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Übermensch ( Latin homo superior ) is a term from philosophical thinking . A superman is an “ideal person” who has outgrown or strives to exceed the ordinary life of a person who is considered normal and mostly negative. By far the best-known Übermensch concept comes from Friedrich Nietzsche .

Concept history

The earliest coining of the word superman is known as "hyperanthropos" and was used as early as the 1st century BC. Used by Dionysius of Halicarnassus . Lukian used the term in the 2nd century AD, albeit to mock the great lords of the world, who would be trimmed to their natural size in the realm of the dead. The superman first appeared in German in a letter from Hermann Rab, Provincial of the Saxon Dominican Province , in 1527, where he is something of a swear word for " Lutherans ".

The superman plays a central role in Dante's Divine Comedy . The Hapax legomenon transumanar (neologism Dante, from lat . Trans , "pass", "About ..." And umano , "human" as a verb here) but the "superhuman" () is particularly in Paradiso (mentioned in Canto I, 70) to a main motif. Analogies can be found in the fateful deification of glaucoma . In Ovid's Metamorphoses (7, 219; 13, 898-14, 74), Glaucus was a mortal fisherman who accidentally discovered a magical herb that, when consumed, made him immortal. However, his pectoral and caudal fins grew and his arms and legs receded. This forced him to live in the sea forever. In Dante's work, the superhuman means nothing less than “the status of man, leaving his conditions of existence behind, on the way to the divine.” In concrete terms, however, this means that normal people (in contrast to the wanderer Dante) do not live in this superhuman Will experience this world, but only in the hereafter.

"Busy spirit, how close I feel to you!" ( Faust , illustration by Goethe )

Dante was certainly inspired by the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (especially the expressions super hominem , ultra hominum modum , superhumanus , which are often used in Latin translations ), but Thomas Aquinas , Augustine and even Matthew could have given linguistic impulses. In Lukian still pagan, the term “superman” was first used in the Christian sense by the prophet Montanus (d. 178). Ernst Benz already explained in detail that the term “superman” was well developed in the theology of the Church, centuries before Nietzsche's anti-Christian pathos was spread.

From superman , including the theologian said, each with a different semantic content, Heinrich Müller in the work clergy Erquickungsstunden (1664), Johann Gottfried von Herder and the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo . Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used the expression, again in a mocking sense, in his tragedy Faust I : “What a wretched horror overthrows you!” Says the earth spirit . Faust is actually just "a worm that has been hunched over in fear." In the poem dedication Goethe wrote:

As soon as you are master of the first sake of children,
So do you believe yourself to be superhuman enough
Failure to do the man's duty!
How much are you different from others?
Know yourself, live in peace with the world!

In the novel Guilt and Atonement (1866) by the Russian writer Dostoyevsky , the idea of ​​the main character Raskolnikov is the forerunner of Nietzsche's idea of ​​a “superman” called to rule. Raskolnikov, who dreams of becoming a Napoleon, has deluded himself. He breaks in the attempt to take over the function of God as a superman, to decide between good and bad. “The real master” of crime is Napoleon , he acknowledges: “I'm just as much a louse as the other.” Dostoevsky thus condemned the feeling of power and the individualistic principle.

Theodor Fontane takes a critical look at the term in his novel Der Stechlin (1897), where old Stechlin says: “Now, instead of real people, the so-called superman has been established; but actually there are only subhumans , and sometimes it is precisely those who you definitely want to turn into an 'over'. I have read from such people and also seen some. It is lucky that, in my perception, they are always decidedly comical characters, otherwise one could despair. "

Friedrich Nietzsche

From Friedrich Nietzsche's point of view , it is the task of the human being to produce a type that is more highly developed than himself. Nietzsche calls this superior human being the superman , a term which Nietzsche uses as both a spiritual and a biological meaning. Nietzsche used the term superman for the first time in his youth writings in reference to Lord Byron , who is characterized as a "spirit ruling superman". The concept of the superman first appears in a systematic way in his work Also Spoke Zarathustra (1883–85), even if his concept of the superman was already partially developed in his work Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1878). Nietzsche adopted the term from the French materialist philosopher Helvétius , who wrote about the homme supérieur .

Immoralism and Biologism

According to Nietzsche, the goal of mankind does not lie in the future or in the general well-being of the currently existing species, but in the "highest specimens" that appear again and again, namely the supermen. From this philosophical position results his rejection of the “idealistic” interpretation of the superman and the positive assessment of immoralistic and great-striving power men such as Alcibiades , Julius Caesar , Cesare Borgia or Napoléon Bonaparte . So he wrote in Ecce homo (1888):

"The word" superman "to designate a type of highest well-being, in contrast to" modern "people, to" good "people, to Christians and other nihilists - a word that in the mouth of Zarathustra, the destroyer of morality, a very thoughtful one Word becomes - has been understood almost everywhere with full innocence in the sense of those values ​​whose contrast has been brought to appearance in the figure of Zarathustra: that is to say as an "idealistic" type of a higher kind of human being, half "saint", half "genius" ... Andre's learned horned cattle suspected me of Darwinism on his part; even the "hero cult" of that great counterfeiter against his will, Carlyles , which I so viciously rejected , has been recognized in it. If I whispered in my ear that they should look for a Cesare Borgia rather than a Parsifal, they couldn't believe their ears. "

In addition to idealism , Nietzsche also rejects the connection with Darwinism . However, as, for example, Rüdiger Safranski argues, Nietzsche's writings contain Darwinian-biological approaches, often combined with thoughts on eugenics . Already in Zarathustra Nietzsche compared the development from ape to human with the development from human to superman. In a notebook from 1884 Nietzsche wrote that one should shape the “future man” by breeding and by “destroying millions of failures”. In the Genealogy of Morals (1887) there is the idea that humanity as a mass could be sacrificed for the prosperity of a single stronger species of human being. The aim is to breed a ruling caste that is called to rule over Europe. Finally, in Ecce homo , he speaks of the “party of life”, which takes the cultivation of man and the destruction of everything “degenerate” and “parasitic” into its own hands. Safranski concludes:

“Nietzsche's image of the superman is ambivalent, and it hides an existential drama. The superman represents a higher biological type; he could be the product of purposeful breeding; But it is also an ideal for everyone who wants to gain power over himself and cultivate and develop his virtues, who is creative and knows how to play on the whole range of human thinking, fantasy and imagination. The Übermensch realizes the full picture of what is humanly possible, and that is why Nietzsche's Übermensch is also an answer to God's death. "

Eternal return, will to power and nihilism

For the time being, Nietzsche connects the idea of ​​the will to power with his idea of ​​the eternal return . The idea of ​​the Eternal Coming says that all events in the universe will repeat themselves forever, since there is an infinitely long time, but only a finite number of possible states of the world. With this all possible states have already occurred and the present state represents a repetition. Everything that a person experiences has been experienced infinitely often by him and will be lived through infinitely often again. Thinking this thought is the hardest thing for Nietzsche . Only those who are able to endure it, i.e. That is, to integrate it into the interpretation of one's own life, which proves itself to be superhuman and thus overcomes the nihilism of the Eternal Second Coming. In an act of total incorporation , the superman identifies with the Eternal Coming.

In addition, the superman also has an excess of life force and will to power, which enables him to be particularly self-controlled and self-development. He thus represents a radical affirmation of life as an alternative to nihilism. The superman is therefore considered to be the conqueror of nihilism. He is the creator of new (more productive) values, which he draws from himself and which, instead of the transcendent values ​​previously destroyed or negated by nihilism ( God , religion , eternal and indubitable moral and epistemological dogmas ), now have an immanent, life-oriented one and find useful correspondence in life.

From this perspective, the superman would not be a new species following what Nietzsche called the “last man”, but rather emerges from the individual who has overcome himself.

Metaphysics criticism and the concept of the superman

It remains to be added that the more recent philosophical Nietzsche interpretation goes beyond idealistic, biologistic or existential tendencies and places the concept of the superman in the context of Nietzsche's critique of knowledge and metaphysics . Accordingly, Nietzsche's whole philosophy is to be understood from the point of view of his fundamental criticism of the “general”. In contrast, he wanted to assert the “individual” that tends to be excluded in our predominantly Platonic culture of thought, in philosophy, the sciences and in ethics; this was already the basis of Nietzsche's moral criticism, because in his view the generalizing ethics represents actions, behavior and motives as "the same", which in truth are not the same, ie. In other words, it violently suppresses what - according to Nietzsche - is the only real thing, namely the individual. Nietzsche thus contrasts historical empiricism with individualism, albeit radically exaggerated.

Analogously, the concept of the superman can be understood as the design of a conceptual world in which human individuals no longer have to be understood under general and equalizing terms such as “man”. Nietzsche's criticism is therefore to subsume individuals under a schematic term such as “man”, making them “equal” in an unjustified and violent way, although as individuals they are actually not to be brought to a common denominator, but are completely different from one another. From this admittedly very selective point of view it can also be understood why Nietzsche does not provide a hard “definition” of the superhuman anywhere, since the term only points to a goal of thinking that should not consist in a new “equality” of individuals to be defined under a certain definition.

National Socialism - Übermensch and "Untermensch"

The biological and immoralistic side of Nietzsche's conception of the superman gave National Socialism the opportunity to equate its teaching with the “ master human ideology ” in the sense of the National Socialist model of society. Nietzsche's rejection of nationalism was ignored by the National Socialists. A major factor in this interpretation was especially Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche , which under the influence of her husband Bernhard Förster , a radical anti-Semites , unlike Nietzsche himself in a close relationship with national- ethnic stood circles. However, the counter-term sub-human used by the National Socialists is nowhere to be found in Nietzsche's works. As a contrast to the superman, Zarathustra in Also Spoke Zarathustra describes the Last Man as tired of life, uninterested and lethargic.


The American writer Jack London wrote his novels The Sea Wolf and Martin Eden with the intention of criticizing the superman ideal and Nietzsche's individualistic philosophy.

The word "Übermensch" ( superman in English ) inspired the Americans Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create their famous comic book character of the same name , which, however, has nothing to do with Nietzsche's philosophical concept: The Superman of the comics is a human-looking alien who possesses superhuman physical strength and fantastic abilities, but vehemently defends traditional moral values, especially the protection of the weak from villains and catastrophes. So it is just not beyond good and bad in the sense of nihilism . In January 1933, a short story published by Siegel and Shuster entitled The Reign of the Superman ( dt. The reign of the Superman ) in the fanzine The Advance Guard of Future Civilization: science fiction . In this original version, Superman is not a superhero , but a bald villain , and thus resembles Lex Luthor in appearance and ambitions more , the antagonist of the later comic hero Superman: He plans to use his superhuman mental abilities to gain control over humanity.

The saying "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" (after Götzen-Twilight , Proverbs 8, KSA 6, 60) is the motto of John Milius ' film Conan the Barbarian (Eng. Conan the Barbarian , USA 1981).

Fantasy and science fiction are always about supermen, understood as human beings with superhuman physical and mental abilities. An early example can be found in the novel Slan by AE von Vogt . In American comic literature in particular, in contrast to Nietzsche, a moral narrative motif prevails, according to which the great power of such beings also entails great responsibility for other people. A corresponding saying was popularized by comic book writer Stan Lee . Within the history of art words are introduced frequently to these beings distinguish themselves from ordinary people about metahuman or Metawesen (often short Meta ). Reasons for the appearance of people with special abilities are sometimes extraterrestrial origin (e.g. Superman ), medical experiments (e.g. the Green Goblin ), accidents (e.g. The Flash ), exposure to gods (e.g. the Green Goblin ) . B. Wonder Woman ), breeding (e.g. the Kwisatz Haderach from the Dune novels) or mutation (e.g. the X-Men ; as Homo Sapiens Superior , they form a separate species of the genus Homo ).

Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer used the concept of the superman in his discussion of cultural philosophy in the 1920s to take a critical turn against human hubris, especially when it comes to the use of large-scale technologies:

“Power over the forces of nature is an achievement of the culture that has come to education. The cultured person who has acquired it can use it. But that the neo-primitive of culture rejects the spiritual and maintains the material created by the spiritual and thus in a primitive mentality, as if this understood itself, wants to dispose of the superhuman power acquired by civilized people, is something monstrous. […] It's like trying to entrust the steering of an ocean liner to someone who steers a dugout canoe, someone who steers his dugout canoe equipped with a small sail. "

In his Nobel Prize speech in 1954 he used the term again in the same way:

“The superman, however, suffers from a fatal spiritual imperfection. He does not bring up the superhuman reasonableness that should correspond to possessing superhuman power. [...] What should actually come to us and should have come long before that is that we, as superhumans, have become unhuman. "

The spiritual superman at Sri Aurobindo

In the evolutionary philosophy of Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) the human being is a transitional being, in which development will not stop. We find a comparable idea today in the “pop-academic discourse”, which has been talking about an “Anthropocene” for several years. However, Sri Aurobindo considers it a big mistake to think about human beings in a linear way with regard to future development, i.e. H. as a continuing mental being with increased abilities, or even as a dominant master human.

Rather, through a change in consciousness, people should outgrow themselves and their mental thinking and, through several intermediate stages, achieve a "supramental" consciousness of truth, which they also call "gnosis". This "ascent" is supplemented by a mental development, i. H. an intense connection to the heart level, which ensures that the new being is connected to values ​​of love, harmony, beauty and truth. Sri Aurobindo believes that evolution will inevitably advance towards this holistic consciousness in a long-term process, whereby the human being has the opportunity to accelerate individual and collective development through integral yoga .

Sri Aurobindo was well acquainted with Nietzsche's writings and appreciated the German philosopher's courageous approach to thinking beyond people. He certifies that he had some brilliant intuitions, but clearly distances himself from all thoughts that lead in the direction of asura , master man. His Superman is supposed to be a being of love who - free of ego - acts in accordance with the highest truth.

See also


  • Manuel Knoll: The Übermensch as Social and Political Task: A Study in the Continuity of Nietzsche's Political Thought. In: Manuel Knoll / Barry Stocker (eds.): Nietzsche as Political Philosopher. Berlin / Boston 2014, pp. 239–266.
  • Rüdiger Safranski: Nietzsche. Biography of his thinking . Carl Hanser, Munich / Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-446-19938-1 , p. 267 ff .
  • Carsten Schmieder: Contra culturam: Nietzsche and the superman. In: AU Sommer (ed.): Nietzsche - Philosopher of Culture (s)? Verlag W. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2008, ISBN 978-3-11-020130-7 , pp. 97-102.
  • Wilfried Huchzermeyer : The superman with Friedrich Nietzsche and Sri Aurobindo. Hinder + Deelmann, Gladenbach 1986, ISBN 3-87348-123-5 .
  • Pierre Kynast: Friedrich Nietzsche's superman. A philosophical admission . pkp Verlag, Leuna 2013, ISBN 978-3-943519-04-4 .
  • Ernst Benz (ed.): The superman. A discussion . Rhein-Verlag, Zurich 1961.
  • Georg Römpp : Nietzsche made easy. UTB 3718, Cologne / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-3718-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Übermensch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See also: , accessed on February 22, 2015, 8:57 pm.
  2. Hartmut Köhler (trans. And com.): La Commedia / The Divine Comedy III. Paradiso / paradise. Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-010796-6 , pp. 21-25.
  3. ^ Walter Kaufmann: Nietzsche. Philosopher, psychologist, antichrist . Translated by Jörg Salaquarda. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1982, ISBN 3-534-08769-0 , p. 359.
  4. On this, see Rainer Buck: Fjodor M. Dostojewski: Sträfling, Spieler, Seelenforscher , B&S 2013, p. 67 ; Fedor Dostojewski: Guilt and atonement , construction publishing house, 1956, epilogue.
  5. ^ Theodor Fontane: Der Stechlin [1897], with an afterword by Walter Müller-Seidel, Insel, Frankfurt 1975, p. 347
  6. Primus-Heinz Kucher: Displaced Modernism - Forgotten Avant-garde: Discourse Constellations between Literature, Theater, Art and Music in Austria 1918–1938 , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2015, p. 68.
  7. Jugendschriften , dtv, Munich 1994, Volume 2, Page 10.
  8. ↑ Summarized by Georg Römpp, Nietzsche made easy. UTB 3718, Cologne / Weimar 2013.
  9. ^ Patrick Bridgwater: Nietzsche in Anglosaxony. A Study of Nietzsche's Impact on English and American Literature . Leicester University Press, pp. 167-169.
  10. Joe Sergi: The Law for Comic Book Creators: Essential Concepts and Applications , McFarland 2015, p. 193.
  11. ^ Henning Ottmann: Nietzsche manual: Life, work, effect , Metzler, 2000, p. 435.
  12. See e.g. B. Futures End - The End of All Times # 2, Panini Comics , Stuttgart 2015
  13. ^ Albert Schweitzer: Kulturphilosophie III (KPh III). Four parts. Documentation copy by Johann Zürcher. Visible in the Schweitzer central archive Gunsbach / Elsaß, 138, quoted from: Claus Günzler: Albert Schweitzer. Introduction to his thinking, Beck, Munich 1996, pp. 43–44.
  14. Albert Schweitzer: From my childhood and youth. Beck, Munich 1991, pp. 119-120.
  15. See Der Spiegel , No. 14 / March 31, 2018, p. 118: “The Anthropocene describes the age of man. But when man gets his own age ... he already thinks about its end. ”(The phrase“ pop-academic discourse ”was also taken from the article.)
  16. Wilfried Huchzermeyer: Sri Aurobindo and the European Philosophy , Karlsruhe 2015, pp. 11–13. See in particular Superman in Sri Aurobindo's main works , pp. 108–111.
  17. Sri Aurobindo and European Philosophy , pp. 106-108.