well. There
is no truth because our perceptions and systems of logic are
flawed. No truth = no point to human existence.
What do you believe?
Whether you are an existentialist or a nihilist, the common
denominator is that you QUESTION truth. You do
not accept “life” at face value or believe that life should
be dictated from an arbitrary (i.e. old dudes who wrote
the early religious texts…and then changed it as they
saw fit) source.