A relevant existential position that one may come to grapple with is this idea of nihilism, that human life and the universe are devoid of any inherent meaning or purpose, and that there are no moral absolutes — or there’s no such thing as right or wrong actions. To begin considering positions, I’d like to approach this idea of nihilism in regard to Nietzsche.
Nietzsche had a run-in with nihilism and tried to overcome it, criticizing pessimistic views of this nothingness. Nietzsche talked about different transvaluations of values taking place through the Will-to-Power, and his Übermensch was one who was to create a new set of values after the death of god — the death of the idea of god and moral values set up through religion. He said that life forces us to create values and life itself is imbued with value through our valuations.
It has been said that as far as we can tell, the universe seems to be devoid of any inherent meaning or purpose. However, we could perhaps speak about purpose through functionality, that is, that purpose could be derived from the functions that a thing has. The thing’s purpose is to function through its mechanics. A combustion engine’s purpose, for example, is to function —to intake a fuel/air mixture, compress it, ignite it, and finally to exhaust it. And this is of course to power a vehicle so that one is able to travel.
The same can be said of human beings. Human beings exist to function biologically. So then, what is the purpose of human bodies? To function, to undergo mitosis and meiosis/bodily functions and biological imperatives, to grow into adulthood, to reproduce and have offspring, etc. But, of course, what is the meaning of it all? What is the meaning of human life?
Aside from biological purpose, I would grant that inherent purpose or meaning do not exist. Given this, as Nietzsche said, life forces us to give valuations. It is up to an individual person to give one’s own valuations to life. Each person is one’s own creator of values. Moreover, in a certain sense this act of valuation is the answer to the question of meaning/purpose. Life asserts itself as meaningless, as a pessimistic triviality — seemingly, nihilism prevails. Counter to this valuelessness, one transvalues the meaninglessness/purposelessness of life itself on a fundamental level. This is meaning/purpose as valuation/transvaluation. We are the authors of meaning. This is one’s Will-to-Power dominating over the absurdity of life, namely that we are without meaning and must fade quietly into nihilistic oblivion.
One asserts one’s valuations onto life and from here onto others through a transvaluation of their values. That is, it starts with an individual assigning value first to his life through reason, and then to others and other valuations of life, all brought on through the Will-to-Power. And so as we can see, meaning/purpose becomes a matter of creating values and transvaluing others’ valuations.
The Virtue of Being Lost
Digressing briefly, a few years ago, I went through a stage of poignant purposelessness and meaninglessness. I just woke up one day dissatisfied with the way life had turned out and I lost all prior purpose or value with life. It became a bit insidious. Any residual motivation or desire started to wane. Things progressively got worse and then I lost my grandfather. I thought about suicide, however, this was merely the entertainment of a thought.
One night, I started to play the piano, just sounding out some chords in B minor. I happened upon this melancholic, intimate sounding passage that captured what was happening in life.
It reminded me of waves, perhaps of a lake or river near a forest. I named it Forest of Self (The Virtue of Being Lost). It was about going through adversity and losing purpose and meaning, and becoming lost in life and inside oneself.
We become lost in life and we search for meaning and purpose, and in doing so we don’t see the beauty of the immediate scenery. We don’t see the immediate lesson, that this condition, of being lost, is the point. It’s a very human element. This act, of being lost, is a virtue. We come to know ourselves deeper, we come to know more intimately what it means to be human. Adversity is a character builder.
This whole concept became essential later to the development of my philosophy. This is the definition of my Works of Heart concept, and the Virtue of Being Lost is one of my Autonomous Values. It was through the process of working through this concept that I was able to overcome my situation of nihilism. Moreover, recently I refined my view of subjective purpose. If purpose was hidden from me before, I have since found it. That is, namely, to understand.
Moral Nihilism and Post-Nihilism
Returning to the point, regarding moral nihilism, which holds that actions have no intrinsic moral value — even if there was no inherent value in moral actions, that something is neither objectively right or wrong, it is for all intents and purposes practical to take the position that actions are good or bad, right or wrong.
Furthermore, through what Matt Dillahunty defines as situational Secular Morality, we can see that actions have a range of good and bad outcomes if we define what is moral as being that which brings the greatest good or happiness, or the least pain or suffering. From this, we have a moral spectrum where we can demonstrably see that some actions are objectively better than others. For example, murder would be wrong because it brings about a bad outcome, namely death. Rape would be wrong because it causes physical and mental harm. Secular Morality is based on objective states. It is objectively better for one to be unharmed than harmed, alive than dead (considering health), healthy than sick, happy than unhappy.
Moreover, moral nihilism is unreasonable because it’s more practical to assign value to actions based on the amount of suffering or happiness that action brings about. We have a social contract we uphold because it’s generally in our benefit to work together as a society and not cause harm, as that keeps the social wheel turning smoothly. We are able to change (or transvalue) certain valuations of morality if they show they no longer are efficient at bringing about the greatest good or happiness; as we are moral engineers, we are capable of moral ingenuity.
It should be noted that this moral system is data driven and adapts to the data to meet new and existing moral needs, as contrasted with rigid religious formulations of morality.
Overall, moral nihilism says that actions are inherently morally meaningless (which itself is a valuation). This post-nihilism I am positing says that, actions perhaps may be inherently meaningless, but it is more practical to assign value to them based on data.
We’re clever and we have moral ingenuity and are able to solve problems and be pragmatic. We’re capable of moral engineering — changing (or transvaluing) moral valuations based on data.
This post-nihilism is essentially a creation of values. Ultimately, we have come out of nihilism by being creators of values and by transvaluing others’ values. That is to say, we first assign value to our own lives, and then we evaluate others’ valuations. This spills over into the realm of morality, where we examine moral values, and if the case may be, transvalue these valuations with observable data in order to efficiently satisfy new and existing moral needs.
In conclusion, we have moved out of all-encompassing nihilism into a post-nihilistic world where valuations are assigned in tandem with observable data. We are, in a Nietzschean sense, authors of meaning — creators of values.
1. Existential — Of or relating to existence, concerned with existence, especially human existence.
2. Existential Nihilism — The position that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. It views the human species as insignificant and without purpose.
3. Moral Nihilism — The position that actions in themselves contain intrinsically no moral worth.
4. Post-Nihilism — A creation of values in relation to one’s self, existence, and morality. The position or act of stepping out, beyond all-encompassing nihilism (which itself is a valuation), through transvaluing the view of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and valuelessness; and then creating valuations first to one’s life and then to others and others’ valuations.
5. Transvaluation — To reevaluate especially on a basis that repudiates accepted standards.
6. Friedrich Nietzsche — (October 15, 1844 — August 25, 1900) Was a German philosopher, philologist, cultural critic, poet, and composer. He wrote several critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.
7. Will-to-Power — A prominent concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. The Will-to-Power describes what Nietzsche may have believed to be the main driving force in humans — namely, achievement, ambition, and the striving to reach the highest possible position in life.
8. Übermensch — The ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values, originally described by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–1885).
9. Works of Heart — Weathering adversity, and becoming lost in life in the search to find meaning and resolve, and striving to overcome this affliction. To conquer this circumstance is to be a Work of Heart. Works of Heart can also refer to the conditions that bring this adversity about.
10. Virtue of Being Lost — In becoming lost in life through adversity, we come to a certain beauty and deeper experience of what it is to be human, namely, the experience of being fallible and the condition of not knowing certain answers or possible paths to take toward recourse.
11. Autonomous Values — Values that contribute to inner autonomy, such as the Virtue of Being Lost.
12. Moral Ingenuity — The capacity to change (or transvalue) certain moral valuations based on data that details an action’s spectrum of moral worth (how much happiness or suffering the action will bring about). The implementation of this is Moral Engineering.