|A synopsis of nihilism from the 2011 Time magazine special issue "100 Ideas that Changes the World". |
In 1799, Friedrich Jacobi (1743-1819), a noted (Ѻ) Lessing commentator, in his famous “Open Letter to Fichte”, originally penned as a personal communication to Johann Fichte, penned amid the Fichte-Foreburg atheism dispute (1798-1800), introduced the term “nihilism” into public philosophical discourse as follows: 
“Since outside of the mechanism of nature, I come across nothing but miracles, mysteries, and signs and have a terrible aversion to ‘nothingness’, the absolutely indefinite, the utterly empty (these three are one, the Platonic infinite!), particularly as the object of philosophy or goal of wisdom; but in the investigation of the mechanism of the nature of the ego as well as that of the non-ego, reach nothing but ‘nothing-in-itself’ and am so tainted, struck, and exhausted by it in my transcendental essence (personally, so to speak), that in order to empty out the infinite, I even must want to fill it up, as an infinite ‘nothingness’, a purely totally ‘in-and-of-itself’, were it only not impossible! Since, I say, that is the way it is with me and the science of the true, or more accurately, the true science; I therefore do not see why I, for reasons of good taste, should not be allowed to prefer my ‘philosophy of not-knowing’ to the ‘philosophical knowing of nothing’, even it were only in fugam vacui (void flight or avoiding the void). I have nothing against me but ‘nothingness’; and with that, even chimeras can probably compete.
Truly, my dear Fichte, it should not vex me if you, or whoever it might be, want to call what I contrast to idealism, what I chide as nihilism, chimerism. I have made a display of my ‘not-knowing’ in all of my writings; I have so boasted of being unknowledgeable with knowledge, completely and extensively to such a high degree, that I should be allowed to despise the mere doubter. With earnestness and fervor I have strived from childhood on for truth as have few, have experienced my incapacity as have few, and my heart has thereby become tender—oh, very tender, my dear Fichte, and my voice so gentle! Just as I, as a human being, have a deep sympathy with myself, so I have it with others. I am patient without effort; but that I am truthful without effort costs me a lot. The earth will be light above me— before long.”
Jacobi’s use of the terms “nihilism” or chimerical nihilism, here, meaning "philosophical nothingness" or the "philosophical knowing of nothing", were later picked up by his friend Friedrich Koppen, and thereafter into public discourse; the following are a few comments on this etymology:
“Although on good personal terms with Fichte, Friedrich Jacobi was nevertheless the most severe critic of Fichte's systematic tendency and his attempt to construct a completed system of reason. Absolute reason, in the last analysis, was nothing but atheism for Jacobi, and the endeavor of Fichte's science of knowledge was so alien and repugnant to him that a conflict between the two philosophers was unavoidable. Whereas this controversy was conducted in the manner of a mutually respectful dissent, however, Hegel's excessive polemics led to the result that the entirety of transcendental idealism fell under the indictment of ‘nihilism’ and Jacobi's formerly more technical usage of the term assumed the caustic and aggressive nuance which it has since kept.”— Ernst Behler (1987), “Introduction” to Philosophy of German Idealism (pg. xiii)
“The scientific discourse about god results in the death of god, a purely ‘logical enthusiasm’, and has no other consequence but nihilism. Inverting the real into the ideal, the basic action of reason, marks the beginning of the ‘philosophy of absolute nothingness’, and the idea of an absolute centrifugal and centripetal movement as practiced by Fichte suggested to Jacobi only a movement out of nothing, to nothing, for nothing, and into nothing.”— Ernst Behler (1987), “Introduction” to Philosophy of German Idealism (pg. xiv)
“One of them, by Jacobi's friend Friedrich Koppen, maligned Schelling's doctrine as the ‘philosophy of absolute no-thing-ness’— a claim certainly derived from Jacobi's term nihilism: a philosophy which lays claim on all and everything, like Schelling's system of identity, necessarily results in absolute nihilism. When Jacobi offered his response to Hegel's attack in three open letters to Koppen, and Koppen included them as an appendix in his book, Jacobi certainly contributed to the eschatological nuance in the term nihilism noticeable throughout the nineteenth century and culminating in Nietzsche.”— Ernst Behler (1987), “Introduction” to Philosophy of German Idealism (pg. xvi)
In 1861, Russian Ivan Turgenev, in his novel Father and Sons, was using the term “nihilists”, as those raised on Ludwig Feuerbach, the positivism of Auguste Comte, and the popular German materialists: Ludwig Buchner, Jacob Moleschott, and Karl Vogt; along with John Mill.
“A nihilist is a person who does not bow down to any authority, who does not accept any principle on faith, however much that principle may be revered.”— Ivan Turgenev (1862), Fathers and Sons (character: Arkady Kirsanov)
In Fathers and Sons, the character Yevgeny Bazarov, a friend of Kirsanov, characterized as a “brusque, cynical young medical student, who worships science, sneers at the idea of moral principles, and rejects all institutions". 
“What matters is that two plus two makes four, and the rest is all rubbish.”— Ivan Turgenev (1862), Fathers and Sons (character: Yevgeny Bazarov); this is a supposed motto for nihilism 
Bazarov describes himself as a "nihilist" who wants to educate the people.  The term nihilism, supposedly, spread quickly in Russia following this publication, serving as a philosophical point of departure for revolutionary radicals.
In 1866, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his Crime and Punishment, addressed many aspects of nihilism; for example:
“The nihilists went so far as to propose the destruction of all tradition in creating a new society. The theories of nihilism, however, never proposed a plan to replace the traditions that were destroyed.”— Paul Moliken (2005), “Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights” in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment 
In 1872, Dostoyevsky, in his Demons (aka The Possessed) (Ѻ), a book originally intended to be called The Atheist, , wherein the character Pyotr Verkhovensky (Ѻ) , in the novel, is based on Russian anarchist Sergey Nechaev (1847-1882) (Ѻ), author of the manifesto Cathechism of a Revolution (1869), whose ideology was that “the revolutionary knows one science only: the science of destruction”.  In one passage of the book, an army officer goes mad and attacks his commanding officer, then smashes up his landlady’s little shrine of Christian icons, and puts in their place the works of Vogt, Moleschott, and Buchner, like a trio of Bibles on stands, in front of each he burns a church wax candle. 
In 1871, English biologist Thomas Huxley, in his “Administrative Nihilism”, coined both the terms ‘social chemistry’ and ‘social molecule’, as follows: 
“Every society, great or small, resembles ... a complex molecule, in which the atoms are represented by men, possessed of all those multifarious attractions and repulsions which are manifested in their desires and volitions, the unlimited power of satisfying which we call freedom ... the social molecule exists in virtue of the renunciation of more or less of this freedom by every individual. It is decomposed, when the attraction of desire leads to the resumption of that freedom the expression of which is essential to the existence of the social molecule. The great problem of social chemistry we call politics, is to discover what desires of mankind may be gratified, and what must be suppressed, if the highly complex compound, society, is to avoid decomposition.”
The term “existential nihilism” argues that existence is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value; that morality does not inherently exist, and that moral values are abstractly contrived.
In the 1880s, Friedrich Nietzsche, after reading Dostoyevsky, advocate of the conservation of force models, particularly of Friedrich Mohr and Robert Mayer, whose books he read in 1873 and 1881, respectively, devotes a considerable amount of effort to a critique and dissection of the concept or possibility of the rise of nihilism, particularly within the framework of the decline of Christianity.  The name Turgenev, of note, is never mentioned in Nietzsche's books. 
|A 2015 image (Ѻ) of nihilism, as “believe nothing”, according to Garret Harrison, who ruminates on the arbitrary fame of the Haffners, who were part of the ruling class of Salzburg, and who funded Mozart’s Haffner Symphony, but who are now completely unknown and forgotten, say as compared to Mozart.|
The following are related quotes:
“I don’t see any ‘point’ in nihilism, just as I suppose the nihilist sees no point in everything else.”— John Green (c.2015) (Ѻ)
1. Camus, Albert. (1959). “Interview: Stage adaption of Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Possessed’” (translator: Hvolsellir), Pierre Dumayet.
2. Huxley, Thomas. (1871). “Administrative Nihilism”, Fortnightly Review, pg. 536. Nov.
3. Schutte, Ofelia. (1986). Beyond Nihilism: Nietzsche Without Masks (pg. 205). University of Chicago Press.
4. Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (pgs. 411-12). HarperOne.
5. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. (1866). Crime and Punishment (editors: Paul Moliken and Lisa Miller) (pgs. 9-11). Prestwick House.
6. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1885). Will to Power: An Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values (translator: Walter Kaufmann and Reginald Hollingdale; editor: Walter Kaufmann) (pdf) (txt) (pg. 51). Random House, 2011.
7. Anon. (2011). “100 Ideas that Changed the World”, Time, May 6.
● Nihilism – Wikipedia.