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A simple praxeological proof of nihilism

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Wheylous Posted: Mon, Apr 9 2012 9:32 AM

Disclaimer: I am not well acquainted with either term, and so I might butcher both.

Essentially,

We have the question of "what is the purpose of life?" that we've been asking since the dawn of time.

Well, praxeology tells us that only rational conscious action has a purpose. Non-rational action such as reflexes and events such as rocks falling have no "purpose." Only a goal-seeking man with choices has purpose.

We were never given the choice to begin this life. There was no human action on our part involved. Hence, there is no inherent purpose to life.

 

Now, I do slightly struggle with the idea of tools. When we create a hammer to hammer in some nails, the purpose of the hammer is to hammer the nails. Hence, it has a purpose. What if a person was created with the purpose of destroying civilization or something? Am I fudging some definitions here? Because I'm not even sure on the "purpose" of the hammer. Though the purpose of its existence does obviously appear to be to hammer in nails, can the same be said about humans?

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We have the question of "what is the purpose of life?"

To have any meaning, this question requires some clarification - whose purpose?

When you later discuss tools, it is apparent that if humans had a goal-seeking creator, he might had a purpose for them, but of course it does not follow that humans must assume exactly this purpose for themselves.

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Malachi replied on Mon, Apr 9 2012 12:20 PM
Youre close. The purpose of the hammer is subjective or intersubjective fact. Purpose always presupposes an agent. You might be able to praxeologically justify nihilism, but only for people who are nihilists.
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Wheylous replied on Mon, Apr 9 2012 12:27 PM

Well, isn't nihilism an ideological predecessor of Austrian thought? Essentially, nothing has inherent value.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Apr 9 2012 1:36 PM

whose purpose?

+1

http://mises.org/humanaction/chap4sec1.asp

It is of primary importance to realize that parts of the external world become means only through the operation of the human mind and its offshoot, human action. External objects are as such only phenomena of the physical universe and the subject matter of the natural sciences. It is human meaning and action which transform them into means. Praxeology does not deal with the external world. but with man's conduct with regard to it. Praxeological reality is not the physical universe, but man's conscious reaction to the given state of this universe. Economics is not about things and tangible material objects; it is about men, their meanings and actions. Goods, commodities, and wealth and all the other notions of conduct are not elements of nature; they are elements of human meaning and conduct. He who wants to deal with them must not look at the external world; he must search for them in the meaning of acting men.

The answer to the question "What is the purpose of [my] life?" is that it is to act, that is, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. There is no objective purpose (objective theories of value are false) whether imbued by a deity or otherwise.

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Well, that's what I was saying. You weren't given a choice before coming to life, and so you never inherently imputed a purpose to your life.

But as you act, you can give a purpose to your actions.

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Wheylous:
But as you act, you can give a purpose to your actions.

What do you mean by "purpose"?

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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What's difficult to understand about it?

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Actions are means to ends; by definition they have purpose. I was wondering if you meant it in another way.

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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I was simply stating that you had no choice in the action of your creation. Hence, there is no means to some specified end, because there is no given end.

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While one is created independent of one's will, the given end for an actor is to remove uneasiness, no?

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Yes...?

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aervew replied on Mon, Apr 9 2012 3:13 PM

 

 
The reality of existance prescibes nothing. As in, the claims of nihilism are false, but it is in fact Neo-Nihilism that is necessary.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmGL8NQ519Q
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So the existence of a given end implies that there are means (more specific, ungiven ends which are under the umbrella of removing uneasiness). I merely meant to understand what you meant by purpose (the original sentence seemed a bit redundant from a praxeological POV; or, as Mises would say, pleonastic)- I've lost track of where this is going.

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Even if 'life' doesn't have any meaning, this doesn't mean that 'your' life doesn't have a meaning. It will have a meaning, a subjective one you give to it.

For example, a pencil doesn't have an intrinsic, objective value, but I may value it for two bucks and/or as something useful when I need to write on a paper.

It is not left versus right, it is social engineering versus spontaneous order.
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I agree. What I know of nihilism is limited to what I just skimmed in the first paragraph of the wikipedia article pertaining to it. One of the basic beliefs being that life has no intrinsic value, with which many praxeologists and Austrians would seem to agree. Values are subjective. To use the cliché: Life is what you make of it.

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Yep. If anyone is interested in this kind of subjects I hihgly recommend to read Viktor Frankl Mans Search for Meaning.

It is not left versus right, it is social engineering versus spontaneous order.
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Even if 'life' doesn't have any meaning, this doesn't mean that 'your' life doesn't have a meaning. It will have a meaning, a subjective one you give to it.

Right. I'm not sure whether nihilists went that far, but they at least got so far as inherent meaning.

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The answer to the question "What is the purpose of [my] life?" is that it is to act, that is, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. There is no objective purpose (objective theories of value are false) whether imbued by a deity or otherwise.

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Eek!

You tread some dangerous waters, Mr. Sade.

These existential questions are only of use to oneself.  You might  consult a rorschach or the Tarot to answer these questions.  In extrospective philosophy, it will only polarize and create versions of absolutism.  (As evidenced by Clayton's "objective theories of value are false.")

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Clayton replied on Mon, Apr 9 2012 7:48 PM

Mises explains that action is only possible when acting can conceivably make a difference. It is action that imputes purpose to things - in the absence of action, there is no purpose. Let's say a comet was hurtling towards Earth. What is the purpose of the comet striking the Earth? Well, it has no conceivable purpose because no one can control the event. What is the purpose of your birth? Ask your parents - why did they act to bring it about? They're the only two people who can answer that question. But as far as you are concerned, your birth does not serve any purpose because it is not an event that is the result of your own action.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Apr 9 2012 7:50 PM

Eek!

You tread some dangerous waters, Mr. Sade.

I'm not familiar with this quote.

create versions of absolutism.  (As evidenced by Clayton's "objective theories of value are false.")

Care to provide an objective theory of value?

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http://mises.org/journals/aen/shackle.asp

Here is a G.L. S. Shackle interview that talks a bit about what he thinks is economic nihilism and how it applies to ethical questions.

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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Conza88 replied on Tue, Apr 10 2012 3:12 AM

Re: "We have the question of "what is the purpose of life?" that we've been asking since the dawn of time."

What is the meaning of life: goals. It's axiomatic and inescapable. It's objective, just like the subjective theory of value is objective.

"It may well be asked why life should be an objective ultimate value, why man should opt for life (in duration and quality).(5) In reply, we may note that a proposition rises to the status of an axiom when he who denies it may be shown to be using it in the very course of the supposed refutation.(6) Now, any person participating in any sort of discussion, including one on values, is, by virtue of so participating, alive and affirming life. For if he were really opposed to life, he would have no business in such a discussion, indeed he would have no business continuing to be alive. Hence, the supposed opponent of life is really affirming it in the very process of his discussion, and hence the preservation and furtherance of one’s life takes on the stature of an incontestable axiom."

http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/six.asp

(5)On the value of life not depending on whether it is perceived as one of happiness, see Philippa R. Foot, Virtues and Vices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 41.

(6)Elsewhere, I have written: “if a man cannot affirm a proposition without employing its negation, he is not only caught in an inextricable self-contradiction; he is conceding to the negation the status of an axiom.” Rothbard, Individualism, p. 8. Also see R.P. Phillips, Modern Thomistic Philosophy (Westminster, Md.: Newman Bookshop, 1934-35), vol. 2, pp. 36-37.

 

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genepool replied on Tue, Apr 10 2012 4:16 AM

The purpose of all life is to reproduce

Ask biologists

Your parents create you for a purpose. Give them grandchildren.

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Go ask a tree what is the meaning of life and you will hear a truthful response.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Apr 12 2012 8:10 AM

Wheylous:
Essentially,

We have the question of "what is the purpose of life?" that we've been asking since the dawn of time.

Well, praxeology tells us that only rational conscious action has a purpose. Non-rational action such as reflexes and events such as rocks falling have no "purpose." Only a goal-seeking man with choices has purpose.

We were never given the choice to begin this life. There was no human action on our part involved. Hence, there is no inherent purpose to life.

I'll one-up you and say that "purpose" is a value judgement and thus subjective. Hence the "purpose of life" is whatever one wants it to be.

I wouldn't call that nihilism, though. I'd call it existentialism.

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Apr 12 2012 8:13 AM

Wheylous:
Well, isn't nihilism an ideological predecessor of Austrian thought? Essentially, nothing has inherent value.

I wouldn't call that "nihilism". To me, "nihilism" is the same as complete and utter skepticism. It leads to an abandonment of everything, leaving literally nothing (hence "nihilism") left.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 12 2012 12:50 PM

Nihilism is actually a problem of personal development. Descartes states in Principles of Philosophy, "This item of knowledge—I’m thinking, so I exist—is the first and most certain thing to occur to anyone who philosophizes in an orderly way." [Emphasis added] In other words, nothing can be less certain than the fact of the existence of one's own conscious experience. The problem of absolute self-doubt, nihilism, is a problem that is beyond philosophy, it's a deficiency in the individual's ability to cope with the world and accept that he has the right to assert himself among his peers as an individual. For this reason, it is not within the domain of philosophy to refute nihilism - it's a problem of spiritual development that the individual who is holding nihilistic self-doubt has to conquer on his or her own.

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I wouldn't call that "nihilism". To me, "nihilism" is the same as complete and utter skepticism. It leads to an abandonment of everything, leaving literally nothing (hence "nihilism") left.

It is a loaded word, but when someone brings the word up that is where I tend to categorize it - hence why I contrast it with egoism, when I see the word in play.   And I do think that may be a big Austrian point: egoism vs nihilism

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I'd call myself a nihilist in the sense that I've rejected all external justifications for valuation*, but that does not mean that I abandon the enterprise of making valuations altogether - I just recognize them for what they are, namely my own subjective valuations. I say this is healthy. On the other hand, the kind of cartoonish nihilism portrayed in pop-culture (Big Labowski e.g.) is that of people who made the first step (rejecting all external justifications for valuation) without making the second (realizing that there's no need for external justification in order to make valuations), and who as a consequence can't find any meaning in life.

*"external justifications for valuation" means something external to the valuation itself which is supposed to validate the valuation. The problem for those seeking such external justification is that valuations are not in need of any validating. People mistake a statement like "murder is bad" for a statement about an objective reality - as if the question were whether or not it is objectively the case that murder is bad. But that's nonsense. The referent of the statement is nothing other than the state of mind of the person making he statement. "Murder is bad" is identical in meaning to "I think murder is bad." Assuming the speaker is being honest, and really does think that, the statement is true - the valuation is true. There's no more need to justify one's valuation that murder is bad than there is to justify one's valuation that tomatoes are tasty.

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Conza88 replied on Thu, Apr 12 2012 10:19 PM

Nihilism is actually a problem of personal development. Descartes states in Principles of Philosophy, "This item of knowledge—I’m thinking, so I exist—is the first and most certain thing to occur to anyone who philosophizes in an orderly way." [Emphasis added] In other words, nothing can be less certain than the fact of the existence of one's own conscious experience. The problem of absolute self-doubt, nihilism, is a problem that is beyond philosophy, it's a deficiency in the individual's ability to cope with the world and accept that he has the right to assert himself among his peers as an individual. For this reason, it is not within the domain of philosophy to refute nihilism - it's a problem of spiritual development that the individual who is holding nihilistic self-doubt has to conquer on his or her own.

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QFT.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 12 2012 11:25 PM

Oopsie,

nothing can be less certain than the fact of the existence of one's own conscious experience

Should have been:

nothing can be less uncertain than the fact of the existence of one's own conscious experience

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Isn't it another nihlist tenet that there exists no absolute truth?

Isn't this at odds with Austrian rationalism? (The proposition "There is no absolute truth" itself being an absolute validity claim)

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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