Two brands of nihilism

Essay by CMUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 1996

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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...