Nihilism is the belief that all values are unfounded and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would not believe in anything, has no loyalties, and has no other purpose than perhaps an impulse to destroy. It is the negation of any kind of religious, social or political principle. Nihilism is one of the few branches of philosophy that allows the possibility of absolute nothingness, it does this through three assumptions: that there is a finite number of objects in the world; that each of these objects is contingent and that the objects are independent, then the "argument of subtraction" arises which tells us that each object can be subtracted from the world, one by one, until it becomes nothing.


Related topics

Epistemology, phenomenology

What is nihilism?

It is the philosophical position that claims that being, especially past and present human existence, lacks objective meaning, purpose, truth or essential value. It asserts that there is no reasonable proof of the existence of a superior creator, that there is no true morality, and that objective secular ethics is impossible.

Characteristics of nihilism

The most important characteristics of nihilism are the following:

History of nihilism

Nihilism emerged during the 19th century and the first person to use the term was the German philosopher Friedrich Jacobi, who used the word to make a series of criticisms of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s idealistic philosophy. Jacobi assured that, in his philosophy, Fichte gave such importance and absolutism to the ego, to the Self, that in its extreme  denied the existence or transcendence of a God.

In 1862, the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev popularized the term to describe one of his characters in his novel: Bazarov, who declares himself a nihilist and his point of view frequently clashes with the rest of the characters. Kierkegaard was the next precursor of nihilism, although he established that there was a state to be avoided in which individuality was suppressed in such a way that uniqueness was relegated and declared as non-existent and one could not thus affirm the meaningful existence of something.

During the twentieth century the German philosopher Martin Heidegger studied in depth Nihilism as a current in which there is nothing left of being itself. The current was widely explored in the second half of the 20th century by philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard and others. It is worth mentioning that Nihilism emerged as a social movement in Russia in 1860, when the population dissatisfied with the country’s situation revealed itself against the authorities.


Representatives of nihilism

Their main representatives were:


The importance of Nietzsche and nihilism was extremely significant because it announced, the historical and cultural panorama of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. From this point we start to say that it has been important for all contemporary philosophy, which were influenced by his thought. Art philosophy, history, politics, metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, ethics and even the philosophy of science, have reflected on the great problems enunciated by Nietzsche, fundamentally associated with the radical cultural consequences of the meaning of the phrase “God has died”.


Some examples that we can observe in everyday life are:


Among the best known phrases we can mention the following:

Written by Gabriela Briceño V.

How to cite this article?

Briceño V., Gabriela. (2019). Nihilism. Recovered on 23 February, 2024, de Euston96:

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