Nihilism is a fairly new word or concept in 19th century philosophy. It came from Russia where it essentially referred to the rebellion of the younger generation against their elders. Nihilism in Nietzsche is a very important concept, he sees it as...as he puts it "a specter that's haunting Europe" a phrase we hear elsewhere as well. He defines Nihilism in his notes as the highest values devaluing themselves.
Oddly enough where he identifies the nihilist tendencies is in society. It's precisely in those realms where many thinkers, including today, would say that we find the bull work against nihilism. Namely in religion and morality. It's not, Nietzsche says, as if religion and morality give us values but quite the contrary. Religion and morality take our values away. Or, to put it in a different way, the traditional values, the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition are themselves nihilistic.
What works as theme throughout all of Nietzsche's works and what explains his rather rabid attacks on Christianity and religion in general is the attack on what he calls the otherworldly. The idea that there is some other existence which is better than this one.
Track Name: Become
Nietzsche philosophy is very much a philosophy of aggressive acceptance. Acceptance of this world, acceptance of yourself, acceptance of your faith and for example the Christian notion of the otherworldly, a heaven to which we can aspire; is to him a notion that utterly subtracts from the importance of this world and this life.
One of the most famous of Nietzsche's outrageous statements is the claim that "God is dead". To understand simply as a religious statement or an atheistic statement is, I think, to misunderstand the profundity of what Nietzsche is getting at. First of all, "God is dead" refers not to a theological proposition but rather to the moral state of the modern world. One looks at the world and what becomes evident, one sees that much of what is called Christianity in these small towns and so on, really is a kind of stale hypocrisy. It's force of habit. It's mere to use a word that both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard love: heard behavior. It's going along with everyone else. In Kierkegaard's terms it absolutely lacks passion and commitment and in Nietzsche's terms it really lacks any moral sanction. It doesn't do anything. People can consider themselves good Christians and nevertheless go out and cheat and steal in business and feel as if going to church for an hour a week somehow makes it all better.
The truth of it is "God is dead" in a sense that we don't believe in him anymore even if we claim to. Nietzsche would just assume be done with it. And "God is dead" the also becomes a kind of statement about the future of the modern world.
Track Name: Death,
To put it in a different way. It's a way of saying that morality really requires a metaphysical picture. That it isn't just a matter of subjective feelings. It isn't just a matter of culture or opinion but the difference between good and evil is something that is true of the world.
And Zarathustra, in this long book, essentially urges us to get over that dichotomy which he himself once introduced. He also urges us to get rid off these ideals of the otherworldly. If Zarathustra has a philosophy it's Nietzsche's style, it's Nietzsche's philosophy. Namely, it is this world and this life...and this world and this life only that really count.
The basic idea of the otherworldly which leads quite directly to the Christian notion of heaven and hell is something that Nietzsche says now has to be put aside. What we have to do is understand our world in a different way.
Track Name: Destroyer
There's a sense in which Nietzsche adopts something which we might call, with some caution, epistemological nihilism. It's the idea that there is no truth. It's to say there is no truth but there are lots of truths. What we call truth, in particular, what we call that special notion of truth that philosophers are seeking and that religious thinkers find in God, in fact are just our interpretations of the world. He says for example that there are no facts, there are only interpretations. He says that what we call truth are just those errors that we cannot give up.
Track Name: Of Worlds.
Nietzsche by contrast rejects the very distinction between appearance and reality. He has much to say about the origins of that notion of reality. Of course he ties it back to monotheism and the insistence of one god. He says once we learn to reject that notion of a true world behind this one, what we're left with is not nothing by any means. We reject the true the world and we reject the notion of appearances at the same time. After all what sense does it make to talk about appearances if we're not talking about appearances of something. So Nietzsche's nihilism here is really rather benign. it has to do with the idea of rejecting what gives rise to skepticism and what gives rise to these illusions of the otherworldly and in so doing plant our feet very firmly on the earth and say "this world and this life is what counts".
In other words, the things that we believe, even those things we believe are the very foundations of knowledge, even those things we believe are a matter of utter necessity, as proven by other philosophers, in effect is a matter of contingency. we are a certain kind of creature living in a certain kind of world and as those creatures we are going to believe something because, to use a different kind of language, it's practical, it's pragmatic. In fact I would argue that Nietzsche's view of truth here is very much akin to the one that's defended about 50 years later by some of the American philosophers, John Dewey in particular, that what is true has to do with what works in a certain context and that's about as much as you can say. The idea of the truth that lies behind it all, that's something on which we should remain respectfully silent.