Marquis de Sade and Nihilism
Marquis de Sade is the first philosopher that brought about the philosophy of nihilism. Simply put this philosophy is of the school of thought that human existence is of no consequence at all and since it s just the product of nature, human life and existence is of no use to nature and no more important than anything else in nature. In this paper I will critique this paper with the intention of proving the very opposite of this philosophy of nihilism by Marquis de Sade.
As stated before nihilism is the philosophical idea that past, present and future existence of the human form is of no meaning. According to popular understanding, nihilism supports the school of thought that man has no ultimate truth and is not essential to the earth (Glicksberg, 1975). This is to say that all organic things are similar and have equal value in the face of nature. The philosophy therefore support the nonexistence of God or any other Supreme Being for the simple reason that there is no tangible proof that there is a creator of the universe. Without the presence of a God or Supreme Being, there is no moral compass and in a sense the existence of secular ethics is just null and void. Without moral accountability, no one action is better than the other and in fact there is a benefit of causing harm especially to the human being. According to the philosophy by Marquis de Sade, Nature uses dead organic life forms in the creation of new ones (this is an atheistic view), it therefore stands to reason that destruction of organic life forms such as human life will be pleasing to the entity that is nature since this is a means of the creation of newer life forms (Sade et al, 1965).
According to Marquis de Sade, the individual is born individually, the responsibility the individual is solely to himself and does not have to benefit anyone else. Since there are other individuals in the universe, everyone is in competition with everyone else in the world. It is therefore wise for man to enjoy himself to the fullest regardless of who has to suffer in the fulfillment of that objective. According to this philosophy, the rich have the most benefit and use the poor like playthings, in addition to this characteristic of the rich, they are also very cruel. The more the cruel a rich person is, the more the pleasure that is likely to be derived.
This philosophy is one that supports total nothingness. What one does, does not matter and neither does what everyone does. This can therefore be interpreted as what one does to the other person whether good or bad does not matter. As stated above, the more cruel a person is, the greater the reward and gratification he is bound to get. The reason for this is because materialism makes pleasure increase or decrease with increase or decrease with stimulus as the case might be. Marquis de Sade continually rationalized the most heinous crimes including sexual based crimes, violence and crime (Sade et al, 1965). He championed mass murder in his philosophy seeing it as the ultimate way in which the organic matter can be returned to the entity of nature for the creation of more human beings.
Many of Sade’s books are considered to be ultimately satanic. The reason for this is that many of the philosophies that are purported in his books are seemingly opposed to the idea of God and religion, especially the Christian religion. Obscene sexuality, evil sacrileges and satanic practices such as Black Mass were often extrapolated in his books. The messages behind his philosophies were ultimately demonic impiety and evil transcendence. Due to the liberation caused by the mantra nihilism brings freedom, Marquis de Sade opened the door for Romantic and Decadent authors who saw an avenue to write liberally about what they felt and not restrained by religion and ethics.
I tend to disagree with the idea of nihilism in its entirety. The main reasoning behind this conclusion is that even for the believers of the ideology, in the long run, it is bound to become a false belief. The reason for this is that at the very core of nihilism is the idea of absolute nothingness. This is to say that those that believe in nihilism do not value anything at all by discarding hope in significance. The philosophy of nihilism therefore contradicts itself by creating an alternative semblance of significance. According to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the whole idea behind nihilism is based on the belief on a higher being such as God and that the Supreme Being does not value human life. This is therefore in contrast to the atheistic philosophy supported in the literature by Marquis de Sade. These inconsistencies regarding the philosophy are the basis of my critique. I will use ideas from other philosophers that are opposed to the philosophy of nihilism to counter any counterarguments that Marquis de Sade might have.
One of the most common arguments against the nihilism philosophy by Marquis de Sade is known as the paradox of nihilism. Simply put, this paradox states that the absence of meaning purports that there is meaning. The meaning behind this paradox is the fact that since the philosophers of the same school of thought as Marquis de Sade have come to the conclusion that there is neither truth, nor judgment and that everyone is self serving, then what makes this judgment (the nihilistic judgment) be true? This paradox rubbishes the school of thought that is nihilistic on one hand but there according to nihilists, there is an explanation to this paradox.
One argument that can be made for nihilism is that it is not particularly against any religion or a higher being as this is the reason that many people are against the philosophy. According to many modern philosophers, nihilism is more about the preference for the absence of morality as a whole. According to many philosophers who have bought into the nihilistic mindset, arguing against lack of preference is null and void and is not even that logical.
However, this counter argument that is made by the nihilists can also be disproved. The reason that this counterargument can be disproved is the fact that the whole idea behind nihilism is self contradictory. According the philosophy by Marquis de Sade, one should decide to only partake in actions that are in his or her own best interests. Deciding to do something to another individual whether in the service of one’s own benefit requires rational thought. The same philosophy of nihilism is of the opinion that there is no better or worse reasoning. Since reasoning is preceded by rational though, the whole philosophy of nihilism is contradictory in nature.
My own explanation for the philosophy that was being explained by Marquis de Sade borrows heavily on externalism. This philosophy is entirely different from nihilism in that it is the polar opposite. In a way, both of these philosophies burrow from each other in one way or the other in that they try to expound on the idea of meaningfulness. Externalism suggests the existence of meaning and truth. Externalism purports the existence of meaning and a higher being whether or not we are able to see it (Rowland, 2003). The existence of a higher power is also different between the two philosophies. The idea of meaning behind the existence of everything is objective and more importantly, it is not a human creation. Since meaning exists, it only goes to show that there is existence of a Supreme Being that creates meaning (Rowland, 2003). The benefit of this idea is that the purpose of life and the existence of ethics have a clear and simple answer. In addition, there is a mechanism in which everyone is held accountable for their actions by the Supreme Being that gives meaning to everything.
In conclusion it is easy to believe that nihilism is irrefutable because there is a chance that life is indeed meaningless, but it is also a fact that it cannot be proven. The other alternatives have an advantage over nihilism because of the fact that, unlike nihilism, they do not contradict themselves. The self-contradiction in nihilism supports the alternate theories. For instance the existence of rational thought to take advantage of others as put in the nihilism philosophy suggests that there is an existence of a higher power that gives meaning to the rationality.
Glicksberg, C. (1975). The literature of nihilism. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.
Rowlands, M. (2003).Externalism. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Sade, Seaver, R., Paulhan, J., Blanchot, M., &Wainhouse, A. (1965).The Marquis de Sade. New York: Grove Press.