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If God doesn't exist is nihilism inevietable

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Tim Gouldthorp
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since 01-03-2000
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0 posted 07-08-2000 01:43 AM       View Profile for Tim Gouldthorp   Email Tim Gouldthorp   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim Gouldthorp

Hi all

As suggested in the discussion on the existence of God, this new thread asks "How can one escape the abyss of nihilism (ie the conclusion that there is no ultimate meaning or purpose in anything)?"   There is also the related issue of structural nihilism ie the inability to write anything wholly original or that conveys the mystic 'absolute.'

Belief in God would be one way out, but possibily only if God exists.  If not, belief in God might be the ultimate negation, no more than a narcotic drugging of the mind against the facticity of nothingness.

Here are some atheistic attempts to find meaning in life without a God.  

Atheistic existentialism - there is no innate purpose or meaning to life, being is absurd.  But out of this absurdity, the individual can and must create their own meaning/morality/personality.
French post-structuralists have questioned this humanism, does their ontology, by dissolving the notion of individual 'freedom' (and instead condemn the individual to the suffocating hegemony of cultural historicity and discourse) undo existentialism and lead us back to nihilism?

Nietchze (you know, that grumpy German weirdo with the funny beard) proposed an exceedingly complex way out of nihilism (sort of).  The 'eternal recurrance' is nihilism, ultimate absurdity, but through the 'will to power' or what Heidegger suggests in ultimate 'subjectivity' this nihility can be transcended or sublimated ie embraced as meaningful - hence amor fati - love of one's ineluctable fate.  I'm getting a bit beyond my knowledge here, but perhaps Derrida's etc concept of meaning as constant 'play' is an extention of this idea.

I must also mention James Joyce here becuase he's my favourite writer.  Ulysses is nihilistic in that the action in the novel goes no-where, it remains static.  This is the side of nihilism similar to Giovanni Vicco's understanding of history as cyclical, or indeed the Buddhist concept of Samsara.  Joyce seems to suggest that an affirmation of human love is the only way out nihilistic stasis or repetition.  

These are just some examples, feel free to expand upon them or suggest other ways out the abyss.  If you reject the existence of God though, I don't think you can do what most people do and that is hold onto a morality that depends on the existence of God.  If you do continue to worship the shadow of God in caves, without believing in God, there is the danger that you will one day realize no meaning is given, and you have made no meaning either.  Then there will be much gnashing of teeth...

-Tim
Brad
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since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea


1 posted 07-08-2000 10:14 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Whoa, slow down, Tim. You've got so many different ideas here that it might be hard for people to respond (although in some ways it is rather exhilerating):

Nihilism:
1 a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
2 a (1) : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility (2) capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

If we take the first definition here, I have to question the importance of the question itself. So what?  It seems to be a reliance on absolutes (which usually fall into themselves) -- this striving for ultimate meaning becomes flawed, not for the lack of God, but because we, as humans, cannot think that way. I prefer to call this relatavism.

I usually prefer the second definition. Does God's non-existence mean that Western society is based on a false presumption and therefore must be destroyed.  It must be rebuilt or at least rethought through a transvaulation of values.  

In other words, is everything we know and think flawed because we now 'know' God doesn't exist. Do we have to start all over again? If so, where do we start?

If you have the time I'd like you to expand on Nietsche's idea of the 'eternal recurrence' and his reversal of 'Truth is Beauty' into 'Beauty is Truth'.  In other words, whereas Plato defined truth as the basis for beauty, N. defined beauty as the basis for truth.

I would not call Derrida a nihilist by the way. Derrida argues that we have to use the tradition itself in order to deconstruct (not destroy) that tradition.  Wonder if you could expand on Heideggar slightly. He wasn't particularly satisfied with Sarte's interpretation and the post-structralists (which is basically Derrida and his imitators) basically just thought Sarte was wrong.

Okay, that's all I've got time for now. I will definitely try to get back to Vicco and Samsara by the way. I disagree and that's always more fun than agreeing.

Brad

PS Let's take one step at a time so that those less interested in this tradition can participate as well.  

Tim Gouldthorp
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since 01-03-2000
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2 posted 07-09-2000 10:23 AM       View Profile for Tim Gouldthorp   Email Tim Gouldthorp   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim Gouldthorp

Hi all,

First up let me say that if anyone wants to suggest their own personal framework of atheistic morality then this is absolutely valid too.  Its not necessary to deal with 'cannonized' philosophical positions.

Brad, thanks for clearing up the issue a bit, my description was a bit breathless.  This is fecund ground for broad discussion, but don't hesitate to rein me in if I get too diffuse!
Now on to the discussion....

I would definne 'nihilism' very narrowly actually.  A mere lack of 'objective' truth I would not class as nihilistic.  

Neitzche's notion of 'eternal recurrance' is very abstract and indeterminate in meaning.  You probably know the passage in Also Spake Zarathustra where Neitzche describes the visitation of a demon.  The demon says something along these lines "everything that has happened to you will happen again and again exactly the same."  The superman would embrace this eternal recurrance, ie they would affirm their life to such a degree that they wouldn't want to change anything.  This is Nietzche's basis for the sublimation of the life through the 'will to power.'
  
In the metaphysics of presence tradition of Plato, the minds eye 'sees' the true in reality.  For Neitzche, where there is no ultimate truth to reality, he seeks to see as beautiful not the true but that which is necessary, namely the eternal recurrance of the same.  He does this through the sublimation of the components of reality so that the totality is beautiful.  Neitzche vehemently opposed Plato's (and Christianity's) whoring after transcendental absolutes.  Does Neitchze do more than reverse Plato's hierachy, and place the sensuous now on top, and the supersensuous (realm of forms) below?  I tend to think that he, or at least Heindegger following Nietchze 'twisted free' of the whole ontological complex.   In this regard I am interested in exploring the nihilistic components of Derrida and Foucault.  I agree with you Brad that Derrida isn't destructive, but he does obliterate the sign 'man' (and as you point out, in this regard are opposed to Sartre) and severely limit the possibility of knowing.  I don't think this is nihilism, but I think it may come close.

You bring up an interesting point about Russian nihilism.  Dostoyesksy seems to suggest that having killed God nihilism is inevietable.  I think it is imporatant that you distinguish, Brad, between destructive anarchism, which as its end goal the same thing as Marxism, and destruction without aim which comes closer to true nihilism.

I would be interested in you view on the nihilistic (or not) aspects of the Buddhist Samsara and reincarnation.  This is the closest analogy I can think of to Neitchze's eternal recurrance, except for Neitchze there is no prospect of Nirvana!  W.B Yeats seems to have embraced just such a view - Samsara re-birth not as something to be escaped from, but an alternative to Christian meta-world of heaven, purgatory, hell...

I don't think i've explained all this too well.  Also if this is too general, please suggest the specific areas you wish to focus on and i'll try to stick to them.

-Tim
JP
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3 posted 07-10-2000 11:16 AM       View Profile for JP   Email JP   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit JP's Home Page   View IP for JP



Although nihilism is not my forte, I will sit and follow this thread...

Yesterday is ash, tomorrow is smoke; only today does the fire burn.
JP

"Everything is your own damn fault, if you are any good." E. Hemmingway
jbouder
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since 09-18-99
Posts 2641
Whole Sort Of Genl Mish Mash


4 posted 07-10-2000 12:29 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Tim:

I only have a second now and will try to address your questions in more detail later.  A quick answer to the question in your heading:

No.

The other option is secular humanism.  Nihilism, in my opinion, would be the more realistic (and less attractive) option.  The nihilist would argue that, without God, there can be no objective grounds for moral truth.  The secular humanist would probably argue from either a utilitarian (what is best for the many) point of view in order to form an "objective" standard or form some sort of shallow situational eithic like Political Correctness.  

More later.

Jim



[This message has been edited by jbouder (edited 07-10-2000).]
7
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5 posted 07-11-2000 06:49 PM       View Profile for 7   Email 7   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for 7

Sorry, I never like to post without first reading the other messages, but I don't have much time and I'm afraid this will escape me...

I think the answer depends on what you consider God. I've heard it said, although I don't personally use this definition, that God is existence, consciousness. So then that person would say that if God doesn't exist, we don't exist, thus meaning does not exist.

But I'm confusing myself now. I think, although I should probably have said this in the Does God Exist forum, that "God" is simply a definition that people use too liberally. So I'd prefer not to say "I think God is..." but rather, this is what I think about meaning... meaning is what you make of it. Meaning in your own life only comes from you. It's YOUR thought, YOUR meaning. YOU make meaning. Unless there is a God, then maybe "He" does too/instead. I admit that I don't believe either, but I would say, in answer to the forum question, that if there is no greater force judging, planning or creating, then the force must come from within. And therefore, there is only meaning if you see it.

But then, I may be messed up on what nihilism is   ... I guess I really should read some more messages. But my sister needs the comp. So I'll be back!

7


OK, I'm back to edit  

There is a great site that I almost completely agree with on this issue, although it straddles the fence a bit. But then, so do I.
http://www.aristotle.net/~diogenes/meaning1.html

I would just like to clarify a bit what I said before. If God doesn't exist, there can be meaning, truth, morality, etc. It could be, I suppose, ultilitarian, as Jim proposed above. I am more comfortable looking at it as personal: I judge myself, I define myself, I create myself, and I make the meaning of MY world. It sounds self-centered, and I suppose it is, but if it were true it would mean not only I am self-centered but that we all are. I don't know if there is another name for that, if there is I'd like to know.

[This message has been edited by 7 (edited 07-11-2000).]
deb
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6 posted 07-11-2000 10:36 PM       View Profile for deb   Email deb   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for deb

Of God's existence and the question of nihilism.......This is not an easy question to answer, if it can be answered at all. It is my opinion that we probably cannot answere the question rationally because we cannot not have the idea of a God. If one  does not believe in God, does it not show that s/he has an idea of God? How can we choose one way if we do not know--or have knowledge of--the opposite of our choice? Therefore, no matter what one's stance, belief, ect. is of God, the idea of God is universal.In other words, in order to not believe in God, one must possess the idea/have some knowledge of a God. Thus, in order to answer the posed question would mean that we would have to know what it is to actually live without knowing the idea of God. This is because we have--from the beginning of the human race--built and centered values, morals, norms, ect., on the rules, values, commandments, ect., of a "God." There never existed a time period on the earth where the idea of God and religion did not exist. Therefore, we cannot know if nihilism would prevail. We would have to produce a world of homo sapians void of the idea of a God and observe their attitudes toward life, analyze their behaviors, and survey their outlook on themselves, their community, and their place/fit in life. Only then can we truly know if God's nonexistence will produce nihilism.

Deb
Tim Gouldthorp
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since 01-03-2000
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7 posted 07-11-2000 11:09 PM       View Profile for Tim Gouldthorp   Email Tim Gouldthorp   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim Gouldthorp

Jim.  I think you have quickly got to the heart of the matter.  Clearly, if God is dead then nihilism is not inevietable.  But what if God AND MAN are dead?  Is there a unifying ontological human reality? The culmulative ideas beginning with Neitszche through Heidegger, Foucault (also Fruad's critique of conciousness) suggest that the whole metaphysics of presence upon which all manifestations of humanism (athiestic/christian existentialism, liberal democracy etc etc) are flawed.  Later theorists have indeed deconstructed the moralities (manifested in politics) stemming from this.  Feel free to oppose this, but I think you will have a tough job.  I think, rather, we need from this starting point.  What sort of power (used so very loosely as aopposite to nihility) could emerge from a post- humanistic condition?  I think there are a number...
Sorry to get back to Nietschze again, but I think that his notion of slave morality as negation (of master morality) and therefore nihilism - willing the void rather than being void of will raises some useful questions, even if the answers are quite different to Nietszche.

JP, nice rocking chair you've got there!!

7, I agree with you.  I think an unnecessary conception of essence of God can be an impediment to faith.

deb, with regard to your statement that

"from the beginning of the human race--built and centered values, morals,  norms, etc on the rules, values, commandments, etc of a "God."

This is the problem.  If morality is contingent of God - if God goes then morality goes.  I think that today many people do know life without God. God is dead for them, they have just not faced the implications...

-Tim

jbouder
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Whole Sort Of Genl Mish Mash


8 posted 07-12-2000 05:53 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Tim:

I can't argue with you there.  The philosophical schools related to Humanism are pretty much the law of the land in American jurisprudence right now (there are exceptions).

A very popular legal theory in the U.S. is the Economic Theory which is, in substance, very close to John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism and, I think, serves as the foundation for American public policy.  The Canadians are even worse off than we are (you listening Trev?).  

Gotta go now ... my wife is going to kill me (late for dinner again).  Oh well ... if I survive I'll be back.

Jim
Brad
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Jejudo, South Korea


9 posted 07-12-2000 11:58 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

A couple points I want to make here:

Derrida does not obliterate the sign of man; he puts it under erasure. In other words, he uses the term and puts a line through it to show its inadequacy.  I don't mean to harp on this point but, for me, it is a crucial distinction and one that if not continually made can make this discussion sound pretty stupid. "Well then who's talking?" sort of retort.

Another point worth considering is that the deconstruction of man (under erasure) is based on the problems with logos (thought and word). This goes further to endanger, not just Western thought and the Cristian God but  just about every form of traditional thought.  Foucault, on the other hand, seemed to think that the sign of man was a relatively recent invention of the West and was most happy to see it go --  remember the disappearance of man as footsteps in the sand at the end of The Order of Things?

Let me stop beating around the bush and get to my point (I'll try to address some of the other issues later but I haven't got the time): neither the death of God and Man nor the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence (I always thought the term europhalologocentrism was more fun but they mean different things -- although I would consider logocentrism a synonym for the metaphysics of presence) contributes to nihilism (in the destructive sense).

Derrida realizes this.
Heigeggar does not -- in my opinion.
Nietsche -- I don't know.

I think that this is a confusion between what people actually do (culture, tradition, knee jerk reactions, work, sex etc.) and what people think about what they do (philosophy, religion, diner conversations).  Many people seem to think that philosophy undergirds the things that we do, that it is the basis for what people do, but I would argue that it is the other way around.  Philosophy is the excuse after the action takes place.  Are they completely separable? Of course not.  But the descent into nihilism is not going to occur because people all of a sudden realize that everything they think and everything they do is somehow based on a mistake.

They're going to look at those that say this, nod their heads, and continue doing what they did before.  They are going to do this quite simply because they KNOW it's right, because they FEEL it is right.  This doesn't mean that philosophy is irrelevant, you hear people expound it everyday, but it is not going to change things over night.

Even if people believe in the death of God and Man (in the metaphysical sense of presence -- of knowing what you are doing and saying at that moment, of immediacy, of believing you have control over yourself, of the transparency of language -- anybody have a better definition(s)?), they are still going to live their lives in a pragmatic (from their point of view) way.  This pragmatic way involves what they've always done before regardless of the reasoning.

Change happens and what people have written today will influence those of later generations but it will not change or be changed in the way that we think.  It will change and be changed under the specific conditions of that moment but I don't believe that moment will be nihilism (not consciously anyway), nor do I believe it will be liberation (although some will certainly try to make it look that way).  It will be trying to make do.

Brad

Tim Gouldthorp
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since 01-03-2000
Posts 175


10 posted 07-13-2000 12:00 AM       View Profile for Tim Gouldthorp   Email Tim Gouldthorp   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim Gouldthorp

Brad,
  I really know very little about the work of Derrida and Heidegger.  I can see what I thought Derrida was saying about the abolition of the sign man was far too superficial.  Thanks for the explanation.

Jim,
As chance has it i'm starting a jurisprudence unit at Uni next week, so i'm sure i'll become familiar with the various jurisprudencial rationale.  The American, and to a lesser degree the Australian, jurisprudence of the Supreme Court and the H.C of Australia respectively has always seemed to me a little philosophically naive.  Of course, nowdays its in vogue to write fire breathing post-structuralist feminist legal critiques.  I know there has been a lot of work done in the area of post-structuralist politics, legal and otherwise, but I really don't know enough about these to suggest whether they truly offer a viable 'non-humanistic' basis a for legal system.  

-Tim

[This message has been edited by Tim Gouldthorp (edited 07-13-2000).]
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