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Nietzsche, the Overhuman, and Transhumanism – Stefan Lorenz Sorgner

Did Nietzsche have something like Transhumanism in mind when he wrote about the Übermensch?


Abstract

Bostrom rejects Nietzsche as an ancestor of the transhumanist movement, as he claims that there were merely some “surface-level similarities with the Nietzschean vision” (Bostrom 2005a, 4). In contrast to Bostrom, I think that significant similarities between the posthuman and the overhuman can be found on a fundamental level. In addition, it seems to me that Nietzsche explained the relevance of the overhuman by referring to a dimension which seems to be lacking in transhumanism. In order to explain my position, I will progress as follows. First, I will compare the concept of the posthuman to that of Nietzsche’s overhuman, focusing more on their similarities than their differences. Second, I will contextualise the overhuman in Nietzsche’s general vision, so that I can point out which dimension seems to me to be lacking in transhumanist thought.”

Introduction

Nietz-wordsWhen I first became familiar with the transhumanist movement, I immediately thought that there were many fundamental similarities between transhumanism and Nietzsche’s philosophy, especially concerning the concept of the posthuman and that of Nietzsche’s overhuman. This is what I wish to show in this article. I am employing the term “overhuman instead of “overman,” because in German the term Übermensch can apply to both sexes, which the notion overhuman can, but overman cannot. I discovered, however, that Bostrom, a leading transhumanist, rejects Nietzsche as an ancestor of the transhumanist movement, as he claims that there are merely some “surface-level similarities with the Nietzschean vision” (Bostrom 2005a, 4).

In contrast to Bostrom, I think that significant similarities between the posthuman and the overhuman can be found on a fundamental level. Habermas agrees with me in that respect, as he has already referred to the similarities in these two ways of thinking. However, he seems to regard both of them as absurd. At least, he refers to transhumanists as a bunch of mad intellectuals who luckily have not managed to establish support for their elitist views from a bigger group of supporters (Habermas 2001, 43).1

In addition, it seems to me that Nietzsche explained the relevance of the overhuman by referring to a dimension which seems to be lacking in transhumanism. In order to explain my position, I will progress as follows. First, I will compare the concept of the posthuman to that of Nietzsche’s overhuman, focusing more on their similarities then on their differences. Second, I will contextualise the overhuman in Nietzsche’s general vision, so that I can point out which dimension seems to me to be lacking in transhumanist thought.
Nietzsche, the Overhuman, and Transhumanism – Journal of Evolution and Technology

Bio: Dr. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner is director and co-founder of the Beyond Humanism Network, Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) and teaches philosophy at the University of Erfurt. He studied philosophy at King’s College/University of London (BA), the University of Durham (MA by thesis; examiners: David E. Cooper, Durham ; David Owen, Southampton), the University of Giessen and the University of Jena (Dr. phil.; examiners: Wolfgang Welsch, Jena; Gianni Vattimo, Turin). In recent years, he taught at the Universities of Jena (Germany), Erfurt (Germany), Klagenfurt (Austria) and Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany). His main fields of research are Nietzsche, the philosophy of music, bioethics and meta-, post- and transhumanism.

 

sorgner

Also see David Pearce’s critique on whether Nietzsche was a transhumanist.
Various articles on transhumanism and Nietzsche at IEET.

Science, Technology & the Future

Meta: Overman / Übermensch, Will to Power & Transhumanism, The Last Man
2014 08 02 01 16 09

Was Friedrich Nietzsche a Transhumanist? A critique by David Pearce

Bioconservatives often quote a line from Nietzsche: “That which does not crush me makes me stronger.” But alas pain often does crush people: physically, emotionally, morally. Chronic, uncontrolled pain tends to make the victim tired, depressed and weaker. True, some people are relatively resistant to physical distress. For example, high testosterone function may make someone “tougher”, more “manly”, more resilient, and more able to deal with physically painful stimuli. But such strength doesn’t necessarily make the subject more empathetic or a better person. Indeed, if I may quote W. Somerset Maugham, “It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.”

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.Friedrich Nietzsche - The Will to Power, p 481
You want, if possible – and there is no more insane “if possible” – to abolish suffering. And we? It really seems that we would rather have it higher and worse than ever. Well-being as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible – that makes his destruction desirable. The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil, p 225
“I do not point to the evil and pain of existence with the finger of reproach, but rather entertain the hope that life may one day become more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been.Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Of course, suffering doesn’t always enfeeble and embitter. By analogy, someone who is emotionally depressed may feel that despair is the only appropriate response to the horrors of the world. But the solution to the horrors of the world is not for us all to become depressed. Rather it’s to tackle the biology of depression. Likewise, the solution to the horrors of physical pain is not to flagellate ourselves in sympathy with the afflicted. Instead it’s to tackle the biological roots of suffering.

See also the article at IEET

i09 article on eliminating suffering

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