Nihilism (; from Latin nihil 'nothing') is a family of views within philosophy that rejects generally accepted or fundamental aspects of human existence, such as knowledge, morality, or meaning. The term was popularized by Ivan Turgenev and more specifically by his character Bazarov in the novel Fathers and Sons.
There have been different nihilist positions, including that human values are baseless, that life is meaningless, that knowledge is impossible, or that some set of entities does not exist or is meaningless or pointless.
Scholars of nihilism may regard it as merely a label that has been applied to various separate philosophies, or as a distinct historical concept arising out of nominalism, skepticism, and philosophical pessimism, as well as possibly out of Christianity itself. Contemporary understanding of the idea stems largely from the Nietzschean 'crisis of nihilism', from which derive the two central concepts: the destruction of higher values and the opposition to the affirmation of life. Earlier forms of nihilism, however, may be more selective in negating specific hegemonies of social, moral, political and aesthetic thought.
The term is sometimes used in association with anomie to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence or arbitrariness of human principles and social institutions. Nihilism has also been described as conspicuous in or constitutive of certain historical periods. For example, Jean Baudrillard and others have characterized postmodernity as a nihilistic epoch or mode of thought. Likewise, some theologians and religious figures have stated that postmodernity and many aspects of modernity represent nihilism by a negation of religious principles. Nihilism has, however, been widely ascribed to both religious and irreligious viewpoints.
In popular use, the term commonly refers to forms of existential nihilism, according to which life is without intrinsic value, meaning, or purpose. Other prominent positions within nihilism include the rejection of all normative and ethical views (§ Moral nihilism), the rejection of all social and political institutions (§ Political nihilism), the stance that no knowledge can or does exist (§ Epistemological nihilism), and a number of metaphysical positions, which assert that non-abstract objects do not exist (§ Metaphysical nihilism), that composite objects do not exist (§ Mereological nihilism), or even that life itself does not exist.
2. The nihilist interpretation is at once the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth. Quite apart from the fact that it conflicts with the demands and the content of the word of God, nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. It should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity. This in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope. Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery. (Papal Encyclical, Fides et Ratio, 14 September 1998).