nihilism unpacked


Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef on the Rationally Speaking podcast discuss the various epistemological, ontological, mereological and ethical strains of nihilism. The conversation is of an introductory nature but has value in the range that it covers, and in sections that deal with the vacillation between the mood of nihilism and the fact of nihilism. Interestingly, Pigliucci also goes onto discuss the Stoic Week experiment in the therapeutic function of philosophy as a practice of living- a shared concern of the curators of this blog, insofar as we entertain its possibility, and especially a concern of my own in relation to the Stoa.

The Stoics are many things, and it is often there cold rationalism that is emphasised against the acute awareness of an existence that they thought required such a rationalism in order to allow us to cope with it. The question of Stoicism in the context of nihilism might be the question of the distance between acceptance and resignation? What is the relation? Is resignation the first moment in the coming-to-wakefulness out of the dream of a lived nostalgia that constitutes acceptance of the catastrophic present? Between the flailing of the politics and imagination of the stimulatory petro-civilisation and that assembled from its wreckage- don’t the Ancients also offer modes of coping from which to salvage? As ever, more questions than answers. Contra to Marx, humanity always sets itself questions it cannot answer.

4 responses to “nihilism unpacked

  1. this was my 2cents i left over there:
    barring some very serious birth-defect or say TBI people can’t help but be making worlds (unwelten if you will) full of meanings/associations, the philosophical point is rather that after thinkers like Richard Rorty that we now understand our meanings are contingent alltoohuman creations and not Grounded in something like Objective-Truth, now Rorty still had a great faith in our abilities to co-operate enough without such Truths in something akin to liberal democracies but he died before we could both really come to terms with the nascent research in cognitive-biases and the sorts of machine-enhanced mass effects of human efforts like the Crash of the global economies and the surges of climate change, and given these sorts of emerging catastrophes that are beyond our collective limits to be reason-able about (let alone to make concerted efforts to shift gears and manufacture solutions to) it seems quite sensible that we are heading at accelerating speeds for very grim times without any obvious solution/relief.

    • I’ve not read Rorty so I can’t really speak to that. I might get to him at some point but I think this same kind of ground might be covered to some degree by Vattimo’s postsecular hopscotch- which isn’t to say I affirm Vattimo’s faith or the attempt of postsecular philosophy to have it both ways…I’d rather just leave the empty space of God empty rather than fill it with another Theological ghost (whatever capitalised transcendental it might be). Still, I would agree with your analysis in general and with your correction elsewhere re: conflating meaning and purpose (I often speak of the former when I mean the latter…corporeal & semiological meanings only proliferate even as the latter get evacuated by a loss of semantic coherence and accounts of the depth and density of explanatory complexity).

      The part of this I found very valuable though was in the discussion of merelogical nihilism (cf. Peter Van Inwagen). The conversation surrounding “a row of apples” seems to me a simplified account of the disagreements between eliminative materialist physicalists and nonreductive naturalists, and for that simplicity all the more effective in illustrating what is problematic about rampant elimination. I say rampant because I am unwilling to say that there is no case in which eliminativism could be true.

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