Nihilism Lost and Found: Brassier, Jonas, and Nishitani on Embracing and/or Overcoming Nihilism

Open Philosophy 6 (1):430-52 (2023)
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This essay confronts Ray Brassier’s vindication of nihilism with other two important but frequently underexamined philosophical attempts to overcome nihilism: Hans Jonas’ and Keiji Nishitani’s. By putting these different takes on nihilism into dialogue, it explores some blind spots in Brassier’s position, as well as some of the practical consequences, for our current planetary situation, of undertaking a radical divorce between the normative and the natural that results from his radical nihilism. The article opts for a more moderate acceptance and eventual self-overcoming of nihilism, according to which, even if natural entities are indifferent to human reasons and meanings, this does not entail that nature is bereft of a human-independent normative dimension. In other words, the essay argues that care must be taken not to confuse criticisms of an anthropocentric conception of reasons and meanings with the belief that meaning is completely absent from the natural world. Thus, the central contention of the article is that, given our current climate and ecological catastrophe, one of the most pressing tasks of contemporary philosophy is to understand normativity in non-anthropocentric ways, so that humans are no longer considered as the only entities that respond to normativity. Such an attitude conceives humans as estranged normative creatures amidst a meaningless, indifferent natural world, toward which they would have no ethical responsibilities. The essay finishes by suggesting ways in which to develop an account that does not fall into this ethical vacuum.

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Andrea Lehner
University of the Andes


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