I realized recently that I have manged to get turned around on some philosophical terms, so I decided to write a post to publicly correct myself.
First and most pressing was my misuse of the term nihilism. Nihilism comes is several forms and, depending on the particular type of nihilism, the meaning can be subtly, but still significantly, different. That said, there are two primary groups which exist: the nihilism that refers to intrinsic values, and the nihilism that refers to knowledge claims.
In the knowledge claim camp we have most notably metaphysical nihilism and epistemological nihilism. Metaphysical nihilism questions the very notion that objects exist. This is the idea that we have no objective basis for anything at all. It is not the idea we can’t know anything. It’s the idea we can’t know anything for certain, because we lack any means for objectively proving that objects, including ourselves and even our thoughts, exist.
What is it when you reject all knowledge claims? There are two terms I’m familiar with. Epistemological nihilism and epistemological skepticism which can also be called true skepticism or hard skepticism. Epistemological nihilism simply is the extreme idea that we cannot have access to knowledge, or that you cannot know anything.
Now, moving on to moral nihilism and existential nihilism. Moral nihilism is the idea that there exists no inherent or objective source of morality with no action being inherently better then another. The extreme form of this being that there is no morality at all. I, for example, subscribe to moral nihilism, but I still think that morality relative to humanity and out planet is both useful and exists, but in the sense that it is a tool that we have created.
Existential nihilism is the idea that there is no intrinsic meaning to life. Not the idea that life in meaningless, but that it does not come with some meaning tagged on to it. Most moral nihilists subscribe to the idea that the only meaning in life is that which you attach to it, and those you make meaningful.
I’m sure most of you can tell that, while they are related to one another, each form of nihilism is subtlety different, and each makes it’s own unique argument. So, while Nihilism often gets a bad wrap, I for one subscribe to forms of moral, existentialist, and metaphysical nihilism, though the particularities are for another post.
I’d like to add a word which I had forgotten until recently. That word being Solipsism. The most famous phrase related to solipsism being “I think, therefore I am,” which was written by Descartes. If you subscribe to solipsism then, while you think that you cannot be certain about objects or other minds, you can at least be sure that (your) thoughts exist. The only real difference between solipsism and metaphysical nihilism is that metaphysical nihilism goes one step father and says you can’t be completely certain about anything, not even the existence of your own thoughts.