Friedrich Nietzsche and
his philosophy of the Superman
Between the very many interventions of his sister Elisabeth
and also given the misrepresentations of his work that are
associated with the Nazi Era it is difficult to get a true
picture of Friedrich Nietzsche and his philosophical legacy.
He began to actually write Thus Spake Zarathustra in
February of 1883 but the germ of the idea behind it had been
developing in his mind for some eighteen months. In Ecce
Homo it is related how the idea occured to him in August 1881
and remained in gestation. When he came to actually write based
upon his initial idea Nietzsche felt that he was actually
inspired - as one of the most intriguing quotes from Ecce
"One hears but one does not seek; one takes - one does
not ask who gives; a thought flashes up like lightning, it comes
of necessity and unfalteringly formed".
His fundamental contention was that traditional values
(represented primarily by Christianity) had lost their power in
the lives of individuals. He expressed this in his proclamation
"God is dead."
Since God is dead Neitzsche sees the necessity for the
emergence of the Übermensch, the Superman or overman,
who is to replace God.
The first of the quotes attributed to Zarathustra is:-
"I teach you the Superman. Man is something that
should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
All creatures hitherto have created something beyond
themselves: and do you want to be the ebb of the great tide, and
return to the animals rather than overcome man?
What is the ape to men? A laughing stock or a painful
embarassment. And just so shall man be to the Superman: a
laughing stock or a painful embarassment".
The context in which Supermen are to be judged to be such
is implied by Neitzsche's previous works. He maintained that all
human behavior is motivated by the will to power. In its positive
sense, the will to power is not simply power over others, but the
power over oneself that is necessary for creativity. Supermen are
those who have overcome man - i.e. the individual self - and
subliminated the will to power into a momentous creativity.
Supermen are creators of a "master morality" that reflects
the strength and independence of one who is liberated from all
values, except those that he deems valid. Such power is
manifested in independence, creativity, and originality.
Nietzsche saw the Superman as the answer to the nihilistic
rejection of all religious and moral principles that would be
consequent on a widespread acceptance that God is dead. The
Superman being the exemplar of true humanity.
Although he explicitly denied that any Supermen had yet
arisen, he mentions several individuals who could serve as
models. Among these models he lists Socrates, Jesus, Julius
Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe, and
Nietzsche's philosophical concepts were often concerned
with areas that came within the interest of the emerging school
of Existentialism and came to the particular notice of numerous
thinkers, writers, and theologians who were themselves broadly
interested in Existentialism. Amongst these are Karl Jaspers,
Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Albert Camus and