Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche Nihilism is often associated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzschewho provided a detailed diagnosis of nihilism as a widespread phenomenon of Western culture.
In a history that spans more than two and a half centuries, the term nihilism has been employed to denote a wide range of phenomena. It has been variously used to express contempt or horror on the one side, approval and admiration on the other.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it has almost always been an emotional and axiological term, frequently employed to cut off debate on a moral issue by representing a particular position as absolute, totalizing, and extreme.
Early History of the Term The word nihilism is constructed from the Latin nihil, "nothing," and the Greek suffix ism. From the late eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth century, nihilism followed a course that scholars have already traced in considerable detail.
Enemies of German idealism threw the term at Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichtefor example, protesting against the emptiness of a philosophy that denies the possibility of any reliable contact with the world of things in themselves.
As European thought increasingly moved toward dispassionate, secular explanations of religious belief holding, for example, that such belief is a natural and predictable product of human consciousness or that it reflects a natural, human tendency to generate mythsthose seeking to defend traditional faith increasingly leveled the charge of nihilism against secularizing thinkers.
Max Stirner pseudonym of Johann Caspar Schmidt; —author of the primary gospel of egoism, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum ; The ego and his ownand pre-Nietzschean messenger of the death of Godhas been described as an early nihilist.
All such thinkers, it was felt, had reduced to nothing nihil both faith and its transcendent object. Nihilism in Russia and As a Russian Export The term nihilism nigilizm in Russian had been used in Russia early in the nineteenth century, but it burst on the scene with particular force and with an entirely new meaning in Januarywhen Ivan Turgenev — published Fathers and Sons.
He is, in a word, a nihilist. As his callow young friend puts it to members of the older generation the "fathers"a nihilist is a man "who approaches everything from a critical point of view … who does not bow down before any authorities, who does not accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much respect might surround that principle.
And in The Anthropological Principle in Philosophyhe had reduced human freedom and, for that matter, human distinctiveness, to nothing, arguing that individual freedom is an illusion as much in humanity as in the lower forms of animal life.
Chernyshevsky would add a third feature to the definition of nihilism in What Is to Be Done? The idealized characters in his novel behave in accordance with an odd amalgam of utilitarianism and enlightened egoism, thus reducing traditional ethical values to nothing.
After the publication of What Is to Be Done? First, in literary life, it nurtured the trend toward realism. Second, in political life, the term nihilism came to be used, often with hostile intent, to describe a group within the revolutionary movement characterized by its unscrupulous methods and its unprincipled aims.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky helped popularize this sense of nihilism by offering up the savage caricatures of left-wing political operatives that we see, above all, in The Devils also called The Possessed ; The chief "devil" in this book, Peter Verkhovensky, is a self-described nihilist notable for his desire to bring about terrible destruction and for his utter lack of concern about what might follow that destruction.
The Russian revolutionary Sergei Mikhailovich Kravchinsky —; better known by the pseudonym Sergius Stepniakafter fleeing Russia inspent much of his life publishing—in English and Italian—apologias for the Russian liberation movement that he broadly termed nihilism.
And the anarchists Emma Goldman — and Alexander Berkman —both Russian immigrants to the United Statesused the term nihilist in their memoirs to refer to the heroes of the Russian revolutionary movement, heroes that had inspired them to embark on their own revolutionary careers.
Nietzsche and Nihilism Had it not been for Friedrich Nietzsche —nihilism—the word and what it came to designate—would no doubt have been very different from what it in fact became. We find an enigmatic reference to "nihilism according to the Petersburg model" an apparent reference to Turgenev in part 5 of The Gay Science, but the term occurs in his published writings mostly in connection with philosophies that Nietzsche views as world-or life-denying.
In The Genealogy of Moralityfor example, he offers the term nihilism as a synonym for Buddhismmeaning a renunciation of the affairs of the world.
In The Anti-Christnihilism is essentially synonymous with "denial of life," and Nietzsche defines pity, the root sentiment of Christianity, as "the praxis of nihilism.
It is here that Nietzsche describes nihilism as a condition in which "the highest values devaluate themselves" and in which the answer to the question "Why? There are two possible responses to this condition, Nietzsche explains in a notebook he kept in We may rise up in strength and recognize that existing goals are no longer adequate, establishing new values in place of the older ones, or we may resign in weakness "Buddhism," as Nietzsche puts itthus failing to generate new values.
The first response is called "active nihilism," the second "passive nihilism. The debate is misguided.Fathers and Sons, published in , was more than a breakout novel for Ivan Turgenev; it was a breakout novel for Russian literature as a whole.
In its realism and its careful depiction of the rise of nihilism (a philosophy that takes no principle whatsoever for granted; everything is open to. () A novel that so carefully depicts the rise of nihilism refuses to end on a nihilistic note.
Instead it ends with a line of affirmation, an affirmation of human values that will survive every ideological revolution, every revolt of sons against their fathers.
In Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons two movements are presented that will wrestle for the mantle of reform in Russia: nihilism and liberalism.
The former is characterized as abstract, scientific, and destructive, while the latter is concrete, integral, and regenerative. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Fathers And Sons by Ivan Turgenev.
Upon his graduation from the University of Petersburg, ArkadyKirsanov returns to his father’s small county estate in rural Russia with his friend, Yevgeny Bazarov. Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons as a response to the growing cultural schism that he saw between liberals of the s/s and the growing nihilist movement.
Both the nihilists (the "sons") and the s liberals (the "fathers") sought Western-based social change in Russia. Nihilism In Turgenov's Fathers and Sons, Free Study Guides and book notes including comprehensive chapter analysis, complete summary analysis, author biography information, character profiles, theme analysis, metaphor analysis, and top ten quotes on classic literature.