Tag Archives: Nihilism

There Is Meaning

There is something. This might seem as an obvious affirmation, but as Henri Bergson reminds us, most people assume that there very well could be nothing, hence they ask why there is something rather than nothing. Our minds, Bergson claims, are wired to naturally imagine that reality fills up some absolute kind of vacuum. This human all too human tendency to proceed from emptiness to fullness—from nothing to something—gives rise to badly stated metaphysical questions. What moves Bergson to this position is his understanding that the idea of Nothing is actually greater than the idea of something, since it implies both the idea of all and an operation of thought which motivates the negation of everything. The same is true regarding order and disorder: ’In reality there is more intellectual content in the ideas of disorder and nothingness when they represent something than in those of order and existence, because they imply several orders, several existences and, in addition, a play of wit which unconsciously juggles them.’

Using the same line of reasoning, Bergson then proceeds by saying that the idea of the possible as less than the real is erroneous, rather the existence of things precede the possibility of them being actualized: ’The idea immanent in most philosophies and natural to the human mind, of possibles which would be realized by an acquisition of existence, is therefore pure illusion.’ Needless to say, Bergson’s argument moves us to consider the future as radically open and free, which corresponds to his affirmation that there constantly is a continuous creation of unforeseeable novelty going on in the universe. Intuitively it is not difficult to agree with Bergson, but the history of both philosophy and theology unveils that this intuitive notion has been far from uncontested: ’The ancients already revolted against it because, Platonists to a greater or less degree, they imagined that Being was given once and for all, complete and perfect, in the immutable system of Ideas, the world which unfolds before our eyes could therefore add nothing to it; it was on the contrary, diminution or degradation.’

A while back, Dino Demarchi published a text here called This Much I Know and although I sympathize with some of his ideas I would like to problematize the notion that nihilism is a viable vantage point for thought. ’A nihilist,’ Dino writes, ’maintains that there is no meaning or purpose to our existence. The world doesn’t think or speak; it has no intellect or will; it doesn’t care about the hardships and adversities we experience — it is indifferent to us.’ My initial thought as I read this was that Dino is approaching philosophy from an anthropocentric perspective. We, as human beings, think and speak, we have intellect and will, and we care about the hardships and adversities we experience. Are we then to believe that our minds are not part of the universe? My further concern is that the idea of nihilism is greater than the idea of a meaningful universe, since it implies several meanings, several purposes and, in addition, a play of wit which unconsciously juggles them. Nihilism is thus reactive.

Dino also says that ’We are products of our environment, we are a part of this world, and all we do feeds back into our existences. It is this thought that undoes nihilism, at least for me. It inspires us to ask ourselves: What sort of world do I want to live in?’ From a Bergsonian perspective, this argument does not simply undo nihilism in our present approach to life since ’As reality is created as something unforeseeable and new, its image is reflected behind it into the indefinite past; thus it finds that it has from all time been possible…’ My claim is therefore that even Dino’s own argument ultimately provides the universe with at least the possibility of meaning from all time, and that seems rather meaningful, no?