The Happy Nihilist
Now how can that be?
A very attention grabbing title, I will admit. But is it accurate? Quite obviously, I have decided to write this paper on Friedrich Nietzsche and his essay, "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life" in the Happiness: Classical Readings in Philosophy text. But can it be definitively said that Nietzsche was a Nihilist or did he merely espouse the merits of nihilistic thought when it was convenient or coincidental? Was he a Nihilist, a Rational Egoist, a Perspectivist, an Existentialist or merely a Nietzschist? Or has he only recently, and out of expediency, been attached to nihilism? It is truly hard to pin the man down into one convenient category, but insofar as his statements that, "Gott ist tot" in The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra he can be deemed nihilistic in his very nature (though perhaps not necessarily to what nihilism is construed as contemporarily and colloquially).
Friedrich Nietzsche by no means invented the concept of nihilism, as the term was first used by Friedrich Jacobi in his reductio ad absurdum refutations of Kantian and Enlightenment thought. Like many philosophers before him, Nietzsche began his philosophical ideology as a reaction against Georg Hegel's German Idealism. His ideas were a complete rejection of any perfect source of absolute, universal and intrinsic or transcending value that -as he viewed- were prescribed by Idealists toward humanity and not a description of humanity or the universe. Sometimes, though, Nietzsche disparaged extremist thought in nihilism saying, "A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be, and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: the pathos of 'in vain' is the nihilists' pathos at the same time, as pathos, an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists." Still, in reading his works (especially his later writings) it can be said that Nietzsche moved toward the emptying of the world (and especially mans existence) of meaning, function, lucid truth, and essential value. It seems that Nietzsches philosophical thought is the logical outcome of repeated frustrations in the search for meaning in the universe by his philosophical predecessors (very similar to Albert Camus Absurdist work, the Myth of Sisyphus, and "the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle.")
So in light of all this, I think that Nietzsche can be deemed a Nihilist, at least insofar as the title of this paper is concerned. Nihilism is a very broad set of principles (or perhaps the absolute lack of any principled meaning to thought, to use a strict and literal interpretation). It can be broken down into Existential Nihilism, the belief that life has no meaning or value whatsoever, Epistemological Nihilism, the complete and utter denial of truth, Moral Nihilism, the rejection of subjective or objective or absolute morality, and Metaphysical Nihilism, the idea that existence simply does not exist. So if a decidedly nihilistic approach is to be taken and applied to a vague and abstract idea of Happiness, then to what avail? Ultimately and utterly, what can be known? How can someone be happy? What is Happiness?
To answer any of these questions, these more academic, speculative and theoretical aspects of nihilism must be shed. Something CAN be known, else how was I to know how and why to write this paper? Some of the more conceptual tenets of nihilism must be discarded in order to write an actual, physically-existing paper on how a decidedly or offhandedly nihilistic philosopher could dare to write an essay espousing the obvious and oblivious happiness and contentment of farm animals.
[It is at this point that I realize I have spent far to much time attempting to justify the title of my paper, and also whether or not Nietzsche could be termed a nihilist. I could run in circles in my brain were I to ascribe wholly and absolutely to Existential or Metaphysical Nihilism, or any number of skeptical, metaphysical, or existential philosophies for that matter. Do either I or the universe exist? Can I truly know anything? Do either the words on my computer screen or the thoughts and actions with which they were created exist? One thing I do know (meta)physically exists... an F on a paper that implies upon itself or fails to fulfill the assignment or fails to "exist" on your desk tomorrow. ]
Happiness, what is it and how could such a seemingly desolate, empty, and futile philosophy as nihilism attempt to either find it or define it? How does one know when one is happy and how does one remain happy? And perhaps most importantly, what makes a person unhappy and how is that to be either avoided or embraced as an inevitability? Happiness, as defined by the World Book Dictionary, is the condition of being happy or gladness; good luck or good fortune; a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure; glad, contented, joyous, pleased or fortunate. Whatever the physiological mechanism that causes the chemical reactions in the brain that results in these feelings of contentment or joy or happiness; whether it is purely the release and uptake of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, or whether it is a more conceptual and abstract holistic fulfillment of the "soul" is based on ones own personal philosophy. But doesnt it seem that nihilism, a philosophy that champions absolute and inherent meaninglessness, would be contrary to a happy individual? I posit that a happy nihilist has realized an unabashed absolutization of the ego as the paramount impetus in the absence of any universal meaning or universal consciousness. To casually know that nothing matters and that there is no greater meaning beyond any experience than experience itself, gives a certain freedom of thought and action.
Nihilism is by no means a rejection of happiness; but it is, perhaps, pure happiness and ecstasy through perfect freedom from trite, man-made and imposed meanings, values, principles and subjects of thought. Perhaps only a true nihilist can be truly happy. When morality and meaning and value and perhaps even existence itself are of questionable significance and consequence and certainty, then and only then can one take joy and pleasure in those activities and actions which in turn release those chemicals that make one happy. In an especially Nietzschean approach to this idea of happiness (as a pure egoist), if one only allows for -and only recognizes- the value of "self", then only that "self" may strive for and ultimately achieve a realized happiness. In a less-than-nihilistic way, Nietzsche allowed for everything, by allowing the self to (conceivably idyllically) strive for only non-earthly and metaphysical things and ideals. But this is one of the many basic contradictions of both Nietzschean and nihilistic thought, as they continue to strive for this "higher" value and truth (as they are truly the only worthy of striving for), but all the while rejecting the idea that they exist. So are these lofty goals the secret to Nietzschean happiness? Nihilistic happiness? Are these a means to an end or an end unto themselves, as it pertains to finding happiness?