Towards ethical nihilism

My study is not concerned with all the implications of Nietzsche’s nihilism, but deals specifically with the challenge his nihilism poses for philosophical conceptions of ethics and morality. My interest lies in the possibilities for conceptualizing an ethical nihilism. By this I mean that I want to remain focused on Nietzsche’s own understanding of nihilism (and Foucault’s development of its implications) in my search for possible ways of moving beyond nihilism’s destruction of traditional morality, instead of trying to ‘save’ morality or ethics by moving beyond nihilism as such. The aim of this study is thus to gauge whether an ethical theory can be developed making constructive use of nihilism and its methodologies. I conceptualize the possibility of ethical nihilism within four chapters. In chapter one I undertake an analysis of the methodology that nihilism provides and demonstrate the theory of knowledge that it underpins. This theory of knowledge results in a diagnosis of the human condition and knowledge within Western modernity. Here the central question is: What does Nietzsche’s theory concerning the formation of knowledge look like? In chapter two I discuss the perspective of so-called passive nihilism, which represents Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the illness or crisis facing humans in Western modernity. Passive nihilism denotes both the illness itself and one particular response to this crisis, namely one of denial. Passive nihilists fixate on holding onto a specific identity as well as a specific form of knowledge as being essential, i.e. as ‘given’, or ‘discovered’. One form of knowledge which emanates from passive nihilism is traditional morality. I will investigate how passive nihilism and the associated form of morality impact on the concrete body of one’s fellow human being, i.e. the Other. As the result of the impact of morality the Other is viewed as a formation in the sense that she is made up of aspects that simply mirror the Self’s privileged compilation of knowledge as it is anchored within the identity of the Self. Here the central question will be: How does passive nihilism problematize the formation of the Other? In chapter three I discuss the remedy to the crisis of modernity as proposed by Nietzsche, namely his vision of so-called active nihilism. Active nihilism considers knowledge and identity as ‘constructed’ and ‘invented’. This perspective holds many interesting implications for one’s own concrete body, i.e. the Self. I will investigate the manner in which active nihilism empowers the Self, which is also viewed as a formation in the sense that her own identity is made up of aspects inhering within a certain privileged compilation of knowledge. Here the central question will be: How does active nihilism problematize the formation of the Self? Chapter four serves as the conclusion to this study. I will discuss Foucault’s elaboration on the remedy that Nietzsche proposes to the nihilist crisis. In light of what Foucault has to say I answer in the affirmative the central question underpinning the research problem of this study: Is a form of ethical, active nihilism possible? In response to this question I propose in some detail a new form of ethics that takes its cue from the insights provided by active nihilism, following my Nietzschean reading of Foucault.
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