If Nothing Matters

Noûs 51 (2):327-353 (2017)
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The possibility that nothing really matters can cause much anxiety, but what would it mean for that to be true? Since it couldn’t be bad that nothing matters, fearing nihilism makes little sense. However, the consequences of belief in nihilism will be far more dramatic than often thought. Many metaethicists assume that even if nothing matters, we should, and would, go on more or less as before. But if nihilism is true in an unqualified way, it can’t be the case that we should go on as before. And given some plausible assumptions about our psychology, it’s also unlikely that we would go on as before: belief in nihilism will lead to loss of evaluative belief, and that will lead to loss or deflation of our corresponding subjective concerns. Now if nothing matters, then this consequence also wouldn’t matter. But this consequence will be extremely harmful if we believe in nihilism but things do matter, an asymmetry that gives us, in Pascalian fashion, pragmatic reasons not to believe in nihilism, and reasons not to try to find out whether it is really true.
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