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Nietzsche's Ubermensch

Daniel Cole, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Daniel Cole

    Daniel Cole has taught a variety of philosophy and writing classes since 2012. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Kentucky in 2021, his MA in philosophy from Miami University in 2011, and his BA in philosophy from Ball State University in 2008.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Who is Friedrich Nietzsche, and who is the "Ubermensch"? Learn about Nietzsche's background, his creation of the Ubermensch, and the misconceptions that have taken place about it. Updated: 11/30/2021

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Who is Friedrich Nietzsche?

Friedrich Nietzsche developed the idea of the Ubermensch.

Picture of Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th-century German thinker whose work engaged with a variety of branches of philosophy, as well as art and language. His work is critical of rationalist traditions, and he often took aim at the works of Immanuel Kant and Plato in addition to his social critiques of religion. One of the most debated and misunderstood parts of Nietzsche's theory is his idea of the Ubermensch, which can be translated as the superman or the overman. "The Ubermensch" is a figure to be used as an ideal for humanity and not a particular individual.

Nietzsche presents the Ubermensch most famously in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where he critiques the objectivist morality of traditional religions (Christianity and Buddhism). In short, the morality of traditional religions encourages conformity, suffering, and sickness. The morality of the Ubermensch, then, is creative, healthy, and strong.

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Nietzsche's Ubermensch

What is the Ubermensch? Nietzsche's Ubermensch, or Nietzsche's superman, is a creative individual who does not merely follow or obey the laws of others, even the laws of God. The Ubermensch's meaning, then, is a meaning of creation, both the creation of self and of the world. Nietzsche does not envision any single individual or social group to be supermen or even fated to become supermen. It is an ideal to strive for.

Further, such a transformation would not only mean human individuals recreating themselves but also recreating society. Or in other words, because this kind of new morality makes essential reference to the subjectivity of humanity, it presumably does not have the same stagnating and alienating effect of objectivist morality, as found in most religions and other authoritarian organizations. References to any kind of commanding god or objectivist morality are jettisoned in the moral system of Ubermenschen (supermen).

Nietzsche's presentation of the Ubermensch does not involve a new catalog of values and virtues so much as it transforms how some values and virtues should work. For instance, chastity should not be a result of a general condemnation of bodily pleasure. Instead, whether one is chaste should be a matter of how it affects the strength of the person and society as a whole.

Characteristics of Nietzsche's Ubermensch

Nietzsche rejects the social-moral structure of a society with priests who impart divine commands.

Picture of a Zoroastrian priest

The Ubermensch is the idea of a humanity that, upon dispensing with objectivist morality, has overcome its own nihilism to create values and thereby recreate itself. Nihilism, for Nietzsche, is the collapse of values that leads to stagnation and sickness. Nihilism is defined by a rejection of the belief in values and meaning in life. It is a result of a religion that demands humans renounce their bodies and pleasures for the sake of an otherworldly heaven. Such a set of values severs humans from the world and ultimately from themselves, and thus those objective "highest" values devalue themselves. The brief thrust of Nietzsche's argument is that by establishing values as objective and otherworldly, traditional religions set the groundwork for people to reject values altogether and to stop striving to realize their values.

Much of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is devoted to diagnosing the nihilism that emerges from traditional religion as well suggesting elements of a cure, namely, a healthy, creative morality. In this book, Nietzsche suggests that God is dead and humanity has killed him. This is not a claim about murdering a divine entity; it is a claim about how objectivist values disintegrate and lose their ability to guide human life. This is not to say that the Ubermensch will reject or invert every value offered in traditional religion in morality. Instead, Ubermenschen change their relationship to values.

Here are some characteristics of the Ubermensch:

  • The Ubermensch esteems certain values and virtues contextually rather than adhering to them absolutely.
  • The Ubermensch creates and commands rather than follows and obeys.
  • The Ubermensch draws strength from the body and esteems the world in which they live (rather than an otherworldly beyond).
  • The Ubermensch does not shy away from conflict or adversity and cherishes these things over comfort and complacency.
  • The Ubermensch is not threatened by the valuations of others, and their attitude toward their own values is light-hearted rather than burdensome.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Did Nietzsche think he was Ubermensch?

There is no evidence that Nietzsche thought of himself as an ubermensch. The concept of ubermensch appears in his work as something that will emerge (or that one could hope would emerge) rather than a status that some person or group of people have already attained.

What is the Ubermensch theory?

The theory of the ubermensch is that one day some people will have the resources to overcome nihilism and create new values. This new grouping of humans will be able to affirm their bodies and the world, rather than turning away from it, like members of traditional religions (e.g., Christianity and Buddhism).

What is the point of Ubermensch?

The point of the ubermensch is to indicate that there are other kinds of relationships to values rather than simple obedience. Nietzsche polemically suggests that a more creative relationship to values may be healthier and more noble than simply obeying objective rules (for instance, as laid down by a transcendent god).

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