Superman In Nietzsche’s Moral Philosophy

The Concept Of Superman In Nietzsche’s Moral Philosophy




Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on October 15th, 1844 at Rochken in Prussian Saxony. His father, a Lutheran pastor, died in 1849, and the boy was brought up at Naumberg in the feminine and pious society of his mother, his sister, a grandmother and two aunts[1]. He attended the famous Pforta School, and then went to the University at Bonn and at Leipzig.[2]




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He studied classical philosophy under F.W. Ritschl at the University of Bonn and Leipzig and discovered the philosophy of Schopenhauer.[3]

Studying philosophy under Ritschl, he became his star pupil and gained so great a reputation in it that on Ritschl’s recommendation, he was appointed to the chair of classical philosophy at Basel University at the age of twenty- four. Leipzig proceeded to confer a doctorate degree on him without requiring a dissertation.[4]

He taught at Basel for ten years (1869-79), becoming a Swiss to do so. While at Basel, he made and broke his friendship with Richard Wager, participated as an ambulance orderly in the Franco-Prussian war.[5] The events of his Leipzig years with the most profound influence on his later works were his discoveries of Schopenhauer’s, ‘The World as Will and Representation’ and F.A. Lange’s, ‘History of Materialism’ and his personal relationship with Richard Wager.[6]

A combination of bad health and dissatisfaction, amounting to disgust with his professional duties led Nietzsche to resign from his chair at Basel in the spring of 1879. Moreover, for the next ten years, he led a wandering life, seeking to discover from his terrible health problems and a near absence of human companionship.[7]

Early in 1889, Nietzsche collapsed in the street of Turin. He became insane. During this last period, he wrote nothing and was incapable of conversation. He spent the last eleven and half years of his life, first in an asylum, then in his mother’s care in Naumberg, and finally in Weimar, where his sister took care of him after his mother’s death. He died in Weimar on August 25, 1900.[8]


The cry ‘God is dead’ is not very new.[9] It runs through the history of modern philosophy starting from Descartes with his enthronement of thought as a condition for being. It becomes clear that Nietzsche was following an existing tradition. He took hold of what others have said and drew the conclusion latent in them.

Hegel was the first to set the stage for the assault upon God. He protested that the God of Christian experience was an inadequate, premature, and not-yet-developed God. Hegel sets himself the task of completing the good news of the gospel; would go beyond Christianity by demonstrating that the only valid God was dialectically evolving. Thought or spirit, which gradually inevitably attains and reveals itself in conceptual clarity and complete self-consciousness through the entire scope of cosmic and human history.[10]

The Christian God is so transcendent instituting a kind of master-slave relationship and “can only be experience or thought of when the conscience is sick.”[11] Since he is so transcendent, he only “succeeds in enslaving and alienating his worshippers” hence, Hegel sees Judaeo-christianity as

A backward religion; a religion of endless, hopeless waiting, whose devotees are either wandering in a desert looking for a land flowing with milk and honey or sighing in a vale of tears scanning the horizon for the advent of the new heaven and earth beyond time.”[12]

Hegel’s indifference to Christianity lies in the fact that it has succeeded in producing “martyrs for the next world but never heroes of action in this.”[13] Hegel therefore concluded that Christianity was a social and historical failure. Applying his dialectics to Christianity, he saw the Christian God as a mere antithesis of the evolution of spirit. Hellenism, with its serene gods of immanence and order, was the thesis of evolving thought. Christianity, with its tragically crucified God, was the antithesis of the two- the reformed, the mature the complete god.

The Christian God had to die in order to pass into its opposite. All modern atheism will thus be seen to be rooted in Hegel’s rejection of God of the master-slave relationship. God reduces man from being a hero to being a beautiful soul.[14]

Profoundly influenced by Hegel, Feuerbach (1804-1872) makes God “the myth that destroys man’s own efforts, against which man must fight to reconquer his proper nature from which he has been alienated.” Hegel having demolished God, Feuerbach drew the logical conclusion in Hegel’s work in a heroic manner. He continued the process of the reduction of God to the being of man and, indeed, of all theology to anthropology. Expressing this fact, Vincent Miceli writes;

Feuerbach was acclaimed for having swept the heavens of the phantom of God…. Restored divinity to its rightful owner-liberated humanity- and rendered the thousands of years’ discussions about God henceforth pointless.[15]

God is for Feuerbach ‘merely the projected essence of man’ and in proportion as God becomes more ideally human; the greater becomes the apparent between God and man. To enrich God, man must become poor; that God may be all, man must become nothing.”[16] Feuerbach’s contention is that the Christian idea of man far from librating man actually succeeded in enslaving him to an illusory absolute.[17]

So man can only grow and enrich himself by taking back what he has given to God.[18] To have a replacement for God, Feuerbach looks to the essence of man. He writes,

It is the essence of man that is the Supreme Being…The turning point in history will be the moment when man becomes aware that the only God of man is man himself “Homo Homini Deus.[19]

It must be observe that Feuerbach does not divinized individual man in his particularity but Humanity.

Receiving his keys to his communist kingdom from his German masters Hegel and Feuerbach, Karl Marx (1818-1883) reduced the problem of God to a human problem. The only meaning there is the adventure of man lies in his achievement of complete independence. But, man according to Marx, “can only be his own master when he owes his existence to no one but himself”.[20]

So the salvation of man itself demands, as it were a “priori,” the death of God and by this denial, man’s existence is asserted.[21] With the total obliteration of God, the highest being then enthroned in the universe becomes man. With this, man becomes the only reality: the only meaning of the universe of evolution of history. Man, liberated from the divine shackle, is now free to create himself fully in solidarity with his fellow men and he does this by his work. Work, the only firm of man’s being rips man suddenly, violently, irrevocably from God, from the transcendent and from the existing bourgeois world, with all its form of self-alienation.


Work transforms the isolated individual of the bourgeois society into the social man of communist humanism. Work renders man capable of developing all his powers to their fullest capacities, it perfects his whole nature; it inserts him organically as equal among equals, into classless community of concord.[22]

History begins, therefore, with the denial of God and advances through the revolutionary destruction of bourgeois society to the enthronement of man as his own god in the communist community. While Hegel thought of nations as the vehicles of dialectic movement, Marx substituted classes.[23]

In a parallel thrust, Schopenhauer proclaimed ‘Pure Will’ to be the essence of being and thing-in-itself and to be the transcendental assignment of man: being metamorphoses into a will-to-life, a will-to-will, and a will-to-power. The objectivization of being as primordial will thus resolves itself into the forms and modes of this will. The will thus becomes the ‘primordial being’ Urwesen and the primordial source of that which is ‘Urguelle des seienden,’ the prime mover of all activity. This will have neither goal nor end outside of itself and its action.[24]

Nietzsche begins from Schopenhauer, but his avowed aim is the formation of a new man who in turn will mould the future. Schopenhauer, in Nietzsche’ eyes is the first avowed and trenchant atheist Germany has produced. He was a man who regarded the absence of God from existence as something understandable, palpable and indisputable. Nietzsche intends to fill the void left by the disappearance of God and this is the point of the doctrine of ‘The Superman.’ He, however, parts Company entirely with the quietistic pessimism of Schopenhauer.[25] Nietzsche believes that Schopenhauer held honest atheism that freed European thought after so many centuries, from the lie of the belief in Christian God. In Nietzsche’s view, the traditional schema of the universe, the maps by which western man has oriented his life, are beginning to dissolve and lose their force.

He sees in the nineteenth century European, an advert of nihilism “the radical rejection of values, meaning and desirability”. This nihilism is as a result of suspicion, by the west, of all interpretation of the world.[26] Nietzsche’s revolt against Christianity is that its morality is slave morality, which is a defensive reaction to the values of the more powerful.[27] The slave morality begins when resentment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values.[28]

Nietzsche starts his campaign against the Christian morality with his extirpation of the Christian God and in his peace. Nietzsche substituted the superman and his will-to-power.




Nietzsche rejected the idea of a universal morality for all because such a morality disregards basic individual differences. However, he believes that there is one thing that characterizes all human beings and that is the drive to dominate the environment. This drive, so central to human nature, is the will to power.[29] He identified life with this will to power. For him, life, as the form of being most familiar to us, is specially a will to the accumulation of force.”[30]

Nietzsche finds this drive at work in large areas of human life; in asceticism, revenge, and the lust for money, the striving for distinction, cruelty etc. He explains the drive’s apparent omnipresence in human life by saying that power has a special relation to human happiness.

He believes that this will to power is the most life affirming drive and explains why life is “struggle and becoming.”[31]

In order words, the organism is an intricate complexity of systems, which strive after an increase in the feeling of power; it looks for obstacles for something to overcome. For example, Nietzsche does not see exploitation or appropriation as something evil but as a consequence of the will to power.[32]

Exploitation does not belong to a deprived or imperfect and primitive society, it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function: it is a consequence of the intrinsic will to power, which is precisely the will to life.[33]       

The will to power names what constitutes the basic character of all beings? It is the ultimate reality to which we come. It is Nietzsche’s fundamental conception of all beings. “The expression ‘will to power’ designates the basic character of beings; any being which is, in so far as it is, is will to power.”[34]

The will to power is more than simple the will to survive. It is, rather an inner drive to express a vigorous affirmation of all a person’s powers. It is an interpretation of the universe, a way of looking at it and describing it. Nietzsche writes, “This world is will to power and nothing else! And you yourselves too are this will to power and nothing else.”[35]

Nietzsche sees the will to power as the source of human happiness and whatever heightens the feeling of power is what he considers good.

What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to Power, power; itself in man. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases that a resistance is overcome.[36]

Nietzsche believes that the desire for knowledge depends on the will to power, that is, on a given kind of being’s impulse to master a certain field of reality and to enlist it in its service.

He conceives knowledge as an instrument of power, which increases with increment in power. For him, knowledge works as an instrument of power. It is therefore obvious that it grows with every increase in power.”[37] The thirst for knowledge is a manifestation of the will to power and the aim of knowledge is not to know in the sense of grasping absolute truth for its own sake, but to master.[38]

The knowledge as the will to power reads interpretation into reality.

In so far as the word “knowledge” had any meaning, the world is knowable but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it but countless meanings “perspectivism”[39]

In the field of human psychology, Nietzsche finds many opportunities for diagnosing the manifestations of the will – to- power. For example, he dismisses as quite unfounded the psychology theory that the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain are the fundamental motives of human conduct. In his view, pleasure and pain are concomitant phenomena in the striving after an increase of power. Pleasure can be described as the feeling of increase of power, while pain results from a felt hindrance to the will –to –power. At the same time, pain of ten provides a stimulus to this will, for every triumph presuppose an obstacle, a hindrance, which is overcome. Everywhere Nietzsche sees the operation, often devious and hidden, of the will– to– power.[40] In man, the will to power occurs in man’s intention to order the event of everyday life towards dominating natural occurrences.

He writes; “All events that result from intention are reducible to the intention to increase power”[41] Nietzsche sensed the supremacy of the will as a universal principle, a dynamism that appealed to his thirst for life in its plenitude.[42] He understands power in the sense of an intrinsic quality of the individual.

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In addition, he tells us, “I distinguish between a type which represents ascending life and a type which represents decadence, decomposition, and weakness.”[43] He believes that there is in fact, no alternative for impotence for power and it is only on that condition that they necessarily become good. God must be both useful and harmful who is admired in good and bad alike. He believes that one has much need of the evil god as of the good god. He identified this God with will to power and consequently ascribed two alternatives to God.[44]

There is in fact no other alternative for Gods: either they are the will to power or so long as they are that, they will be national gods – or else the impotence for power– and they necessary become good.[45]

In the field of art, Nietzsche sees the work of the artist as an attempt to master an aspect of reality. On the mastery of the material of his endeavour, the artist feels glad at the accumulation of power.

What delight! What a feeling of power! How much artist, triumph in the feeling of power man has once again become master of “materials” master of truth! – and whenever man rejoices, he is always the same in his rejoicing: he rejoices as an   artist, he enjoys himself as power, he enjoys the lie as his form of  power.[46]

Nietzsche sees Christian Piety as an antithesis of this will to power and hinders its expression. It inhabits the emotions, which enhance the energy of feeling of life. One loses force when one pities. To salvage the situation, Nietzsche believes that it is when one wages war against pity that one becomes, truly, a philosopher.

Nothing is our unhealthy modernity is more unhealthy than Christian pity. To be physician here, to be inexorable here, to wield the knife – that pertains to us, that is our kind of philanthropy, with that are we philosophers, we hyperborean.[47]

As one who has gone beyond the decadent Christian values, the superman will have to rediscover the will–to–power which is fundamental and which has been calumniated by Christianity. The will to power is his life – affirming superman by way of the will–to– Power.[48]        

Wherever this will to power is lacking, Nietzsche sees a decadence, a down going, a denial of life. He writes, “Wherever the will to power declines in any form there is every time also a physiological regression, decadence.”[49]


Since Nietzsche had extirpated God, who in his view, is the sole barricade to the emergence of the superman, he (the superman) can now ascend the vacant divine throne. Obviously, this involves a supra – historical outlook. It involves that is to say, a rejection of the Hegelian canonization of the actual in the name of a necessary self – manifestation of the logos or idea, and a vision of values, which transcend the historical situation.[50]

It begins the only history worthy of its name a history devoid of all mythology and superstition. Zarathustra announced the news of the death of God, which gave back to the earth a true human meaning.

The superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say; the superman shall be the meaning of the earth! I entreat you, my brothers, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of superterestial hopes! They are prisoners, whether they know it or not.[51]

Nietzsche sees man as a potential being, a dangerous going across and a down – going by this down – going, Nietzsche means those men who are to be sacrificed for the emergence of the superman, that is, the mediocre masses.

Man is a rope fastened between animal and superman – a rope over an abyss. A dangerous going – across …he is a going across and a down – going.[52]              

It is not the mission of the new higher caste or type to lead the masses as a shepherd leads his flock. Rather, it is the mission of the masses to form the foundation on which new so–called lords of the earth can lead their own life and make possible the emergence of still higher types of man.

But before this can happen, there will come the new barbarians, as Nietzsche calls them, who will break the actual dominion of the masses and thus render possible the free development of outstanding individuals.[53]

Superman cannot come unless superior individuals have the courage to trans-value all values to break the old tables of values, especially the Christian tables, and create new values out of their super – abundant life and power. The new values will give direction and a goal to the higher man, and superman is, as it were, their personification. From this, it follows that the superman will be imbued with many qualities.[54]

Who smashes their table of value, the breaker, lawbreaker, – but he is a creator …. The creator seeks fellow creators, those who inscribe new values on new tables.[55]



5.1       EVALUATION

People have viewed Nietzsche with mixed feelings and his influence on people has been widespread. These influences have not been uniform in character. Nietzsche is a clear – slighted philosopher though he was myopic in some respects and it is on this note, having gone through the work of Nietzsche on his theory of ‘The Superman’ that we wish to present an evaluative report.

Of the revolutionary German thinker, none was more characteristic than Friedrich Nietzsche. He battled his way clear of entanglement in more enlightened and dogmatic ways of thinking and rose to the challenge of confronting the “status quo.” His criticism of the “status quo” is a sincere attempt towards a moral revolution.

Besides, Nietzsche’s chaotic excesses, he has gifts which have attracted many into his incandescent madness. His style is sharp, violent, petulant, poetic, epigrammatic, declamatory, clear, and ambiguous, through sudden and surprising changes. These qualities permeate his writings.

Again, Nietzsche’s interest in man in his moral philosophy is something that deserves our compliments. As an existentialist philosopher, he centered his moral philosophy towards making man’s condition better. He tried to help man affirm his powers, which he had lost through his belief in God. Other philosophers who can share in this rare quality are Karl Marx and Ludwig Feuerbach who touched the lives of many in a practical way.

The question, however, is how plausible his arguments were in undertaking his moral revolution. Nietzsche’s great task was started with a criticism of Christianity, which, in his view denies the Dionysian element in man in favour of the Apollonian element that is the rational element. Is this really true? If it is true, where do we classify Christian feasts like Christmas, Easter etc? It is obvious and, indeed, an indubitable fact that the Christian tradition is replete with feasts and celebrations which call for eating, drinking and making merry. Are these, in Christian tradition, not an affirmation of the Dionysian element? Does Nietzsche really mean over – doing it? No, even Nietzsche himself recognizes the function of the Apollonian element as that of restricting the overflowing of the Dionysian element. Christianity rejects this excessiveness. So it becomes clear that Nietzsche, though unknowingly, was affirming the Christian values.

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Furthermore, Nietzsche, in his theory of will – to – power, made it clear that man is to develop this will – to – power. He identified life with this will–to–power whose consequences are exploitation and aggression. This will–to–power has its greatest expression in the superman in his quest to affirm his power and in his quest to dominate his environment. This argument could lead to lawlessness because every superman will be the determiner if his own laws and will be above the laws of the community. He will create for himself, a law outside the law of the community.

Nietzsche claims that exploitation and aggression are the necessary consequences of the will – to – power. If that would be the case, what would life look like? It would in Hobbesian terms, amount to man being a wolf to man, a going – back to the “state of nature” in which life is “nasty, brutish, and short.”[56]

Again, Nietzsche’s theory of the will – to – power and superman could be the offshoot of murderous and suicidal movements like Nazism, communism etc. Expressing this view, Vincent Micelli writes, “Plagues against humanity were spawned from the misrepresentations and applications arising from Nietzsche’s philosophy of nihilism. His arbitrary doctrines of will – to – power, superman, etc. inflamed and fed to militant madness such ugly, egoistic monsters as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini who, with there millions hypnotized by these extremisms strove to devour each other in an orgy of cannibalistic fury.[57] Of these men, Hitler seems to be the most notorious.

He was “the fanatical man who rose by preaching hatred to make himself absolute master of Europe and to change the history of the world more decisively than any other 20th century figures[58]

The fact that Nietzsche never engaged in any philosophical discussion on God’s existence and other related problems of theology are vividly shown in his autobiography ‘Ecce Homo’. He writes:

God, immortality of the soul, “redemption,” beyond –without exception, concepts to which I never devoted any attention or time, not even as a child. Perhaps I have never been child – like enough for them.[59]

Thus, it is quite clear that publication of the death of God may not have been justified. It might be more accurate to say that Nietzsche’s campaign against religion and God was the result of a psychic trauma and that his denial of God hid a deep religious feeling, a feeling that has been frustrated and was seeking to vent its outrage in the proclamation of the will – to – power as the fullness of life.

According to Nietzsche, the mediocre masses are to be sacrificed for the emergence of the superman and that it is still the mission of the masses to form the foundation on which the so – called lords of the earth can lead their own life and make possible the emergence of still higher type of men. If this is the case, will the process go on ‘ad infinitum’? When will the real superman who will be beyond all transformation be established?

In his proclamation of the death of God, Nietzsche uses his madness of Gay science. We know that madmen, sometimes, would want to say one thing and instead of saying that thing, they say another. So are we to take Nietzsche’s madman serious or was he in one of his incoherent soliloquy?


Throughout the history of philosophy, attempts have been made concerning the reality in the world. Many thinkers labeled their viewpoints from their own particular background or origin.

From the ancient period, thinkers like Thales say that water is the original substance, out of which all others are formed; and he maintains that the earth rests on water. Anaximander holds that all things come from a single primal substance that is infinite, eternal, and ageless and it encompasses all the worlds. Anaximenes on his own count says that the fundamental substance is air. He continues to say that the soul is air; fire is rarefied air, when condensed –earth, and finally, stone. Pythagoras says that reality is in number. More so, Heraclitus believes fire to be the primordial element out of which everything else had arisen and Parmenides says that the only true being is ‘The One’, which is infinite and indivisible. Thus, all extirpated God. It was in the medieval era that the scholastic philosophers pushed in God to be the summit of all existence or realities. Then, in the modern era, rationalism -the belief in reasoning as the apex of existence, and empiricism -the belief in sense perception or experience as the ultimate of reality, were the course of the day. Therefore, rejecting the essence and existence of God. This gave rise into the contemporary era whereby all were brought to the brim where Nietzsche announced the death of God.

However, this concept of superman came to be because of God’s extirpation and the elevation of man in place of God to take that seat which the dead God left, to assume leadership of the universe. In this regard, man becomes the controller of the whole world, the all and all. The enthroned man gives value to reality.

In Nietzsche’s view, Christian morality is a slave morality. The morality he deemed fit to exist is the morality of the superman, which is the survival of the fittest. This gives meaning to this topic: The Concept of Superman in Nietzsche’s Moral Philosophy

The Concept Of Superman In Nietzsche’s Moral Philosophy


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