The Difference Between Stoicism And Nihilism: Light vs. Dark

Nihilism vs Stoicism

What is Nihilism?

The difference between Stoicism and Nihilism can be quite vast. It would be favorable to begin with explaining what nihilism actually is. The term nihilism comes from the Latin word “nihil” which means simply “nothing”. Nihilism is a devaluation, it is simply the view which rejects our knowledge and values as worthless and baseless.

Nihilistic attitudes branch out into three sub-categories:

The first is ontological nihilism (Which states that nothing exists).

The second is epistemological nihilism (Which shows that our knowledge is baseless).

And finally, ethical nihilism (Which highlights on how our morals and values are worthless), etc.

This ultimately delineates that nihilistic views are self-defeating. And this is because the very essence of nihilism holds the belief that everything at its core is pointless and valueless. 

Similarities And Differences:

What then connects Nihilism to Stoicism? And how is nihilism different to Stoicism?

Nihilism is not a philosophy, because in order to be a nihilist one must believe that the philosophy is valuable. However this is impossible, because nihilism crumbles in on itself. One cannot hold a position if one is claiming that “nothing exists” or “no value has meaning”, or that “meaning is meaningless”, etc.

The only similarity between nihilism and stoicism is found through the concept of indifference. Being indifferent to a stoic means simply that the idea or thing in question is neither good nor bad. Indifferent ideas or things are usually those which are valueless as they are. In order not to accidentally proclaim something good or bad, a wise man must learn to suspend his judgement.

“To live a good life: We have the potential for it. If we learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” – Marcus Aurelius

For example, by proclaiming that death is bad, or that wine is good, or that money is evil. We then burden our thoughts with judgements which can be harmful to our well-being. Constant fear of death can inhibit us from living, and over indulgence in wine can lead to alcoholism. These ideas are neither good nor bad, they are simply – indifferent. 

But considering that we do use objects (things) in everyday life, stoics began to make exceptions. They stated that we can ascribe values to the indifferent. In this manner, from the perspective of the mind (soul), some indifferent things are seen as useful (bees, for example). However, others are seen as more harmful (alcohol). Finally there’s also a category where things are neither good nor bad. 

Stoicism and God:

Most notably though, there is one thing which all stoics, from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius agree on. There is one thing that is valuable and good in itself – of course we are talking about the soul (mind) and God from which the soul comes from.

This is the ultimate difference between stoicism and nihilism.

Stoicism is a source of light, nihilism is a black hole.

Mind (soul) is the center and birthplace of the value, and even as it disappears after death (since soul is material), it will return to the primordial source – God, which is the soul of the universe. 

Stoicism reverberates nihilism in every sense. Stoicism is the philosophy, while nihilism is only an idea which swallows itself in the process.