Two Brands of Nihilism Essay

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Two Brands of Nihilism

As philosopher and poet Nietzsche's work is not easily conformable to the
traditional schools of thought within philosophy. However, an unmistakable
concern with the role of religion and values penetrates much of his work.
Contrary to the tradition before him, Nietzsche launches vicious diatribes
against Christianity and the dualistic philosophies he finds essentially life
denying. Despite his early tutelage under the influence of Schopenhauer's
philosophy, Nietzsche later philosophy indicates a refusal to cast existence as
embroiled in pessimism but, instead, as that which should be affirmed, even in
the face of bad fortune. This essay will study in further detail Nietzsche view
of Schopenhauer and Christianity as essentially nihilistic.


Throughout his work Nietzsche makes extensive use of the term “nihilism”. In
texts from the tradition prior to Nietzsche, the term connotes a necessary
connection between atheism and the subsequent disbelief in values. It was held
the atheist regarded the moral norms of society as merely conventional, without
any justification by rational argument. Furthermore, without a divine authority
prohibiting any immoral conduct, all appeals to morality by authority become
hollow. By the atheists reckoning then, all acts are permissible.

With Nietzsche's appearance on the scene, however, arrives the most potent
arguments denying the necessary link between atheism and nihilism. It will be
demonstrated that Nietzsche, in fact, will argue it is in the appeal to divine
proscriptions that the most virulent nihilism will attain.

There is a second sense of nihilism that appears as an outgrowth of the first
that Nietzsche appeals to in his critique of values. It contends that not only
does an active, pious, acknowledgment of a divinity foster nihilism, but also,
the disingenuous worship of a deity that has been replaced in the life man by
science, too, breeds a passive nihilism.


Nietzsche conceives the first variety of nihilism, that fostered through active
worship, as pernicious due to its reinforcement of a fundamental attitude that
denies life. Throughout his life Nietzsche argued the contemporary metaphysical
basis for belief in a deity were merely negations of, or tried to deny, the
uncertainties of what is necessarily a situated human existen...

... middle of paper ...

...if a man is sincere
and in full possession of his faculties, he will never wish to have it over
again, but rather than this, he will much prefer absolute annihilation” (WWI
589). Schopenhauer's pessimism has some roots in our inability to adequately
satisfy our wants. A casual reading might have one to believe both philosophers
took the will to be the same oject or process, but that where one celebrates it
the other denigrates it. A more careful reading will reveal, however, that,
Nietzsche though initially impressed with the Schopenhauer conception of the
will, he will later reject it. Schopenhauer concieves the will to be a primal
metaphysical reality.

The mileage the two philosophers get from investigating “will”, the term is no
coordinate in their use, nor are we surorised at the disparity of their mature
philosophies. For Nietzsche, the resignation of the will is a forlorn denial of
life. Similarly, the appeal to a transcendent deity also indicts the indivuals
as resentful in the face of those who can affirm life. Nietzsche proposes one
should affirm life even in the midst of tragedy, thus the passive nihilism that
embraces the ascetic ideals are overcome.

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