The philosophical discourse of existentialism emerged in the 20th century, whereas nihilism was introduced in the late 19th century. Existentialism believes in the meaning of life, individualism, and personal freedom, while nihilism sees life as pointless and meaningless, growing out of the disillusionment and despair of the human soul. Both concepts diverge to some extent, but they also differ in their ideology and approach to life, and this comparison will shed light on their uniqueness.
Nihilism is a concept based on the rejection of fundamental religious or moral beliefs, a complete lack of faith in the existence of any meaning or value in life. The birth of nihilism took place in the 19th century as people rejected traditional religious beliefs and began to see life as meaningless. Nihilism often discusses death, decay, and destruction that unleash human life.
Nihilism can be divided into two parts: passive and active nihilism. Passive nihilism involves the belief that life has no meaning, that there is no such thing as morality, and that nothing is worthwhile in life. This kind of Nihilism often spirals into apathy and indifference to everything around. Active nihilism is where life’s meaning is non-existent, but the person still takes action to create meaning, often choosing to rebel against societal or cultural norms.
Existentialism is much more than an analysis or critique of human existence. It is both a philosophical and literary movement that concentrates on the development of the individual, and his or her freedom, meaning, and purpose in life. Existentialists explore the relationship between the self and the world, the past, the present, and the future, and the interplay between consciousness and the unconscious mind.
Existentialism claims that humans can only understand their existence through personal experience, and cannot rely on abstract truths or ideas given to them by an external force. Life has meaning only as long as individuals create it, and each person must choose for themselves what their life means. Existential thinkers prioritize choice and freedom, with individuals taking personal responsibility for what is and what will be.
Although existentialism and nihilism both aim to explain the reality of human existence and its implications, their philosophical roots differ greatly. Existentialism celebrates individualism, subjectivity, and freedom, while nihilism declares the meaninglessness of life and humanity’s certain decay.
Nihilism tends towards pessimism, showing a great pessimism towards life in general, and portrays life as pointless and meaningless. Existentialism is the opposite of nihilism, showing optimism and the potential for meaning in life, some even argue that it forces people to create their own meaning out of nothing.
Nihilism is rather destructive, actively rejecting almost all traditional cultural or religious beliefs and institutions where existent things are merely human creations of imagination without meaning or purpose. While existentialism acknowledges the role of social and cultural norms in shaping an individual, it also highlights the importance of the responsibility one must take and create a purpose of their Own.
Existentialism supports active choices that help highlight the purpose of life, while Nihilism insists on passivity and languishing about existence.
Is nihilism a form of pessimism?
Yes, nihilism is considered pessimistic because it involves total rejection of the existing ideas, ultimate truths, and morality, and embraces the idea that life is ultimately meaningless.
What is an existential crisis?
An existential crisis refers to a state of disorientation and confusion about one’s purpose or values in life. It involves contemplation of human existence, individual freedom, and life’s worth.
Why do people become nihilistic?
People become nihilistic for many reasons. Some due to traumatic events they face in life, others go through existential crisis; others due to the realization that the world is cruel, unfair and unjust.
The worlds of nihilistic and existentialist discourse may seem similar, but they couldn’t be further apart in terms of their theories and beliefs. Nihilism embraces pessimism, totally rejecting traditional religious and moral beliefs as they believe life has no inherent purpose or meaning. Existentialism, on the other hand, advocates for individualism, subjectivity and loads of freedom, where life’s meaning can only be created, and not obtained. In the end, both concepts reveal more about the human condition than decline, providing a platform to question life’s big questions rather than giving up or accepting the status quo.