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Michael Luger

20th century nihilism, along with its consequences, the philosophy of existentialism and absurdism, focus on a central thesis, namely, that life is or may be 'inherently meaningless'. In Camus, 'The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.' [1]

However, it most often remains unclear what this silence refers to, or what this inherent meaninglessness phrases. Prima facie they merely seem to be a feeling or a notion which is not further defined or simply taken as a metaphysical certainty, a truth about 'the world', about everything there is, or refer to an absence of a supreme-court, a higher order – a god.

For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in the world, only interpretations. ‚The highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and 'Why' finds no answer'. [2] Nihilism will expose all cherished beliefs and sacrosanct truths as symptoms of a defective western mythos. It postulates the collapse of meaning, relevance, and purpose. Helmut Thielicke wrote that "Nihilism literally has only one truth to declare, namely, that ultimately Nothingness prevails and the world is meaningless". [3]

In this essay, I will argue, that the common nihilist statement, namely that ‚the world exhibits a lack of inherent meaning' is not coherent, and therefore, the demand of an intrinsical meaningful world is not a demand for meaning, but rather a reference to nothing. Further, I will argue that common nihilist conceptions of meaning and their alternative concept of a meaningful world is flawed.


Our everyday language is often not precise. ‚X is meaningless', ‚I mean that…' ‚This means…' or even ‚You are mean' or ‚the means of production' refer to different – one could say – meanings. I claim that our everyday use of the word ‚meaning' does not relate to a sinlge definition, but holds a whole family of definitions. If nihilism states that the world is ‚inherently meaningless', there must be a definition according to which something or everything could have inherent meaning – at least, in the abstraction of a conceptional scheme. According to this, I therefore conclude, that in nihilism, the use of the word ‚meaning' could be seen as either 1) an act of justification; (something meaningful) or 2) a certain explaination in the matter of 'this means…'. In the most simple expression – meaning has something that speaks of something, or does something because of something.

And what do the words inherent or instrinsical phrase? If the Nihilist sees at least subjective meaning in a single act of justification (f. i. I take aspirin because I have a headache) – one can conclude that the words ‚instrinsinc' or ‚inherent' must phrase something beyond that single act, therefore, a settled act of justification – an ultimate act of justification or expression of everything.


Now that we further defined the often only phrased notion of an ‚inherent meaningless world' we can move on with the question of coherence. A world could be meaningful in the view of a nihilist if for everything the world exhibits there is a settled, ultimate justification. Of course we will end up being caught in an endless cirlce of reproduction – there cannot be a settled meaning behind meaning regressus ad infinitum. The demand therefore is logically a reach for the impossible – is not coherent.

There is settled justification within one single act. The nihilist tries to create a scheme of a totality of (arguably incoherent) chains and asks ‚But what does it all mean'? Of course they mean nothing per se, nothing bigger than their actual meaning itself, but not because the chains by themself do not have meaning, but the scheme according to which the question is formed is not coherent. It is like asking what a ‚cash' (a creation between a cat and a fish) means – and of course this diagonal-predicate means nothing per se. It gets clear, the question ‚What does it all mean' is not any different to ‚What does this (object) mean'. What does a ‚cash' mean or what does a ‚cat' mean, it both reaches for the same – A justification behind the justification, or a justification behind sheer existence. Both are not coherent formulations, are therefore no proper demands. Both reach for nothing. A settled justification does not and can not exist. A demand for something that can logically not exist is not a demand for something but a demand for nothing, therefore not a demand, but a tautology.


‚If the world is created by accident, - and not by god - nothing can objectively mean anything', according to common nihilist claims. Argumentum e contrario, ‚If god created the world, everything objectively means something'. This is were my objection starts.

How would a god-created world be different from this world besides there being a god? If this god ‚sanctifies' everything – speaks that ‚everything has meaning' what would that sheer formulation phrase or mean, besides the phrase that now everything ‚magically matters'?

How does a god prevent the god-created world from being questioned? There still cannot be another meaning behind the sheer existence of god, one can always ask ‚Why'.

How would this supreme court constitute and justify objectivity? If the statement ‚You shall not kill' is mere interpretation (which is questionable) – how would a god logically turn this into a certain objectivity? – By sheer authority? My objection to this is, that authority does not belong to the familiy of logic. ‚Because god says so', is not a convincing argument. If god says there can be settled meaning, then god must be wrong.

The questions are speaking for themselves. A god – a higher entity – or a supreme court cannot lead to something that is called an ‚intrinsical meaning'. Our lives could still be argued to be absurd, meaningless, meaningful etc.

According to Nietzsche's nihilism ‚There are no facts, only interpretations'. Of course, it could be argued that this must be – if true – a fact. The statement collapses. The demand for and a lack of an all-encompassing objectivity is often held as an argument for a lack of objectivity at all. According to Maurizio Ferraris' theory of New Realism, this statement can of course not be true, as certain things are part of unamendable reality, wheter we like it or not. ‚H2O wettens, even if I interprete things differently. [4]

There undoubtely are interpretations, subjectivity – the individual experience. But it is unclear, how a sanctifying god that says – ‚everything is objective' does by itself not portray a subjective interpretation. Sheer authority does not and cannot explain, it dictates. But what is dictation without logic? Therefore, the lack of a god cannot be taken as a stringent objection or argument according to which our lives, or the world would be intrinsically meaningless.


In the philosophy of Markus Gabriel (New Realism), there are many fields, but not that one groundfloor according to which everything takes place. [5] My last objection is, that a metaphysical meaning cannot be applied onto a ‚world' – onto ‚everything' – as such a totality of things simply does not exist. Further, the structure of reality is incoherent. Therefore, there cannot be that one isolated thing or an allquantor (∀) that talks about everything at once. The structure of reality does not allow it. My objection is, that meaning is commonly adressed as a ‚universal something' - merely a isolated 'superthing' that could simply be drawn onto everything. But this does not resemble the structure of reality. There are different meanings because there are different acts and dialectics in different (incoherent) fields of the world. Meanings are individual by nature. The idea there could be a certain type of 'universal-meaning' that could fit into the individual fragments of the world is a misconception. It merely arises of an insufficiently view on the subject.

Common nihilist claims are not coherent. They rather describe a notion, or despair and are a reference to nothing or base on misunderstandings.

[1] Albert Camus, Myth of Sisiphus
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power
[3] Helmut Thielke, Nihilism: Its Origin and Nature, with a Christian Answer, 1969
[4] Maurizio Ferraris, Manifesto of New Realism
[5] Markus Gabriel, Why the World Does Not Exist

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