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Any of various philosophical positions that deny that there are objective foundations for human value systems. In 19th-century Russia the term was applied to a philosophy of skepticism that opposed all forms of aestheticism and advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism; it was popularized through the figure of Bazarov in Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons (1862). Rejecting the social sciences, classical philosophical systems, and the established social order, nihilism rejected the authority of the state, the church, and the family. It gradually became associated with political terror and degenerated into a philosophy of violence.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on nihilism, visit Britannica.com.