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April 10, 2022 2 min read

Nihilism and the search for meaning


To begin with, "nihilism" is commonly defined as the conviction that life is meaningless. A more comprehensive definition would add that nihilism is the conviction that life has no objective meaning. In other words: Nihilists assume that there is no single, objectively correct meaning to life that unites all of humanity. Furthermore, nihilism is the belief that all values are without foundation and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no goal other than perhaps the urge to destroy.

Now it becomes apparent that the assertion that nothing has meaning is a self-contradiction because, after all, one is giving value to that very assertion - or one's nihilistic ideology - and thus a starting point for interpreting reality. Thus, the search for meaning still becomes an "accident" for the nihilist, as this is vividly demonstrated in the meme: there is a collision of beliefs that becomes wedged into one another.

One solution here might be optimistic nihilism. This variant looks at the conviction that there is no meaning in life from a perspective of hope. It is not that we are doomed to live in a meaningless universe - it is that we have the chance to experience ourselves and the universe we share. Thus we don't necessarily have to give in to (self-)destruction, depression, or the eternal struggle with contradiction. Instead of saying the sentence "Life is meaningless" sadly, angrily or accusingly, we do a little trick with it which, however, we mean completely seriously: "Hooray! Life is meaningless".

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