Tag Archives: nihilism

Derek Parfit

If we believe that there are some irreducibly normative truths, we might be believing what we ought to believe. If there are such truths, one of these truths would be that we ought to believe that there are such truths. If instead we believe that there are no such truths, we could not be believing what we ought to believe. If there were no such truths, there would be nothing that we ought to believe.

Derek Parfit, On What Matters, vol. 2, Oxford, 2011, p. 619

Eric Olson

Perhaps accepting [nihilism] would make us less selfish. At any rate it would mean that self-interest was not a rational motive for action. How could it be, if there is no “self” to have any interests? If there are no such beings are myself or others, there can be no reason to put my interests above those of others. Nihilism might imply that all interests are of equal value. We might find that liberating.

Eric Olson, What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Oxford, 2007, p. 203

Eric Olson

That we could not consistently deny our existence without going mad is no evidence for the claim that we do exist—any more than the impossibility of denying consistently that we have free will without going mad is evidence for our actually having it. Why should the truth be believable? For all we know, the true account of what we are might be pathological. That would be a truly absurd situation. It is one thing to accept humbly that our metaphysical nature might remain forever beyond our intellectual grasp. It would be a nasty surprise indeed if we could work out our metaphysical nature all right, but the knowledge of it would inevitably result in madness.

Eric Olson, What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Oxford, 2007, p. 210

Jeremy Mayerfeld

There is no need to import superstition. We can begin with a mechanistic view of the world, one in which bits of energy and matter interact in various ways perhaps according to certain deterministic or probabilistic laws of causation; and in which people’s lives are determined by the interplay of their own desires, goals, commitments, urges, and impulses with those of other people, steered by different beliefs about the world, of varying degrees of falsehood and veracity, all within the limits imposed by nature; but a world that exhibits no transcendent purpose or meaning or design in any of its parts—no purpose, that is, outside the purely continent (and usually quite powerless) wills of individual people and animals. Nevertheless, surely it would be blindness to fail to see, at the very least, that some things in this purposeless world are objectively bad; that these things ought not to arise; that we are obliged by their very badness to prevent them from arising; and that certainly the experience of suffering in its many forms has this very property of objective badness that I have been describing, even if nothing else has it. It seems to me stranger to deny this than to affirm it.

Jeremy Mayerfeld, Suffering and Moral Responsibility, New York, 1999, p. 113

Quentin Smith

[M]y entire life is less valuable than the entire state of my being dead (which may be identified with the continued existence of the matter and energy that composed my body at the time of my death, even if this matter and energy no longer constitutes a corpse and breaks down into separated and distant atoms). My life can add up only to a finite number of units of value. But my state of being dead lasts for an infinite amount of future time. Even if my state of being dead at each time has the minimal value, say one (the value of the members of the set of particles that composed my body at the time of my death), my state of being dead will have aleph-zero units of value. My state of being dead is infinitely more valuable than my state of being alive. The same is true for any human and any living being.

Quentin Smith, ‘Moral Realism and Infinite Spacetime Imply Moral Nihilism’, in Heather Dyke (ed.), Time and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, Dordrecht, 2003, p. 47