What Is the Meaning of Nihilism and Existentialism?


Martha Robinson

Nihilism and existentialism are two philosophical concepts that have gained popularity in recent times. While both these terms are often used interchangeably, they are distinct from each other in their meanings and implications. In this article, we will explore the meaning of nihilism and existentialism and how they differ from each other.

What is Nihilism?

Nihilism is a philosophical belief that life has no inherent meaning or value. The term ‘nihilism’ comes from the Latin word ‘nihil,’ which means ‘nothing.’ According to nihilistic philosophy, human existence is ultimately meaningless, and there is no objective basis for morality or ethics.

Nihilists believe that all values, beliefs, and traditions are human constructs with no inherent truth or validity. Therefore, they reject all forms of authority and refuse to accept any moral or ethical principles as universal truths. They argue that life is absurd and that the only rational response to it is complete rejection.

Types of Nihilism

There are different types of nihilism – epistemological nihilism, moral nihilism, and existential nihilism. Epistemological nihilists argue that knowledge is impossible because there is no objective truth.

Moral nihilists reject the idea of morality altogether, claiming that it has no objective basis. Existential nihilists believe that human existence has no intrinsic meaning or purpose.

What is Existentialism?

Existentialism, on the other hand, is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice. It argues that human beings create their own meanings in life through their actions and choices rather than relying on external sources such as religion or tradition.

Existentialists believe that individuals must take responsibility for their own lives and choices without relying on external factors such as society or culture to dictate them. They argue that individuals must define themselves through their actions rather than accepting predetermined roles or identities.

Key Themes of Existentialism

Some of the key themes of existentialism include authenticity, freedom, and anxiety. Authenticity refers to the idea that individuals must be true to themselves and their own values rather than conforming to societal expectations.

Freedom refers to the idea that individuals must take responsibility for their own lives and choices. Anxiety refers to the feeling of dread or uncertainty that comes with the realization that one’s life is ultimately meaningless.

Differences Between Nihilism and Existentialism

While nihilism and existentialism share some similarities, they differ in their approaches to meaninglessness. Nihilists reject all forms of meaning and value, while existentialists believe that individuals must create their own meanings in life.

Nihilists emphasize the meaningless nature of existence, while existentialists emphasize individual freedom and responsibility. While both philosophies reject traditional notions of morality, nihilists reject all forms of authority, while existentialists argue for personal responsibility.


In conclusion, nihilism and existentialism are two distinct philosophical concepts with different implications for how we live our lives. Nihilism emphasizes the meaninglessness and absurdity of existence, while existentialism stresses individual freedom and responsibility in creating our own meanings in life. Understanding these concepts can help us better understand ourselves and our place in the world around us.