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Ubermensch (’Overman’ or ‘Superman’)

Another concept important to an understanding of Nietzsche’s thought is the ubermensch (translated variously as ‘overman’, ‘superman’, or ‘super-human’). Developing the idea of nihilism, Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, therein introducing the concept of a value-creating ubermensch, not as a project, but as an anti-project, the absence of any project. According to Lampert, “the death of God must be followed by a long twilight of piety and nihilism (II. 19; III. 8). […] Zarathustra’s gift of the overman is given to a mankind not aware of the problem to which the overman is the solution.” Zarathustra presents the overman as the creator of new values, and he appears as a solution to the problem of the death of God and nihilism. The overman does not follow morality of common people since it favours mediocrity but instead rises above the notion of good and evil and above the herd. In this way Zarathustra proclaims his ultimate goal as the journey towards the state of overman. He wants a kind of spiritual evolution of self-awareness and overcoming of traditional views on morality and justice that stem from the superstition beliefs still deeply rooted or related to the notion of God and Christianity.

While interpretations of Nietzsche’s overman vary wildly, here is one of his quotations from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?… All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape… The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth… Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

Zarathustra contrasts the overman with the last man of egalitarian modernity (most obvious example being democracy), an alternative goal which humanity might set for itself. The last man is possible only by mankind’s having bred an apathetic creature who has no great passion or commitment, who is unable to dream, who merely earns his living and keeps warm. This concept appears only in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and is presented as a condition that would render the creation of the overman impossible.

Some have suggested that the notion of eternal return is related to the overman since willing the eternal return of the same is a necessary step if the overman is to create new values, untainted by the spirit of gravity or asceticism. Values involve a rank-ordering of things, and so are inseparable from approval and disapproval; yet it was dissatisfaction that prompted men to seek refuge in other-worldliness and embrace other-worldly values. It could seem that the overman, in being devoted to any values at all, would necessarily fail to create values that did not share some bit of asceticism. Willing the eternal recurrence is presented as accepting the existence of the low while still recognizing it as the low, and thus as overcoming the spirit of gravity or asceticism. One must have the strength of the overman in order to will the eternal recurrence of the same; that is, only the overman will have the strength to fully accept all of his past life, including his failures and misdeeds, and to truly will their eternal return. This action nearly kills Zarathustra, for example, and most human beings cannot avoid other-worldliness because they really are sick, not because of any choice they made.

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