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Existentialist vs. Nihilist — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Published on December 6, 2023
Existentialists believe life's meaning is created by individuals, while Nihilists think life inherently lacks meaning or value.
Existentialist vs. Nihilist — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Existentialist and Nihilist

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Key Differences

Existentialists emphasize the individual's role in constructing meaning in an otherwise indifferent universe. Nihilists, on the other hand, argue that life, values, and reality inherently have no meaning or purpose.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023
While Existentialists propose that humans must create their own essence and purpose, Nihilists suggest that any such efforts are ultimately futile, as life has no intrinsic value or meaning.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023
For an Existentialist, freedom of choice and responsibility are paramount, leading to authentic existence. However, a Nihilist might view such freedom as meaningless, seeing human actions and choices as inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023
The philosophy of Existentialism encourages individuals to confront life's absurdity and, through that confrontation, to find personal meaning. In contrast, Nihilism takes a more pessimistic view, suggesting that such confrontations only reinforce life's inherent meaninglessness.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023
Many Existentialists believe that by recognizing life's inherent absurdity, one can find solace in personal freedom and responsibility. Meanwhile, Nihilists often contend that recognizing this meaninglessness can lead to despair or indifference.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023
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Comparison Chart

View on Meaning

Life's meaning is created by individuals
Life inherently lacks meaning
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Take on Human Effort

Efforts can give life purpose
Efforts to find meaning are futile
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

View on Freedom

Emphasizes personal freedom and responsibility
Views freedom as meaningless
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Reaction to Life's Absurdity

Find solace in personal freedom
Leads to despair or indifference
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Philosophical Outcome

Encourages authentic existence
Advocates life's inherent meaninglessness
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Existentialist

A believer in the philosophy emphasizing individual existence.
As an Existentialist, she felt responsible for giving her life purpose.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Nihilist

One who thinks human existence is without objective purpose.
As a Nihilist, he viewed societal values as arbitrary.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Existentialist

One who contends life's meaning is self-constructed.
The Existentialist argued that each person must find their own path.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Nihilist

A believer that life and values inherently lack meaning.
The Nihilist argued that searching for purpose was a pointless endeavor.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Existentialist

An advocate of confronting life's inherent absurdity.
Being an Existentialist, he found solace in his personal choices.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Nihilist

An advocate of the view that existence is senseless.
Being a Nihilist, she often questioned the value of long-term goals.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Existentialist

A person who emphasizes freedom and responsibility.
The Existentialist believed in forging his own destiny.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Nihilist

A person who denies or rejects religious and moral principles.
The Nihilist challenged the very foundations of societal norms.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Existentialist

Someone who asserts that essence follows existence.
The Existentialist proclaimed that we define our own essence through our actions.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Nihilist

Someone who believes that actions and choices are inconsequential.
The Nihilist viewed personal achievements as ultimately meaningless.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 22, 2023

Existentialist

A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

(Philosophy) The doctrine that nothing actually exists or that existence or values are meaningless.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Existentialist

A person who adheres to the philosophy of existentialism.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

Relentless negativity or cynicism suggesting an absence of values or beliefs
Nihilism in postwar art.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Existentialist

Of or pertaining to existentialism.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

Political belief or action that advocates or commits violence or terrorism without discernible constructive goals.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Existentialist

A philosopher who emphasizes freedom of choice and personal responsibility but who regards human existence in a hostile universe as unexplainable
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

Also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid-19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Existentialist

Relating to or involving existentialism;
Existentialist movement
Existentialist philosophy
The existentialist character of his ideas
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

(Psychiatry) A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one's mind, body, or self does not exist.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

A person who accepts or champions nihilism.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

An absolute skeptic; a person who believes in the truth of nothing.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

One who advocates the doctrine of nihilism; one who believes or teaches that nothing can be known, or asserted to exist.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

A member of a secret association (esp. in Russia), which is devoted to the destruction of the present political, religious, and social institutions.
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

Someone who rejects all theories of morality or religious belief
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Nihilist

An advocate of anarchism
Fiza Rafique
Oct 20, 2023

Common Curiosities

How do Nihilists view life's inherent value?

Nihilists believe that life, values, and reality inherently have no objective meaning or purpose.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Do Existentialists see any value in personal freedom?

Yes, Existentialists emphasize personal freedom and responsibility as essential to authentic existence.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Can Existentialism lead to optimism?

Yes, many Existentialists believe that by recognizing and confronting life's absurdity, individuals can find solace in personal freedom and responsibility.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

How do Nihilists perceive human efforts to find meaning?

Nihilists see human efforts to find or create meaning as ultimately futile.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Can an individual be both an Existentialist and a Nihilist?

While the two philosophies have distinct differences, it's possible for an individual to be influenced by both to varying degrees.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

What do Existentialists believe about life's meaning?

Existentialists believe that individuals create their own meaning and essence in life.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Do Existentialists believe in predetermined destinies?

No, Existentialists emphasize personal choice and believe that individuals forge their own destinies.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

How do Existentialists confront life's challenges?

Existentialists advocate confronting life's inherent absurdity and through that confrontation, finding personal meaning.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Is Nihilism inherently pessimistic?

While not all Nihilists are pessimistic, the philosophy often leads to views of despair, indifference, or skepticism about life's meaning.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Do Nihilists believe in moral absolutes?

Typically, Nihilists reject the idea of moral absolutes, seeing them as constructs without inherent value.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Are all Existentialists atheists?

No, while some Existentialists are atheists, others might believe in God but still emphasize personal responsibility for finding meaning.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

How do Nihilists view societal norms and values?

Nihilists often see societal norms and values as arbitrary and devoid of inherent meaning.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Can Nihilism lead to liberation or freedom?

Some Nihilists argue that recognizing life's meaninglessness can lead to a form of liberation from societal constructs and expectations.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

Is Nihilism a form of skepticism?

Nihilism is related to skepticism, especially concerning the inherent value or meaning of life, but they are not synonymous.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

What led to the rise of Existentialist thought?

Existentialism rose in response to the challenges and crises of the 20th century, emphasizing individual experience and freedom.
Fiza Rafique
Dec 06, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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