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Nietzsche: Will To Power, Superman and Eternal Recurrence

Updated on May 23, 2015
Friedrich Nietzsche (~1869)
Friedrich Nietzsche (~1869) | Source

The Ethics of Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was an influential german philosopher who turned the questions of ethics and moral upside down. He used terms such as "will to power" and "superman", but before we introduce these terms, lets start by introducing Nietzsches way of thinking in general: Nietzsche answered the questions: What is a good action? Why is it good to perform good actions? in an unconventional way by claiming that “the good” is not even good. Language deceives us, because it has a built-in answer to the question of “the good”. Therefore Nietzsche does not accept that “the good” is good – his reasoning is that history and especially Christianity has interfered with and created norms about “the good” – with devastating results.

In the old stories about Greek heroes, the good human was someone who was strong and honorable. It was for instance desirable for anyone to strive towards power and control, to be rich and perhaps generous, to have good overview, to be implacable and strong.
This was the natural strive for humans, and actually still is, according to Nietzsche.

Revaluation of values

The original morality has, according to Nietzsche, been turned upside down during history. What used to be “good” has become revaluated in such a way that it can now be called bad. Nietzsche reveals how oppressed slaves, who had neither strength, honor nor courage, could not come up with any other idea than uniting themselves against their lords, and with Christianity in hand claim, that it was evil to assert ones power, to collect more wealth than others etc. Because the slaves were big in numbers, their morals became widely accepted as a general understanding of good and evil. Strength, honor, and self-sufficiency turned into something negative and evil due to the Christians, while their own weakness and failure were given positive names such as humility, mercy and charity. Nietzsche has nothing but contempt for these people.

The superman (übermensch)

For Nietzsche, one of the worst things imaginable is the submission to the values of others; only people with the morality of slaves do so. The superman (super-human) does however make his very own values. He creates his own values, that are worth following – because “the good”, again according to Nietzsche, is only good when the superman himself believes so. He continues to say that nobody can possess the final and objective truth which would apply to everyone. Truth can only be interpreted by the individual. The superman is a man of ideals, that perhaps sometime will come, Nietzsche says. His contemporaries were at the same time influenced and characterized by lack of values, decadence, people who did not even care to provide such values for themselves. Therefore Nietzsche did not expect a great invasion of supermen anytime soon. But he did see it as worthy ideal or goal to strive for.


The will to power

When the human perceives its surroundings, it is not because of a subject who has adapted his senses and thinking in such a way that it allows him to perceive the world as it truly is. Quite the opposite is true according to Nietzsche with inspiration from Kant: The object is changed by the subject; the world changes within the human conception of it. Therefore it is not possible to speak of an objective world or an objective truth about anything; there is no such thing as objectivity for humans: Everything is interpretation. (Note: This is in itself an interpretation, however Nietzsche claimed that his was better) This way of understanding the world by falsifying it so that it fits into the mind of a human is something that Nietzsche calls “will to power” (German: der Wille zur Macht). As a starting point we have a will to survive but also a will to maintain control of our lives, our world - a will to power. Nietzsche puts himself against the historical view, which stems from Jewish-Christian tradition – that views history as something progressive with a beginning and an end. Nietzsche imagines time as something without a beginning or an end, something that repeats infinitely. His name for this idea is the “eternal recurrence”, and it acts as a test of whether one lives by the moral of a slave or the moral of a lord: One can ask himself if one really wishes the life that is currently at hand, with the happiness, sadness, successes or failures, to repeat in an endless cycle. If the answer is “yes”, then that is the life of the super-human, who has always control of himself and the world.

Nietzsche claims that he only sets descriptive ethics for the people. He only describes time and the humans in the way they really are – in most cases passive nihilists affected with the moral of a slave who lives in the worst time of decadence. The thought and the moral is ruined, because language already contains an assessment of good and evil. Especially Christiany is guilty of this, according to Nietzsche. He hopes, that a time will come where new values will rise beyond good and evil. The question of “the good” is answered by Nietzsche by saying that you must look for something which is good according to your own beliefs. In addition to this one must unfold the will to power and become a superman – this is in reality part of the human nature.


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    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Interesting piece. My brother used to have a T-shirt that read:

      Nietzsche--God is dead.

      God--Nietzche is dead.


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