Wednesday, May 26, 2021

What I think of ontological nihilism

A commenter asked me what I thought of ontological nihilism, the view that there are no subjects. Here’s what I think: Everybody who accepts this view is wrong.

  1. Ontological nihilism is true or false.

  2. If ontological nihilism is true, nobody exists.

  3. If nobody exists, then there is nobody who accepts ontological nihilism.

  4. If nobody accepts ontological nihilism, then everyone who accepts ontological nihilism is wrong.

  5. So, if ontological nihilism is true, then everyone who accepts it is wrong. (2-4)

  6. If ontological nihilism is false, then everyone who accepts it is wrong.

  7. So, everyone who accepts ontological nihilism is wrong. (1,5,6)


Tom said...

4. seems equivocal. It's not the case that "everyone who accepts ontological nihilism is wrong," because there is no "everyone" to be wrong about accepting ontological nihilism, since they don't exist.

But it's hard to know what to make of ontological nihilism. What does all this stuff around us, then, if not exist? What are you non-existently doing when you express this non-existent position with non-existent words to non-existently convince other non-existent people of its non-existent truth?

Alexander R Pruss said...

"Everyone who accepts ontological nihilism is wrong" means (at least in contemporary English as used by philosophers and mathematicians) ∀x(x accepts ontological nihilism → x is wrong). And this follows logically from ~∃x(x accepts ontological nihilism and x is not wrong).

I take it that the ontological nihilist will say that ordinary non-philosophical assertions like "I think ontological nihilism to be true" should be replaced by subjectless sentences in a feature-placing language, akin to "[It] is raining" (English grammar requires an "it", but there is really no subject). Thus: "I think ontological nihilism to be true" might be "[It] Prussizes-and-thinks-ontological-nihilism".

El Filósofo said...

Thank you very much, Dr. Pruss, for your response.

Tom said...

But can't you just as easily say ~∃x(x accepts ontological nihilism and x is wrong), since there is nobody who accepts it in the first place?

I also thought ontological nihilism was the denial of existence to everything, and not merely subjects. Perhaps that was a confusion on my part.

Alexander R Pruss said...


There are presumably different varieties of ontological nihilism. A moderate version might say that there are tropes that are bundled, but no bundles of tropes. An extreme version might say that there is nothing.

There are few philosophical doctrines so absurd that no one accepts them.

Unknown said...

Dr. Pruss, this is an unrelated comment to the post, but since this is the last thing you posted, I'll write it here.

I've been really interested in philosophy, especially metaphysics, philosophy of science, religion and mathematics, so I was wondering if you could give me a list of books to read to get into these areas of philosophy, also, I'm a high schooler, so I have no background in any of these areas. Also I'm a Christian so I'd like to get into Analytic Theology, perhaps you could list some books about this too.

I'd be very thankful if you could help me to start learning.
Thanks for your time.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I'd start with classics.
Plato's Republic
Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and maybe Metaphysics
Augustine's Confessions
Aquinas' Summa Theologica Part I
Descartes' Meditations
Leibniz's Monadology

El Filósofo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hello sir Pruss!
It's unrelated, but the question really troubles me and I would love to know your thoughts.
There're a bit of questions here, so if you've no time, don't bother, but as a teen baby-philosopher I'd be honoured if you responded! So, I've been told by a catholic priest philosopher that thomism is outdated because:
-It's based on outdated aristotelian metaphysics and physics
-We should not make systems in philosophy, rather find answers and arguments apart without preassuming things that systems like platonism or aristotelianism do.

Is this criticism right? I have no idea if you're a thomist or not, but it just felt so weird for me not to accept thomistic 5 ways based on such criticism.

He also said, that he would argue for God out of
1.Rationality of the universe (we can do maths sort of thing)
2. Why is there something rather than nothing question.
3. The fact that it seems intuitional that some God exists
How do you feel about this way of arguing? Isn't it just too weak in Your opinion?
Maybe arguments like from beauty (loved your lecture :)), conscience or morality would be good to back up the case for how obvious God is, as those are things we take for granted, unlike First Cause or Greatest Perfection.

That was long, but have a magnifficent day!

Alexander R Pruss said...

While Aristotelian physics is outdated, I don't see Aristotelian metaphysics as outdated.

I think 1-3 are good reasons to believe in God.

yiğit şavluk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yiğit şavluk said...

Hi pruus, premise 4 looks bad in your argument, inspired by your argument I created an argument like this. 1- ontological nihilism is either true or false.
2- If ontological nihilism is true, there is no one.
3- If there is no one, there is no one who accepts ontological nihilism.
4- If anyone accepts ontological nihilism, ontological nihilism is wrong.
5- There is at least one person who accepts ontological nihilism.
6- So ontological nihilism is false.