NIETZSCHE ON: The Superman – Free Ebook

The concept of the Superman is one of the strangest, most fascinating ideas in Philosophy. We find it coined by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book of 1883: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. On first hearing it, we can’t help but think of the action hero Superman, described by his creators as “faster than a speeding bullet”, “more powerful than a locomotive”, and “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound”. These are actually very good starting points. DC Comics were asking themselves what someone would be like who is physically far superior to all current human beings. Nietzsche is asking himself a very similar question; only, he’s interested in psychological qualities. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche points out that evolution cannot be assumed to have finished. Human beings have evolved from apes, but, what is ape to man? He asks. In some respects, like imagination and science, we are obviously far superior to our ancestors. So how might people of the future be superior to who we are today? Nietzsche’s character, Zarathustra’s, task is to speculate about what the superman – the more advanced person of tomorrow – will be like. Nietzsche wasn’t interested in massively enhanced brain power, an ability to do hugely complex sums in one’s head, or to learn a language in three days. Rather, he was developing a crucial thought experiment: Suppose we were psychologically superior to people of today, what would we actually be like? What is the ideal kind of human being? And he came up with a very surprising and challenging answer – Nietzsche’s strategy for answering his own question was to identify the person he most admired, the person he thought had the best approach to life, and then hone in on the qualities that made this person the way they were. He was particularly impressed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe whom he regarded as the nearest anyone had yet come to being a superman. He also took some hints from Napoleon, Montaigne, Voltaire, and Julius Cesar. He concluded that Supermen are going to have some wonderful and sometimes unexpected characteristics. They will: make their own values; they will be very independently minded; they won’t ask “what do other people admire?” and follow along – they will carve their own path. Supermen accept that might need to hurt people in the name of great things. They can be selfish in strategic ways. “Greatness” for them will be about the reform of the humanity towards pagan values – – the values of Goethe. Supermen will never be resentful of the success of others; they will accept suffering as a necessary component of good things. They will understand that they’re hard to understand, and therefore, they may often be lonely. They will be gentle to towards the weak, out of consciousness of their own great strength. They will be a little bit wicked around sex by conventional standards. They will not be humble, but rather, delight in their own abilities. They will be interested in the practical application of culture to raise the mentality of society. Nietzsche thought we would be surprised and sometimes a bit shocked by his list. He thought we would be expecting that the super humans of tomorrow would be deeply compassionate, very egalitarian, uninterested in rivalry, and perhaps have ambitions to make breakthroughs in science. But Nietzsche was arguing something else: that maybe being great involve some qualities that were a bit disturbing; and also, that greatness means being interested in the salvation of mankind through culture. The word superman is useful for getting us to think about who we would like to evolve into. Each of us should, under Nietzsche’s guidance, have a sense of what we would like to be if we could be the super version of ourselves. The idea of the Superman helps us to refine our own ambitions.

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