Nihilism comes from the Latin term nihil which means “nothing.” Thus, nihilism is literally “belief in nothing.” This perspective which serves somewhat as an ‘anti-philosophy’ asserts that there is no justification for anything, especially values or morality. Nihilism also denies the possibility of knowledge and attributing value to anything. Thus, the world and human existence are without meaning and purpose. Nihilism often leads to the perspective that established human institutions and authority structures are destructive and should be abolished.
The term “nihilism” was first used in 1862 by Ivan Turgenev in his novel Father and Sons to describe young rebels in Russia. The Sophists in the time of Socrates in ancient Greece held nihilistic beliefs. Nihilism is often associated with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche who argued strongly for the overthrow of the morality and values of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Nihilism is also linked with twentieth century movements such as Deconstructionism and Postmodernism.
By definition nihilism is belief in nothing but since nihilism is asserting a belief (“belief in nothing”) it could be argued that nihilism is inherently contradictory. Perhaps nihilism is best understood in the context of challenging established morality and belief systems (such as the Christianity) and not as an independent philosophy on its own.