On the Assumption of Nothing Matters
We care about so many different things in our day-to-day lives. We spend our precious time obsessing over our appearance, physical and mental health, relationships, how well our career is going, how much of the news are we able to keep track of, how well do we know ourselves, and so on.
‘’Leading a human life is a full-time occupation, to which everyone devotes decades of intense concern.’’ states Thomas Nagel, in his paper titled: ‘‘The Absurd’’.
But what if none of these things doesn’t matter at all? What if nihilists are onto something? If that’s the case, what’s the point of having so much concern?
What is Nihilism ?
The claim is not that nothing matters is to anyone. Many things do seem to matter to a lot of us, like love, death, our grandmas, or our precious cats. Although many things matter to many people, nothing objectively matters from a nihilist context.
Guy Kahane explains in his paper If Nothing Matters, that there are two kinds of nihilism. The first one, evaluative nihilism, is plainly described by Kahane as:
- Nothing is good or bad. All evaluative propositions are false.
That time you failed to hear your alarm clock, crashed your car to an oak tree because of a hurry, got late to work, and missed your big meeting?
It didn’t matter. There are no limits to nothing according to evaluative nihilists. Not even the death of a loved one or genocide of an entire race had no value that we should ultimately care. Because if torture isn’t bad or happiness isn’t good there is no motivation to value them whatsoever.
This basic theory of evaluative nihilism evolves to a different kind of nihilism in practice, again described by Kahane as practical nihilism:
- We have no reasons to do, want, or feel anything.
If value is the fundamental cause of all our actions, since there is no good or bad, there are no practical reasons for us to do, want, or feel anything. Values, gives the motivation required for action. However, assuming practical nihilism is dismantling all values such as the good and the bad and even the ugly.
No Reason for Melancholy
Many people think nihilism as an ocean of vast emptiness that would drive us to depression or even possibly to suicide. Why would nihilism often perceived as something we should fear? That seems to be a misconception if we accept the evaluative nihilist perspective.
Even if evaluative nihilism is true, there’s no need to fall into despair. How can something be insufferably bad if there is no good or bad? To put it more bluntly: How does it matter that nothing matters, if nothing matters?
When we feel sorrow or despair, we correlate badness with a phenomenon. That doesn’t make sense in the evaluative nihilist point of view where there is no badness. Since practical nihilism deprives us of practical reasons to do anything, how could it makes sense to claim there’s no point in living if nothing matters. After all, there’s no point in not living either.
Maybe nihilism brings salvation to the ancient existential dread. Still, human psychology is not famous for always following logic and reason. Could we still feel depressed even when there is no reason to be? Even if we internalize nihilism, could things still matter to us, while they intrinsically doesn’t matter at all?