The Nihilist

The Pragmatism and Prejudice of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 31-48 (Seth Vannatta, ed. Lexington Press 2019).

23 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2019

See all articles by Raff Donelson

Raff Donelson

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

Date Written: July 7, 2019

Abstract

Scattered skeptical remarks and a general austerity that infused his writings have given Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes a reputation as some type of nihilist. Noted commentators such as Richard Posner and Albert Alschuler have claimed as much. This article seeks to correct this misunderstanding. Holmes was not a nihilist in the sense of being melancholy due to a belief that the world has no absolute moral values or gods. Instead, Holmes was a pragmatist in the spirit of William James and John Dewey. While Holmes had doubts about moral truth and deities, he ultimately thought that their existence (or non-existence) should have no bearing on our behavior or the law. We must, through our collective efforts, find values that work for us.

Keywords: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Friedrich Nietzsche, nihilism, existentialism, morality, pragmatism, William James, truth

Suggested Citation

Donelson, Raff, The Nihilist (July 7, 2019). The Pragmatism and Prejudice of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 31-48 (Seth Vannatta, ed. Lexington Press 2019). . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3416151

Raff Donelson (Contact Author)

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge ( email )

Baton Rouge, LA 70803
United States

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