A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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These two thinkers, Thales and Cioran, by showing us what an authentic nihilism might look like, make us aware of a problem that leaves us deeply perplexed.

The question arises: how does a nihilist live in practice? What kind of praxis logically derives from the theory that "nothing really has any objective value"? There is a mystery here: since the nihilist is not a pessimist and does not value death, he does not want to kill himself, he is not suicidal. On the other hand, not being a sceptic, ataraxia, impassivity, the insensitivity resulting from epoché, is not his authentic mode of being.

We can see, then, how untenable Nietzsche's proposition that Pity is the practice of nihilism 1 is, as well as the assimilation of Christianity to nihilism; on the other hand, we can perhaps assimilate Christianity to pessimism. The real challenge of Nietzschean thought now appears to us perhaps more as an attempt to combat pessimism than nihilism: It makes me happy to see that people do not at all want to thank the thought of death! I would very much like to do something that would make the thought of life even one hundred times more worth being thought to them 2.

However, the refutation of nihilism cannot be identical to the refutation of pessimism that Nietzsche mischievously proposes: Finally, some advice for our dear pessimists and other decadents. It is not in our hands to prevent our birth; but we can correct this mistake — for in some cases it is a mistake. […] Pessimism, pur, vert, is proved only by the self-refutation of our dear pessimists: one must advance a step further in its logic 3, since nihilism refuses to give death any value.

In any case, Thales and Cioran allow us to raise the question: how does a person who rejects both life and death as 'objects of value' act in everyday life?

It is only at a later stage that we will be able to answer this problem. For the moment, we have confined ourselves to determining that nihilism is indeed a consistent axiological doctrine, irreducible to the neighbouring doctrines with which it is often confused.
It is clear, then, that most of the movements or doctrines that have been considered nihilistic (the Russian nihilists, Schopenhauer's thought, Christianity, Buddhism, etc.) are not really so, and it is even doubtful that this axiological position has been upheld - in all its radicality - by any author.

There is no paradox here. It is normal, if we reject the idea that the authentic meaning of nihilism is its historical meaning, for us to critically examine the nihilists who claim to be such, to see whether they live up to the axiological doctrine they claim, once the meaning of the latter has been determined logically - and not historically. Just as one can claim to be a poet without actually being one, just as one can claim to be a painter when one is just a scrawler, so one can claim to be a nihilist, even though one attributes value to certain actions, such as planting bombs and committing attacks against the Tsar, behaviour which also denotes an ideal.

Be that as it may, we can now expose this extreme axiological position to the researcher, so that he can grasp the scandal it conceals: "In reality, nothing has value".

[Go to the next chapter]

1. Antichrist, §7
2. The Gay science, IV, §278
3. Twilight of the Idols, 36