Section  6. Moral Nihilism


Nihilism comes from the Latin word "nihil" -- which means, nothing. Nihilists assert that there are no moral values, principles, truths. A nihilist is not the same thing as a skeptic, because although a nihilist will agree with the skeptic -- that humans cannot have knowledge about moral realities, not all skeptics will agree with nihilists. A nihilist has a particular reason for being a skeptic -- we cannot know moral realities for the very simple reason that there is nothing to know. But a skeptic may be a skeptic for other reasons. S/he may think that the problem lies not in the reality of moral values or truths, but in our cognitional faculties. Let me suggest an analogy. Let's say I'm a physicist, and you suggest to me that God created the universe through the "Big Bang." Well, I might say to you: sure, maybe some being created the universe through the BB, but I cannot know that. But I may also say to you: No. There is no being called God, and there was no creation of the universe by this being. In the first case, my response was skeptical, and in the second case my response was nihilistic. Skepticism often leads to nihilism, but it doesn't have to.

What do nihilists deny?

See Oxford for a brief description of nihilism.


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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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