ni·​hil·​ism | \ ˈnī-(h)ə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˈnē- How to pronounce nihilism (audio) \

Definition of nihilism

1a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless Nihilism is a condition in which all ultimate values lose their value.— Ronald H. Nash
b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
2a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility
b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from nihilism

nihilist \ ˈnī-​(h)ə-​list How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˈnē-​ \ noun or adjective
nihilistic \ ˌnī-​(h)ə-​ˈli-​stik How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˌnē-​ \ adjective

Examples of nihilism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Every line of Back curls like that: jaunty and ornate, nihilism served with a smile. Darren Franich,, "Don't miss Back, the dark comedy of the year: Review," 19 Mar. 2021 To a large extent, Greene’s cynicism about the world—and the sufferings of humanity—came close to nihilism, or even a form of Ligotti-like anti-natal philosophy. Scott Bradfield, The New Republic, "Graham Greene Against the World," 10 Mar. 2021 The era’s nihilism was reflected in its art, which was angrier, more confrontational, less pleasant than anything that had come before. New York Times, "An Artist Exposing Fascism Through Provocation," 17 Feb. 2021 But Pyotr would not prevail without the nihilism of Stavrogin, a local nobleman. Ani Kokobobo, The Conversation, "Dostoevsky warned of the strain of nihilism that infects Donald Trump and his movement," 13 Jan. 2021 In a movie that seems to insist that self-hate is just part of life, Kidman’s alluringly impulsive, tragically romantic Charlotte almost escapes that nihilism … almost. Roxana Hadadi, Vulture, "Nicole Kidman’s 15 Career Golden Globe Nominations, Ranked," 25 Feb. 2021 While fashion has a looser definition of it, Olasov reminds us not to always associate existential thinking with morbidity, and not to confuse it with nihilism. Laura Pitcher,, "In 2020 Fashion Became Existential — Here’s Why That’s A Good Thing," 31 Dec. 2020 In the writing process, Docter delved into research on essentialism, nihilism and existentialism to better articulate the plight of his characters. Los Angeles Times, "How the makers of Pixar’s ‘Soul’ envisioned a before-life place that kids can grasp," 24 Dec. 2020 Vendors who deal in seasonal cheer had to make a choice this summer: proceed with business as usual, or lean into the grief, anxiety and nihilism of this year, and hopefully make people laugh in the process. Dina Gachman, New York Times, "’Tis the Season for Toilet Paper Ornaments," 20 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nihilism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of nihilism

1812, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for nihilism

German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil nothing — more at nil

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about nihilism

Time Traveler for nihilism

Time Traveler

The first known use of nihilism was in 1812

See more words from the same year

Statistics for nihilism

Last Updated

30 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nihilism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for nihilism



English Language Learners Definition of nihilism

: the belief that traditional morals, ideas, beliefs, etc., have no worth or value
: the belief that a society's political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed


ni·​hi·​lism | \ ˈnī-(h)ə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˈnē- How to pronounce nihilism (audio) \

Medical Definition of nihilism

2 : skepticism as to the value of a drug or method of treatment

Other Words from nihilism

nihilistic \ ˌnī-​(h)ə-​ˈlis-​tik, ˌnē-​ How to pronounce nihilism (audio) \ adjective

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on nihilism

Nglish: Translation of nihilism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nihilism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about nihilism

Comments on nihilism

What made you want to look up nihilism? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!