Nihilism is one of Nietzsche’s foremost philosophical concerns. But characterizing it proves elusive. His nihilists include those in despair in the wake of the “death of God.” Yet they also include believing Christians. We have, among these nihilists, those fervently committed to frameworks of cosmic meaning. But we also have those who lack any such commitment, epitomized in the “last man.” We have those who want to escape this life. And we have those who wouldn’t dream of such a prospect. Extant accounts have shed helpful light on the particularities of these various manifestations of nihilism. Yet they have not explained what ties these together. In this paper, I propose a unifying thread. Nihilists, on my reading of Nietzsche, are those who have come unmoored from (what he sees as) the most important values. That is not to say that there is nothing more to nihilism than being wrong (by Nietzsche’s lights). But it is to say that we don’t understand Nietzschean nihilism fully if we just focus on the descriptive psychology of valuers. The unifying thread of Nietzschean nihilism, on my reading, in fact turns out to be structurally similar to the familiar idea of it we get in a number of other 19th century thinkers and authors—and ironically with those moralists who brand Nietzsche himself a nihilist. Where he differs from them is not in his account of what nihilism fundamentally is (i.e., coming unmoored from values), but in the values he sees nihilists as having come unmoored from
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.