I recently had a conversation about ethical, or moral, nihilism with a friend of mine. He called himself an “ethical nihilist” and a “mutualist anarchist”. I asked why he wished to end the state? Was it because of its monopoly on violence and use of coercion? His answer was yes. I then informed him that he couldn’t be an ethical nihilist because he took a ethical objection to the state. He said he was pragmatic. I asked if he would want to grasp the power of the state to meet his own objectives; if this was an idea he was comfortable with. He said no. I told him then that he wasn’t a pragmatist since pragmatism is, politically speaking, a statist view.Her friend is clearly being inconsistent here unless he finds there to be something aesthetically unappealing about power. If there is nothing objectionable about any means or any ends, there’s no reason to not use those means to achieve whatever ends he has found subjective value in. But this isn’t unpragmatic. Pragmatism has to do with a way of looking at problems and their solutions. It’s wholly compatible with both anarchism and statism.
Ethical Nihilism also Moral Nihilism:Sociopathy isn’t a philosophical view, it’s a characteristic of humans who exhibit no empathy. Ethical nihilism is an attempt to expose the silliness of the hierarchy of values that humans occupy themselves with, particularly moral values. An ethical nihilist would oppose the State in any situation in which the State was not actually a benefit for them. It’s not a principled opposition to the State, it’s an opposition to being personally harmed. As for Statists being nihilists or relativists, I would say no more than any libertarian. Libertarians, from a nihilist point of view, clearly have their own agenda that they want to further: liberty. If liberty is as equally invalid as power, then you’d be what you accuse your enemies of being. However, for most people, a better amoralist consequentialist case can be made for libertarianism than for Statism. The collectivist agenda is about using lesser means, in this case, certain individuals, for the attainment of higher ends, the good of the group. This is almost the exact opposite of any nihilist as most nihilists would not give a rats ass about the collective. State collectivists aren’t any more immoral than libertarians, they’re either liars or stupid consequentialists who don’t understand economics.
a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.Since when is sociopathy a philosophical view? To believe that all human behavior is acceptable – that there is no right or wrong – means that rape, theft, murder, and oppression are equally acceptable as love, compassion, liberty, and generosity. I cannot think of a reason that you would oppose the state then, since it is the embodiment of the former set of traits. On the contrary, many statists from both the right and left are ethical nihilists, if not moral relativists, no matter what they claim, and as such embrace the machinery of the state to further their own agendas. It is always under the guise of “the common good”; its mantra is “The ends justify the means!”. In other words, human beings are things to be used and discarded in order to reach ones goals.
b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
This is why, throughout history, rebellions start with good intentions, however no matter how noble the beginnings most revolutionaries become what they originally rebelled against. The nature of violence and power are ultimately corrupting and those who participate find themselves eventually abandoning their principles. The ends can never justify the means as they are defined by them.This is a good point, but it speaks more to the almost fatalist nature of human beings than to the philosophical validity of nihilism. In fact, these facts provide very good reasons for nihilists to oppose Statism and to emulate libertarianism almost to the book.
Violence cannot lead to peace, theft cannot lead to prosperity, group hatred cannot lead to love, and dehumanizing the enemy can’t lead to compassion. This is why believing that no behavior is immoral isn’t conducive to a civilized society, especially a stateless one.
I’m especially puzzled when I hear anarchists say they are ethical nihilists: it doesn’t seem compatible to me to advocate a stateless society and shun ethics. The only way for a stateless society to work is if it is grounded in natural law based on personal and common ethics...As I’ve remarked in the past, the truest form of anarchism seems to be amoralist. Ethics are a restraining force and anarchism is about removing the chains others place on you. If the chains are imaginary, they should be the first to go.
...If you don’t believe in ethics, it seems like a contradiction in thinking to call yourself an anarchist, as you must have some objection to the state based on some judgment you have made about its nature and necessity. To make such a judgment you have to have a basis; a reason you oppose it. In other words, you have found that it has no value. It takes a subjective code of values to come to that conclusion.Here’s where I think she’s on to something profound. The nihilist denies the validity of value, yet by their existence and by their participation in certain activities, they demonstrate, at the very least, that they find value in their existence. Now this doesn’t invalidate nihilist ideas, but it does call perfectly into question either 1) that nihilists aren’t rationally evaluating their options or that 2) they aren’t actually nihilists. How can one hold a belief that values are invalid and, at the same time, continue to hold values? I don’t think they can. Their existence contradicts their supposed ideas.
Only by semantic contortion can an ethical nihilist answer “why wouldn’t murder be acceptable in an anarchist society?” with statements such as “it is undesirable”. What then makes murder undesirable if no human behavior is ethically wrong? For something to be desirable it must be deemed as wanted. If it is wanted it is seen as something that has value. In short, we think that it is good, ergo we make all decisions based on our values and they inform both our feelings and our reason. Without meaning to, people who claim no ethics must admit some type of value system in order to deem a behavior such as theft as undesirable. To stay coherent they would need to accept such behavior wholly without prevarication, which they don’t.Well, supposing that the nihilist (inconsistently) values his life or consumption, murder or rape and other common crimes harm the productive process and, therefore, harms what he values. Where nihilists try to make up for the inconsistency in having their own values is by citing subjective values while simultaneously admitting the invalidity of values to begin with. It's the perception of objective value which even gives credence to the notion of subjective value. Without the possibility of objective value, subjective value is equally nonsensical. But until you criticize that inconsistency, nihilists have pretty strong grounds for opposing the state and market interference.
Maybe the problem is in the association. Morality brings to mind religious tones that many people find disturbing. It is considered moral in some religions, and cultures, to sell your daughters into slavery or to shun your son if he is gay. However, ethics are not morals. Morals are more subjective than ethics as they encompass human behavior that isn’t necessarily harmful to others, such as gambling. Ethics are concerned more with behavior that is hurtful to others, such as theft. Morals and ethics do have overlap, but they are not synonymous with one another. Prostitution may be immoral, but there is nothing unethical about it, as no one is hurt. Whereas murder is both unethical and immoral. Morals can change from group to group and individual to individual, but ethics transcend: they are a part the natural law.Ethics (how they are being used here) are a just a subset of morality that deal with more specific things. The ethics/morality relationship is the same as the rectangle/square relationship. All the (anti-gambling) libertarian who wants murder illegal while keeping gambling legal is doing is attributing greater importance to the former. It’s a proportionality issue. As for such “immoral” activities like prostitution not harming anyone, physically no, but I’m sure many are emotionally harmed. I don’t think many parents feel splendid about their daughter's participating in prostitution or pornography.
Natural law has to do with cause and effect. The ethical nature of something is subjective even on such terms. For example, the existence of gravity doesn’t say anything about what activities we should partake in, only that there are certain ones that it's impossible to partake in, flying for example. The nature of humans is the same way. There’s no physical law that says humans must cooperate, only that those who don’t will war and probably be poorer than they otherwise would. Morality does transcend, but that has to do with subjective preferability. That most people want to be healthy and wealthy isn’t all that surprising.
This is why I think the whole notion of ethical nihilism is based on reactionary thinking against religion and not a philosophical position. If you embrace the view that all behavior is equal, no right or wrong, then there is no objection to the state you can make other than “I don’t like to be told what to do”. If that is your only argument, it’s not a logical or reasoned one. As a matter of fact, it isn’t an argument at all, it’s the temper tantrum of a small child. Anarchism will only succeed if people are willing to govern themselves and be voluntarily respectful of others rights. For that, there must be a code of ethics and agreement to refute aggression and value human dignity as its core principles. I can see questioning morals, since the people who seem to talk the most about morals very often lack even common decency. Questioning ones values and morals is good: it leads to advancement, but refuting their existence altogether seems to me to be an abandonment of responsibility for one’s actions.“I don’t like this” is exactly the position nihilists say everyone takes whether they acknowledge it or not. There’s no unbreakable logic or reason to any final ends. Everything, when value is invalidated, is a temper tantrum. A certain type of anarchism would definitely succeed if everyone became a nihilist, but I don’t think it’d be a desirable one. For almost exactly the reason that she states: not that it would lead to the abandonment of responsibility, but that it should lead to an abandonment of action. Without perception/delusion of validity, no one would do anything. Nihilism is an interesting concept, but there’s no such thing as a nihilist, only people posing as nihilists.
As for my friend, shortly after our conversation he took a philosophical fork in the road. He wrote “Death to ALL Capitalist Pigs!” (emphasis mine). I congratulated him for finally becoming an ethical nihilist. We are no longer friends.Yeah, he’s just playing pretend.