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Existential Nihilism

QUESTION: What is Existential Nihilism?


Existential Nihilism embraces the notion that the world lacks meaning or purpose. All existence itself -- actions, suffering, feelings -- is senseless, nothingness.

The existential nihilist regards all thoughts and feelings as merely the effects of prior causes. In other words, free will is denied. Neither heredity nor environment is attributed to the nihilist’s futile existence.

The philosopher and poet, Empedocles (of Acagras in Sicily, c. 492-432 BC), reveals this skepticism in that "the life of mortals is so mean a thing as to be virtually un-life." This embodies the same kind of extreme pessimism associated with existential nihilism.

Other philosophers such as Hegesis (c. 250 BC) believed misery’s domination over pleasure made happiness impossible, leaving suicide as the only recourse.

Existential Nihilism chooses to abandon any foundation for an essential self or human nature. The nihilist is then left with anguish as their “nothingness,” plunges them into isolated, unresponsive universe. Centuries later, Jean-Paul Sarte (1905-1980) popularized the atheistic existentialist nihilist movement in France as “existence precedes essence.”

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