Nihilism – A Life Without Morals

As I explained in my “About” post, I used to be a nihilist. To recap, nihilists believe that a person’s consciousness ceases to exist in their death. It all comes down to nothing. To me, this seemed like the only logical conclusion an atheist could come to; in the absence of a supernatural world, death is the absolute conclusion of human life and it is reduced to nothing. Hence, the word nihilism is derived from the Latin, ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’ or ‘zero’.

I think you’d be surprised how many people are nihilists without knowing it. In my experience it is incredibly common to come across an atheist that believes that it is absolutely ‘the end’ when you die. These people tend to be the most emphatic in their arguments against religion and often profess to know a lot about science. Very few nihilists, however, wholeheartedly live by the principles of their faith.

You may be taken aback, or perhaps amused, by my use of the word ‘faith’ to describe a belief in nothing. But nihilism holds a faith equal to that of Christianity or Islam. There is no evidence to support the idea that death is the end, and how could there be? It’s not possible to ask the dead of their experience. It is therefore a completely faith-based belief.

Anyway, the principles of nihilism can be derived in such a way (I should mention that the post from hereafter is not intended to offend but to rationalise an argument to expose its faults. Whilst everything I note from herein is truly logical, I am in no way attempting to generalise):

  • Pain and suffering mean nothing – it makes little sense to donate anything to charity or to help people unless there is some personal gain. After all, when we die, nothing is remembered by anyone so it doesn’t matter how much pain they lived through in their lives.
  • Pleasure should be sought wherever possible – if you can get away with doing something and it pleases you to do so, you should do it regardless of its social acceptability or legality. After all, when we die, nothing is remembered by anyone so consequences for other humans needn’t be of any concern.
  • If something doesn’t benefit you, don’t do it – why would you bother? Other people’s appreciation dies along with their bodies.

As you may be able to see, this is not a very nice way to live one’s life. But in extreme cases it can actually pose a danger to society. I will attempt to illustrate this with an example…

We can agree, I hope, that most (if not all) people have the occasional desire to do something  immoral or illegal like punch someone in the face or just simply drive over the speed limit. Very occasionally, people get the desire to do something really awful like seriously injure someone or push a sexual partner to do something that they don’t want to which, by the way, can sometimes be legally considered rape.

A true nihilist has no moral reason to suppress these urges and will decide to act on them purely on the basis of whether they will attain a ‘pleasure profit’, that is, whether they think the pleasure of doing so will outweigh the consequences. I believe that not everyone that has the urge to rape someone will do so, even if they think they can get away with it. Most of us have a social acceptability filter on acts such as this. But if a nihilist thinks they can get away with doing it without regret, then they will do so. Trust me on this one, I have spoken to nihilists with this view.

If, like me, you are hold no understanding or sympathy for such a lack of morality and believe that morals have a place in the world then you are not a nihilist, or at least you have some thinking to do. Think about it, it’s a crazy thought, I know, but it makes sense. And, I can tell you, I am so glad I realised this before I was too far into this belief because it is a horrible place to be in. Many nihilists fall into depression and eventual suicide because of their lack of hope and inability to see anything positive in life. Nothing matters if you won’t ever be able to remember it, if no-one will ever remember it.

10 thoughts on “Nihilism – A Life Without Morals

  1. I found this very offensive as an atheist. You basically made those who believe in this theory sound like the lowest scum in society. Very unrepresentative of the majority.

    • With respect, I think you’ve missed the point of my post here. Obviously very few people are nihilist extremists in the same way that very few people are extremists of any religion. I simply used a radical example to expose a logical fault in the argument. A life on Earth does not exist, relative to infinity and when all is lost with the lost of memory it has no meaning. I apologise if this offended you.

  2. i do not really understand your argument. Are you saying that people who claim not to believe in life after death, and don’t want to commit ‘immoral’ acts, such as rape or murder, cannot believe in no afterlife?
    Personally i do not understand how you can be telling me that because i find crimes such as these repulsive, and because i want to help others and support charities, that i automatically must believe in a life after death. Don’t you think that people may believe that we only have one life, and then every part of us dies, so we should enjoy our lives, whilst improving the world if we can and not damaging the lives of others?

    • My argument, if you’d like to call it that, is that without a belief in life after death, morals are unfounded. What does and doesn’t help people, what does and doesn’t cause people pleasure or displeasure becomes objective and impossible to judge. And, if you truly believe in it, and think long and hard on it, it becomes irrelevant.

      • Thank you, that’s an interesting point. I would be interested to know your opinion on why you think that some people who are completely atheist and have no belief in the afterlife strive to help others (eg charity campaigners, volunteers etc), when they have (according to your definition) absolutely no founding for their morals?

      • My belief is that people with this view avoid thinking about it – no-one wants to think about death, particularly when they believe it’s the absolute end. So they don’t. We all have a conscience, partially based on empathy and partially because of something I perceive to be a natural spirituality. This conscience is unexplainable, inconvenient and unpleasant for a nihilist and gives reason for them to help others, to satisfy the discomfort and gain a sense of well-being from the empathetic response. Although, I believe most nihilists just don’t think about it. I’d rather not if I were in their position.

  3. I do not believe there is evidence of life after death. I suppose by your definition that makes me a nihilist. For me , switching from a previous belief that all I see around me is temporary, just a dot compared to eternity, to where I am now….that this is it . this has made how I live now even more important.
    I am interested in our differing perspectives and will return later for further discussion if you are so inclined.
    Kind regards,

  4. I have actually spent a lot of time thinking on this one. I do not want to hold an irrational position, and it has been posited by a few others who are believers that it is irrational. I still haven’t been able to make that connection. I believe if our actions did not affect others, and if others actions did not affect us, you might have an argument.

  5. Pingback: Why play in the rain? | love and heretics

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