From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Existential nihilism is the philosophical theory that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. According to the theory, each individual is an isolated being "thrown" into the universe, barred from knowing "why", yet compelled to invent meaning. The inherent meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism, where one can potentially create his or her own subjective "meaning" or "purpose". Of all types of nihilism, existential nihilism gets the most literary and philosophical attention.
Existential nihilism has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition since The Skeptic Empedocles’ and Hegesias of Cyrene. During the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist’s perspective through Macbeth's mindset in the end of the play. Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche further expanded on these ideas, and Nietzsche, particularly, has become a major figure in existential nihilism.
The atheistic existentialist movement spread in 1940s France. Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness and Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus discussed the topic. Camus wrote further works, such as The Stranger, Caligula, The Plague, The Fall, The Rebel.
- The common thread in the literature of the existentialists is coping with the emotional anguish arising from our confrontation with nothingness, and they expended great energy responding to the question of whether surviving it was possible. Their answer was a qualified "Yes," advocating a formula of passionate commitment and impassive stoicism.|Alan Pratt
- Existence precedes essence
- Man's Search for Meaning
- Meaning of life
- Meaning (existential)