So, I have been looking into Nietzsche.

To be honest, I have thought a lot about Nietzsche for the past 2 years, and I am unsure of what to make of the nature of this need to become the Overman. My understanding is that Nietzsche was super critical of religions because they forced us to live lives predicated on guilt that need not exist. As a result of this guilt, he said that the religious were prone to weakness, right?

Instead, he believes that we should have the courage to live lives based on our own ideas, to become like the child again who can laugh at the world, begin anew, and enjoy life on our own terms. However, a potential conflict I am seeing is this idea that to live in service to the creation of the Overman or to become the Overman itself is something we are compelled to do, as the Overman is the highest form, the next step in our evolution, the destination of this bridge we have made with our own experiences and history.

Isn't this the same "thou shalt" that he is telling us to avoid? And isn't the Overman's being the next step in our evolution along with our subsequent obligation to see to its creation/existence also creating that same kind of guilt I mentioned before? As I am typing this, I am beginning to think that these two may not conflict because becoming the child is like becoming the Overman, or is it?

I am not really sure what to make of this and it's something I have been thinking about. I think I might have a misunderstanding of what exactly the Overman means and is, but regardless I think I'll just post this and see what you guys think. Thanks for reading this.

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    Do you realize that it is all just self-aggrandizing nonsense? There is nothing worth taking away from it. Just live your own life according to what you (not others) think is right.
    – user21820
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 17:24
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    Of course literally it seems nonsense and illogical to become both Overman and "thou shalt", however, there could be no contradiction if you understand Overman and "thou shalt" in a right way with different context. For example, achieving the former conditioned on one's own complete understanding of the concept, while for the latter it's unconditional as hinted by Ayn Rand's famous maxim "No one has the right to obey"... Commented May 11, 2022 at 19:55

5 Answers 5


It's all very well accepting Nietzsche's conclusion that your own best rationalisations are the best truth you are going to reach, à la overman. However, what is not stressed by Nietzsche is that these truths are nevertheless fabrications.

Schopenhauer advocated the benefits of taking one's mind off the turmoil of these fabrications by getting lost in art appreciation. Buddha went straight to the heart of the matter:

In the seen there will just the seen, in the heard just the heard, ... When in the seen there will be to you just the seen, ... just the heard, ... then Bahiya, you will have no ‘thereby’ ... no ‘here’ or ‘beyond’ or ‘midway between’. That is just the end of suffering." Udana, 8, SA, 312, 90a, SN, IV, 73 (35, 95).

Kant and Heidegger seem to soft-pedal on this wisdom, perhaps for religious-sensitive reasons, but Kant makes the effort to point out that phenomena are not the 'things-in-themselves', i.e. the phenomena are fabrications, mind-made. Heidegger is at pains to move on from beings and focus on Being. He might have covered the benefits of this more in Mindfulness, (which I have yet to read). The direction of travel is quite antithetical to Nietzsche's assertiveness.


I can't comment yet, but I think one should remember that he didn't want higher men to worship him (see Zarathustra, where the lion roars at the mouth of Z's cave, and scares Z's disciples); also his quote about not wishing to be made holy (I think that was Ecce Homo).

Nietzsche would venture that the "thou shalt" of the Overman is slightly overcame when has been the child, and so therefore has the prerequisite tool set of "the child" (here, I'm assuming a typological philosophy). When one has been the child, and can actively call upon it... If the childlike person hasn't become an Ubermensch, by sole and primary virtue of the fact of their childishness, then what the childlike quality allows is for the Overman to not get "addicted" to any value system; a child's value system is almost formless; amorphous; whimsical: a child's values can easily be revalued, and so do not get trapped by any given "thou shalt" (e.g. as a "categorical imperative", to give it another word.)

  • Prophets are always scaring their disciples. LOL. Nietzsche was setting himself as a new prophet, not prophesising one. He could see which way the wind was blowing, as many others did, like Coleridge and Darwin. But neither dared to think they could or would want to create a new religion. Like L Ron Hubbard said of scientology infamy, religion is only racket in town. By this, he misjudged what true religion is about, and only showed that a religion indigeneous to the USA would partake of its two greatest vices - money and the future. Commented May 9, 2022 at 4:16

“The Übermensch shall be the meaning of the earth! I entreat you my brethren, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of supra-terrestrial hopes! …

Behold, I teach you the Übermensch: he is this lightning, he is this madness! …

Behold, I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud: but this lightning is called Übermensch.”

-Thus Spoke Zarathustra, prologue

Nietzsche's critique of Christianity is that it is a slave morality, a way for the weak to control the strong, and which turns attention away from our present lives to a speculative other world.

I argue here that we can understand Nietzsche through Monster Theory What did Nietzsche mean by monsters and the abyss? where I also quote

"In viewing the monstrous body as a metaphor for the cultural body, the contributors to Monster Theory consider beasts, demons, freaks, and fiends as symbolic expressions of cultural unease that pervade a society and shape its collective behavior. Through a historical sampling of monsters, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore difference and prohibition." -from the anthology Monster Theory: Reading Culture

We can see this dynamic in Nietzsche's metamorphesees, where the lion instar is needed to fight the dragon Thou Shalt. Nietzsche was profoundly influenced by both Graeco-Latin mythology, and the revival of enthusiasm for pre-Christian Germanic stories that saw the Brothers Grimm compile their work, and that inspired Wagner.

Nietzsche understood what I think Durkheim made clearer in his work on the sociology of religion: above all religious practice is about social cohesion. Discussed here and related to Nietzsche on the dangers of nihilism and social decohesion What are the origins and evolution of mythology/religions? This article also gives nice context Whence comes nihilism, the uncanniest of all guests?

In the pre-literate world before the Axial Age (ie arrival of Confucius, Socrates, Buddha), cohesion was about spectacle, of sacrifices and feasts, or games like bull-leaping or the Ancient Olympic Games. In the era of mythic stories (which required cults bards or monks dedicated to memorising and chanting them), from Gilgamesh to the end of Nevuah (the Jewish era of prophecy after which there will be no more prophets), these figures could embody cultural forces and transcend the mortal to attain 'kleos aphthiton', imperishable renown (discussed here What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view?). For Nietzsche the end of that era, was the end of the creation of values, of the binding together of societies with worldly dramas celebrating capability. Religions of books end the drama of value creation, that's all been written down and we can cross-check so nothing changes. We can only interpret, not create values. He consciously returned to the idea of a living prophet, and of heroes fighting monsters.

The 'Death of God' is really just the death of one example metanarrative, which the postmoderns also see as having collapsed as an entire strategy. Nietzsche is quite reasonably claimed as a foundational postmodernist. I argue here that the postmodern critique shifts the focus from talking about what art is, to what it does for people, by changing cultural discourse Does postmodernism in art criticism collapse into relativism? What's its merit? This is Nietzsche's perspective too, that art, dance, laughter, music, can grip us, bind us, shake us out of our malaise and our nihilisms.

Nietzsche's metamorphesees are all necessary steps on the road to creating values, the self-sufficiency of the camel, taking up conflicts with old values of the lion, but the new values arrive from the child:

"Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play." -in Beyond Good & Evil

Nietzsche sees a different future for humanity than others of his time. Through valueing of capacities, we can become 'overgoers', those driven to cross the tightrope over an abyss, from the ape to the angel.

“Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Übermensch – a rope over an abyss.” -Thus Spoke Zarathustra, prologue

That requires someone who can be their own source of values, imbue meaning to their own lives independently of the judgements and concerns of others. Nietzsche published only as few as 60 copies of each of his books, in his own lifetime, but he felt what he had to say was worth dedicating his life to. And I would say history has proved him correct. More awkwardly, one of those Nietzsche celebrated most was Napoleon, but there is historical context to that about the pendulum of French politics seen from Germany, and judgememt before his story was fully played out, I think. Goethe's Faust exemplifies an ubermensch, who gains nearly limitless and worldly power in allegory to those perfecting science and engineering, and yet through his heroes journey is able even still to redeem his soul he bargained against being untemptable by love (and Goethe as scientist, writer, politician, was certainly using his experiences to engage with cultural discourse). Though I can't know if Nietzsche would agree, I also think of VanGogh, who never sold a painting in his lifetime, but who's body of work is now the most valuable of any artist; he pursued his vision against all opposition, and society's failure to value it at the time, to become one of the most influential figures in Western art.

In a finite life not looking beyond itself, we can see how to come to understand Eternal Recurrance. It means truly living without regret, seeking to live authentically so as to be truly reconciled with the acts of our lives being all we have of ourselves. That requires cultivating capacities, like the camel and lion. But also laying down those skills, going beyond attachment to them, to create. This great article links that to the Apollonian and Dionysian, and amor fati, embracing fate, as a way of making a ladder out of the bones of old ideas that can take us beyond them: Nāgārjuna, Nietzsche, and Rorty’s Strange Looping Trick. I think of how each generation throws up some who say, this isn't enough, or that will not accept what they are told they must, and seek a future to flourish in, demand that.

Nietzsche never gave a clear unambiguous description of the overman. But putting all this together, I take him to be talking about someone that can honestly recognise what stories bind our culture together, and enter dialogue and conflict with them to create the values of future people, who turn towards rather than away from life.


Nietzsche never gave a clear unambiguous description of the overman.

I have come to view the modern translation of “overman” as the “ascension” or “ascendancy of Man” (in the humanity sense, obviously.)

The ascension may be thought of as acquiring “the full self”, and ascendancy as to “go beyond self.”


“Man is a rope, stretched from the animal to the ascendancy of Man, …” and “behold! The lightning is the ascendancy of Man!”

By this “translation“, in a modern context we may consider that the overman is one uninhibited by [culturally imposed] delusion, as well as pursuant of “the full self”, to go “beyond self.”

To answer your main question (is the looming taunt of the overman a guilt riddled crux of our humanity?) Absolutely not! Guilt and despair are obstructions in the mind. This is the baggage that one sheds, the work that must be done.

Nietzsche is calling forth an ancient struggle within us all to undeceive the self, uninhibit ourselves, to strive for clarity and fullness of self.

This is a private, personal journey which those inclined undertake, rather than a one size fits all mass produced dogma.

Undeceive the self!

Be the full self!

Go beyond the self!

Exalt, the lightning (clarity of illuminate thought) is the ascendancy of humanity!


First, not all religions operate by guilt. Buddhism for example.

As for the 'overman' or ubermensch - well, secondly, what might look to be a virtue of Nietzsche, his pride, is most likely when inverted, it's vice: arrogance. Nietzsche was a classical scholar, so he would well have understood was meant by hubris: challengimg the gods, God or the natural order - take your pick from whatever philosophy you truly believe in.

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