Definition of nihilism in US English:



  • 1The rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

    • ‘The inevitable result is social fragmentation and moral nihilism.’
    • ‘If those in government allow themselves to be intimidated into neutrality because they harbour private peccadilloes, they will sell the pass to the prophets of moral nihilism.’
    • ‘And since he asserts that atheism = nihilism and deism = atheism lite, then I must really be a nihilist.’
    • ‘His ethical response to nihilism is an active one - the creation of new values.’
    • ‘Given the completely negative associations nihilism has for many of us, simply to have it redefined as a theological posture is worth the price of the book.’
    • ‘In Elephant we can roughly align the characters according to the idea of active and passive nihilism.’
    • ‘Or, to phrase the matter more simply and starkly, our religion is one of very comfortable nihilism.’
    • ‘Tolkien, a devout Catholic, was a combat veteran of World War I, and acutely sensitive to the murderous nihilism of modern warfare.’
    • ‘The validation of subjectivity, leads towards scepticism, but not onto nihilism.’
    • ‘For them, more religion is the answer to widespread nihilism in European societies.’
    • ‘We must fight soggy nihilism, scepticism and cynicism.’
    • ‘Still, here we are, and it seems to me arbitrary to accept the challenges of religious pluralism and historical skepticism about Jesus while ignoring postmodern nihilism.’
    • ‘Those who rejected nihilism and stood against evil in the past lead the way.’
    • ‘Potter was terrified that atheism led to nihilism.’
    • ‘He elevates their self-indulgence to a sort of post-modern nihilism.’
    • ‘It is a bleak picture of society, but it captures that which is terribly bleak about contemporary life in urban America-its narcissism and nihilism.’
    • ‘Pinker argues that we need not fear nihilism or meaninglessness from the modern human sciences because they show that morality is wired into the human brain.’
    • ‘The cult of the absurd gives way to his later rejection of nihilism, not by any clear intellectual choice, but by the process of natural growth.’
    • ‘The search gave rise to a widespread commitment to relativism, to the view that there is no such unconditional ground, and with it the risk of skepticism and nihilism.’
    negativity, cynicism, pessimism
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    1. 1.1Philosophy Extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence.
      • ‘The dislodging of epistemology from its old status of first philosophy loosed a wave, we saw, of epistemological nihilism.’
      • ‘Existentialism is just another form of nihilism in Nietzsche's sense.’
      • ‘Thus, from a Nietzschean perspective, nihilism is the unforeseen consequence of the Kantian critique of metaphysics.’
      • ‘It is urged that Kant's legacy led to the nihilism which Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in their different ways sought to overcome through their emphasis on the will.’
    2. 1.2historical The doctrine of an extreme Russian revolutionary party c.1900 which found nothing to approve of in the established social order.


Early 19th century: from Latin nihil ‘nothing’ + -ism.