The Essence of Nihilism

The Essence of Nihilism

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A groundbreaking classic of contemporary philosophy for the first time in English translation

In 1969, Emanuele Severino underwent a Vatican trial for the ‘fundamental incompatibility’ between his thought and the Christian doctrine, and was removed from his position as professor of philosophy at the Catholic University in Milan. The Essence of Nihilism published in 1972, was the first book to follow his expulsion, and to firmly establish Severino’s preeminent position within the constellation of contemporary philosophy.

In this groundbreaking book, Severino reinterprets the history of Western philosophy as the unfolding of ‘the greatest folly’, that is, of the belief that ‘things come out of nothing and fall back into nothing’. According to Severino, such a typically Western understanding of reality has produced a belief in the radical ‘nothingness’ of things. This, in turn has justified the treatment of the world as an object of exploitation, degradation and destruction.

To move beyond Western nihilism, suggests Severino, we must first of all ‘return to Parmenides’. Joining forces with the most venerable of Greek philosophers, Severino confutes the ‘path of night’ of nihilism, and develops a new philosophy grounded on the principle of the eternity of reality and of every single existent.


  • The central problem of contemporary philosophy is a drama with only two protagonists: Heidegger and Severino. It is an irreconcilable relationship between these two positions: an aut-aut.

    Massimo CacciariLa Repubblica
  • [T]hose who have been inspired by the likes of Heidegger, Sartre or Paul Tillich will want to peruse this first offering of [Severino]...If no one talks about metaphysics anymore...Severino would argue that this is not because scientism or modernity has rendered it obsolete; in fact, quite the opposite. Science and technology are not a refutation of metaphysics, but the products of it.

    Jon MorrisPopMatters