7.5 credits

Syllabus, Master's level, 5FT161

Education cycle
Second cycle
Main field(s) of study and in-depth level
Theoretical Philosophy A1N
Grading system
Fail (U), Pass (G), Pass with distinction (VG)
Finalised by
The Department Board, 30 August 2022
Responsible department
Department of Philosophy

Entry requirements

Fulfilment of the requirements for a Bachelor's degree with the main field of study within the humanities.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the student should be able to:

  • account for the relationship between epistemological, aesthetic, ethical and political versions of nihilism
  • distinguish between and evaluate different versions of nihilism
  • identify and clarify conceptual problems and themes involved in these versions
  • compare and evaluate philosophical critiques of nihilism as well as arguments for accepting and advancing a certain version of it.


European culture in the post-modern era has been characterized as nihilistic. Nihilism entails the view that human endeavor has no authoritative foundations or meaning. Neither nature, God, truth, reason, knowledge, nor ultimate principles can ground or guide deliberation about good and evil, better and worse, noble and base, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, or true and false. In political terms, this means that there is no stable epistemological or ethical basis for either traditionalism or progressivism. Human institutions and actions, from such a perspective, amount to nothing (nihil). In a nihilistic worldview, all moral, aesthetic or intellectual dispositions, rules and ideals structuring human existence are thus viewed as either arbitrary social conventions or as expressions of relative, contextual and contingent desires, interests and goals. Through a careful reading of Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, together with three of the most important works dealing with the concept and socio-political reality of nihilism in the last 50 years­­--Stanley Rosen's Nihilism: A Philosophical Essay, Gillian Rose's Dialectic of Nihilism: Post-Structuralism and Law, and Gianni Vattimo's Nihilism and Emancipation: Ethics, Politics and Law--we will discuss and analyze conceptual issues having to do with nihilism understood as a philosophy or form of life characterized by lack of ultimate significance, principle or purpose, as well as its social, cultural and political conditions and consequences.


Lectures and seminars.


Two short reaction papers (500-1000 words each) and a longer final paper (3000 words). A student's active participation and good performance in class may be a positive factor in the overall evaluation of the student's work for the course.

If there are special reasons for doing so, an examiner may make an exception from the method of assessment indicated and allow a student to be assessed by another method. An example of special reasons might be a certificate regarding special pedagogical support from the University's disability coordinator.