Aunque la palabra nihilismo fue introducida en el discurso filosófico por primera vez por Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi en una carta enviada a Fichte en 1799, el término fue popularizado por el novelista ruso Iván Turgenev en su novela Padres e hijos para describir las visiones de los emergentes intelectuales radicales rusos.
'Well, this gentleman, this Bazarov, is what precisely?'
'What it Bazarov?' Arkady grinned. 'Do you want me, uncle, to tell you precisely what he is?'
'Please be good enough, nephew.'
'He is a nihilist.'
'What?' asked Nikolai Petrovich, while Pavel Petrovich raised his knife in the air with a piece of butter on the end of the blade and remaind motionless.
'He is a nihilist,' repeated Arkady.
'A nihilist', said Nikolai Petrovic. 'That's from the Latin nihil, nothing, so far as I can judge. Therefore, the word denotes a man who... doesn't recognize anything?'
'Say, rather, who doens't respect anything', added Pavel Petrovich and once more busied himself with the butter.
'Who approaches everything from a critical point of view,' remarked Arkady.
'Isn't that the same thing?'
'No, it's not the same thing. A nihilist is a man who doesn't acknowledge any authorities, who doesn't accept a single principle on faith, no matter how much that principle may be surrounded by respect.'
'And that's a good thing, is it?' interjected Pavel Petrovicj.
It dependes on who you are, uncle. It's a good thing for one man and a bad thing for another.'
'Is that so! Well, I can see it's no for us. We, men of another age, we suppose that without principles...' (Pavel Petrovich proununced the word softly, the French way, while Arkady, by contrast, pronounced it 'principles' with the accent falling hard on the first sylable) '...without principles accepted, as you put it, on faith we can't take a single step, we can't even breathe. Vous avez changé tout cela, so God grant you good health and the rank of general and we'll all admire you from afar, you gentlemen - what do you call yourselves?'
'Nihilists,' Arkady pronounced clearly.1
 Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp.22-23.
Publicado originalmente en humano sin sentido