Nihilism consists in the following claims: a) normative terms—good, bad, right, duty, etc—do not name real properties of events or things, either natural nor non-natural ones; b) all claims about what is good in itself, or about categorical moral rights or duties, are either false or meaningless; c) the almost universal beliefs that there are such properties and that such claims are true can be “explained away” by appropriate scientific theory. Nihilism takes the form of what J. L. Mackie  calls an “error theory.” It does not deny that beliefs about norms and values can motivate people’s actions. It does not deny the felt “internalism” of moral claims, nor does it deny that normative beliefs confer benefits on the people who hold them. Indeed nihilism is consistent with the claim that such beliefs are necessary for human survival, welfare and flourishing. Nihilism only claims that these beliefs, where they exist, are false. It treats morality as instrumentally useful—instrumentally useful for our nonmoral ends or perhaps the nonmoral ends of some other biological systems, such as our genes for example. As such, it must undermine the values we cherish. […] However Nihilism can be, as one might say, “nice”, provided that in its explaining away of ethics, it also shows that we are in fact disposed to behave nicely—to cooperate, be altruistic, show guilt and shame, anger and resentment in just the way we would if some morality were true, right, or real. Darwinian Nihilism is the thesis that the theory of natural selection and its application to biological data explains why morality is at most an instrumentally useful illusion. According to the Darwinian Nihilist, the theory of natural selection can both show that we are in error about the status of moral claims, and, perhaps more importantly, can explain this why the error is so widespread.
Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg, Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life
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