Nietzsche’s Concept of Superman Explained with Monty Python-Style Animation

Friedrich Niet­zsche first intro­duced the con­cept of the Über­men­sch — often trans­lat­ed in Eng­lish as “The Super­man” — in his influ­en­tial philo­soph­i­cal work, Thus Spake Zarathus­tra (1883), writ­ing:

I TEACH YOU THE SUPERMAN. Man is some­thing that is to be sur­passed. What have ye done to sur­pass man?

All beings hith­er­to have cre­at­ed some­thing beyond them­selves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than sur­pass man?…

Lo, I teach you the Super­man!

The Super­man is the mean­ing of the earth. Let your will say: The Super­man SHALL BE the mean­ing of the earth!

I con­jure you, my brethren, REMAIN TRUE TO THE EARTH, and believe not those who speak unto you of super­earth­ly hopes! Poi­son­ers are they, whether they know it or not.

Despis­ers of life are they, decay­ing ones and poi­soned ones them­selves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!

Once blas­phe­my against God was the great­est blas­phe­my; but God died, and there­with also those blas­phe­mers. To blas­pheme the earth is now the dread­fulest sin, and to rate the heart of the unknow­able high­er than the mean­ing of the earth!

As Eva Cybul­s­ka observes in an arti­cle on Phi­los­o­phy Now, Niet­zsche nev­er quite spelled out what he meant by Übermensch/The Super­man, leav­ing it to lat­er inter­preters to fill in the blanks. She notes: “RJ Holling­dale (in Niet­zsche) saw in Über­men­sch a man who had organ­ised the chaos with­in; [Wal­ter] Kauf­mann (Niet­zsche) a sym­bol of a man that cre­at­ed his own val­ues, and Carl Jung (Zarathustra’s Sem­i­nars) a new ‘God’. For Hei­deg­ger it rep­re­sent­ed human­i­ty that sur­passed itself, whilst for the Nazis it became an emblem of the mas­ter race.”

You can now add to the list of inter­pre­ta­tions anoth­er by Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life. In a new­ly-released ani­mat­ed video, de Bot­ton treats The Super­man as the incar­na­tion of human per­fec­tion. Embody­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics pos­sessed by Goethe, Mon­taigne, Voltaire and Napoleon (peo­ple who came clos­est to achiev­ing per­fec­tion in Niet­zsche’s mind), the Übermenschen/Supermen will live by their own val­ues (Pagan in nature); delight in their supe­ri­or­i­ty and take pity on the weak; per­haps hurt peo­ple in the name of achiev­ing great things; accept that suf­fer­ing can be a nec­es­sary evil; use cul­ture to raise the men­tal­i­ty of the soci­ety around them; and beyond.

Whether you see The Super­man dif­fer­ent­ly is anoth­er ques­tion. You can down­load Thus Spake Zarathus­tra from our Dig­i­tal Niet­zsche col­lec­tion and come up with your own take.

And, tan­gen­tial­ly, you can watch The Orig­i­nal 1940s Super­man Car­toon Free Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 100 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es and Start Liv­ing the Exam­ined Life

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

135 Free Phi­los­o­phy eBooks

The Dig­i­tal Niet­zsche: Down­load Nietzsche’s Major Works as Free eBooks

Hear Clas­si­cal Music Com­posed by Friedrich Niet­zsche: 43 Orig­i­nal Tracks

How Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Used Hegel, Kant & Niet­zsche to Over­turn Seg­re­ga­tion in Amer­i­ca

by | Permalink | Comments (8) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (8)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • felonius screwtape says:

    this video is com­plete tripe. it is not at all what niet­zsche means by the uber­men­sch. and he espe­cial­ly does not intend it so that you can feel good about life. adb is ped­dling non­sense that pre­tends to be phi­los­o­phy, and because it’s gussied up with pret­ty ani­ma­tion and nar­rat­ed by his sooth­ing pleas­ant voice, every­one thinks it’s fab… except of course for any­one who knows any­thing about niet­zsche. or phi­los­o­phy.

  • Nadia says:

    There’s no link appar­ent­ly, I could­n’t make it work. No but­ton on the video.

  • PHOTUE says:

    Super­man chính là sự vượt qua nhân loại như hiện trạng của nó trong ý nghĩa hoàn thiện. Diễn ngôn của Nít trong tinh thần đở đẻ của Xcrat có thể gây ra những ngộ nhận về siêu nhân, như một tình trạng phi nhân, vô đạo. Một số hiểu nhầm, một số lợi dụng ý tưởng của triết gia cho các tuyên dương sức mạnh, bạo lực. Người đọc không thể bỏ qua ba cuộc hóa thân của siêu nhân để nhìn ra quan điểm của Nít: cuộc hóa thân cuối cùng trở về trẻ thơ. Trong điểm này,Nít gặp lại Lão tử…

  • Thomas Cunningham says:

    Niet­zsche only men­tions the “uber­men­sch” in a few pas­sages in one work, “Thus Spoke Zarathus­tra”. That book is an anom­aly in the series of “apho­ris­tic books” that began with “Human, All Too Human”, which present most of his ideas. He did not build on the con­cept in the books that fol­lowed “Zarathus­tra”, or even men­tion it again. This is anoth­er exam­ple of an idea being tak­en (and tak­en out of con­text) by read­ers who were moti­vat­ed by the ir own ideas and con­cerns, not by what the writer actu­al­ly said.

  • Derek C. F. Pegritz says:

    It’s OVER­man, not “super”-man, damn it! The over­man is he (or she) who OVERCOMES the all-zu-men­schliche and becomes ful­ly him/herself. In that sense, Niet­zsche was the world’s first tran­shu­man­ist, though, for him, tran­shu­man­ism was not biological/technological aug­men­ta­tion but *psy­cho­log­i­cal* aug­men­ta­tion: the shap­ing of the psy­che accord­ing to the will such that the indi­vid­ual mind is an *instru­ment* of cul­ture rather than a *result* of cul­ture. The over­man guides and uplifts so-called “com­mon” human­i­ty rather than shoe­horns his intel­lect and per­son­al­i­ty into the mold cre­at­ed by “nor­mal­i­ty.”

  • Regular person says:

    This is inter­est­ing. Niet­zsche says here that “All beings hith­er­to have cre­at­ed some­thing beyond them­selves” — a ref­er­ence to his­to­ry.

    His­to­ry, he says, was aim­ing at the cre­ation of some­thing beyond them­selves, at a “Super­man” which would sur­pass­es that poor crea­ture called “man.”

    We must not go against the tide of his­to­ry but must push on to bring this Super­man into exis­tence.

    If you thought his­to­ry had any­thing to do with man’s rela­tion to a “super­earth­ly” God you must dri­ve this blas­phe­my from your mind.

    “Let your will say: The Super­man SHALL BE the mean­ing of the earth!”

    Those who refer to the “super­earth­ly” God are the “decay­ing” crea­tures who are “weari­some” to the new earth­ly peo­ple, and are being left behind by the evo­lu­tion­ary (implied) his­tor­i­cal move­ment.

    The new reli­gious blas­phe­my is to “rate the heart of the unknow­able high­er than the mean­ing of the earth”, which we were already told means the new Super­man him­self.

    This is clear­ly a very reli­gious ide­ol­o­gy of the God reject­ing man who regards him­self as the old God’s replace­ment.

  • Regular person says:

    The new man is the cre­ation of human his­to­ry, that is to say, of man him­self. There­fore, since man has become his own god, ref­er­ences to a super­earth­ly Cre­ator has become a kind of “blas­phe­my”. The new man will allow those “decay­ing” and “weari­some” pro­pa­gan­dists of the old “super­earth­ly” Cre­ator to be ground to dust by the polit­i­cal move­ments in which the new god of “his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion” is being made man­i­fest, when they can be swept up into the “dust­bin of his­to­ry.”

    His­to­ry, too, will be in that dust­bin, lest any­one try again to make ref­er­ences in it to that God it has become blas­phe­mous to even men­tion.

    The new god, the true ful­fill­ment of human his­to­ry, sim­ply can­not tol­er­ate it! Since his­to­ry has result­ed in him­self, it’s goal has been achieved. The use of his­to­ry, there­fore, oth­er than to jus­ti­fy him­self, has become obso­lete, too.

  • Regular person says:

    The new man will be the instru­ment of cul­ture rather than the prod­uct of cul­ture. He is the cre­ator of new val­ues. How­ev­er, what Niet­zsche does­n’t tell you, is that he ful­ly expects the herd to become prod­ucts of the new cul­ture, and not to buck against the sys­tem of the new gods.

    “Meet the new boss … Same as the old boss … ”

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.