Nihilism

Discipline: Philosophy

Term invented or popularized by Russian novelist Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev (1818-1883) in his novel Fathers and Sons (1861) for the rejection of all traditional values.

Literally meaning 'nothingism', the term can be applied to views saying that all knowledge is impossible, that all alleged metaphysical truths or values are illusory, or that ethical values cannot be given any foundation and so are arbitrary.

'Nihilism' has been applied particularly to a movement in Czarist Russia which held that any means were permissible in overthrowing the existing order (the value of overthrowing it being tacitly taken for granted), and to later offshoots and imitations of that movement elsewhere.

The term is in fact seldom used in modern English-speaking philosophy.

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