In order to better understand Nietzsche’s ideas on the Ubermensch and Eternal Recurrence, we must first start with the phrase that precedes the conditions for an Ubermensch (God is Dead). The phrase ‘God is Dead’ is usually misinterpreted. Many people seem to assume that this implies God was once a living creature, and he has since passed away. But this is a misconception. Nietzsche was an atheist, and thus never believed that a God existed in any form except as a figment of the human imagination.
The phrase does not mean that God was an actual living creature who has now died. What it means is that the idea of “God” is now dead. We have realized that there is no God, and thus he is now ‘Dead’. His essence no longer has meaning to us. As we advanced and became less reliant on faith and more reliant on logic, we came to the conclusion that there is no God, and that there will never be a God. Since we no longer believe in God, he is therefore ‘dead’. He is no longer a part of our lives, he has faded away and can no longer hold influence over us.
As Nietzsche wrote ‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?’ Basically, Nietzsche is saying that since we no longer believe in God, we have metaphorically killed him.
Given Nietzsche’s strong animosity towards religion, you would think people realizing that ‘God is Dead’ would make him happy. After all, Nietzsche was dedicated in his quest to try and rid the individual of dogmatic and supernatural beliefs. Surely, people disregarding religion would be a comforting sight to Nietzsche. But this was not the case. Nietzsche was deeply troubled by the lack of a God, he feared that this may lead to the destruction of our society.
Since God never existed, that would imply that there is no afterlife and no soul. It would also mean that there is no objective morality. As Dostoevsky wrote ‘If there is no God, everything is permitted.’ Nietzsche feared that once Europeans abandoned their Christian faith, the world would sink into nihilism. By realizing that there is no God, this would cause individuals to lose all hope or any sense of respect or belonging. Humans would go mad and there would be chaos everywhere. The current structure of society would fall apart as nihilism swept across the continent. This is what Nietzsche feared. That the masses would not be able to handle the notion that there is no God, and thus would use their newly discovered freedom on harmful and destructive ways. The impending nihilism of the future appeared to be coming closer and closer. Thus, Nietzsche began to search for an answer to nihilism (without using religion). The answer was the Ubermensch.
While there may be many different propositions as to why God exists, there are also a fair amount of propositions that attempt to disprove the existence of God. One of the most famous propositions in the “Problem of Evil” dilemma. Basically, God is often described as a being who is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing/all seeing), and benevolent (compassionate). Despite this, the world is filled with evil, vice and suffering. The “Problem of Evil” states that if God really is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, then there should not be any evil or suffering in the world. In other words, if God is benevolent, then he would not allow suffering to occur to other humans. If God was omniscient, then he would be aware of all the suffering and would therefore know who was suffering and why. And if God is omnipotent, then he would be able to eradicate suffering. But since suffering and evil continue to exist, some philosophers claim that this is proof there is no God. For if God does exist, and if he allows suffering in the world, then he would be neither benevolent, omniscient or omnipotent. And if God does not have one (or any) of these qualities, then that being is not a “God”.
So, this argument technically states that there is no God because suffering and evil are qualities that would not be present in a world with a benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God. And if God does not exist, that would mean that the design argument is false, and that scientific phenomena and the natural laws of physics were created from a non-intelligent mechanism.
Personally, I agree with the non-theistic philosophers who state that God could not exist because there is suffering in the world. If God is omniscient, benevolent and omnipotent, that would mean that suffering and evil would be nonexistent. There are some counterarguments to the “Problem of Evil” claim, such as the one that God allows suffering because it helps us become better people and it teaches us to be morally virtuous. In other words, this claim states that “in a paradise without pains, harms, injuries, needs, suffering, dangers, or difficulties, ethical concepts would be meaningless and people could not develop into virtuous beings” (Velasquez 266). However, in my opinion, if God is omnipotent, why doesn’t he just create a human species that can be morally virtuous without having to experience suffering? According to the designer argument, God created everything for a specific purpose. So why can’t God create a human species that is programmed to be morally virtuous and good natured? Why does God have to create humans as ‘imperfect’? If God can do anything, then surely he can create a perfect world where human beings are morally upright and righteous without having to experience pain and suffering. A watch, for example, never goes through intense feelings of pain and misery, yet it still works. Why couldn’t this same concept be applied to humans when “God” created us?
There is also the argument from Saint Augustine which states that evil occurs because God is perfect, and anything that is not God is therefore imperfect, and this is why humans must suffer – because we are imperfect. But in all honesty, again I must ask why did God create us as “imperfect?” If God created a “perfect” human, then, according to Saint Augustine, the human would be just like “God”. But how is this a bad thing? If God is benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, why wouldn’t he want to create other beings just like him? Why would he make us “imperfect” on purpose?
Saint Augustine also claims that evil is a result of human actions (or our imperfection), and that “evil [is] an aspect of the world that a good and benevolent God did not produce and could not prevent” (Velasquez 264). But if God cannot prevent evil then he is not omnipotent. Or if God ignores evil, then he not benevolent. And if God is not aware of all the evil in the world, then he is not omniscient. In other words, Saint Augustine attempts to put all the blame on humans while simultaneously excusing their creator, “God”, from any responsibility.
So, in my own personal opinion, the fact that humans are flawed and that there is suffering in our world is proof that there is no benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent being. And since these three qualities are essentially what makes a “God”, it would therefore seem a logical conclusion to presume that God does not exist, and that there is no intelligent design behind our universe. However, while I remain rather firm in my belief, I will admit that possibly (and this is just speculation), there is a God who is merely above human classifications. Words such as omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent are, for the most part, just abstract words of the human language, and therefore it’s possible that “God” does not fit these descriptions because “God” is technically supposed to be above the material world, or in other words, above the world of abstract human language. Perhaps, God does exist and he did design our universe, but this God does not fall into the ‘omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent’ categories simply because these categories are human creations and therefore only applicable to human beings (which God technically is not). Again, I do not believe this, but it is an interesting devil’s advocate topic that I felt should be brought up.
Saying that ‘all religions are equal’ is like saying ‘all political opinions are equal’. They are not.
Of course, the ‘superiority’ or ‘greatness’ of a religion is a totally subjective opinion – it depends on a person to decide which religions are ‘better’ than others. Nonetheless, to say that ‘all religions are equal’ would be like saying ‘all political opinions are equal’. If you believe this (that all political opinions are equal) then you may also say that all religions are equal – however, if you do not believe that all political opinions are equal, then it would be hypocritical for you to say ‘all religions are equal’.
Just like political opinions, some religions are much more dangerous than others, some have a much more violent history than others, and some are much more logical or reasonable than others – nonetheless, they are not equal.
Most people consider ‘faith’ to be a good thing, a virtue almost – yet ‘faith’ for most people usually is a result of submission and indoctrination. People have ‘faith’ in a religion that was imposed on them – they had no say and no choice on what religion to worship – the religion was forced on them by their parents or by society. Yet, they claim they have ‘faith’.
In the Classic Chinese text Zhuangzi, there is a passage that says “Your life has a limit but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger. If you understand this and still strive for knowledge, you will be in danger for certain!” (Zhuang Zhou, 46).
But what does this mean? Clearly, the first part indicates that our lives are ephemeral – that eventually our existence, our conciousness, our being will cease to exist. Someday we will die and no longer exist – therefore our life is ‘limited’.
Knowledge, on the other hand, is unlimited. Now, is knowledge really unlimited? Perhaps it may seem unlimited, in the sense that there are so many different subjects and so many different views and so many different sources of information that essentially one could dedicate their entire lives to studying one particular object and still not know everything about said object. This doesn’t necessarily mean that knowledge is unlimited, it just means that there is so much knowledge in the world that one individual could never learn it in one life – or a million lifetimes for that matter.
However, ‘unlimited knowledge’ in Zhuang Zhou’s sense most likely means that knowledge is, to us, unlimited because there is no boundary (or stop) to our learning (that is until we die). There is so much knowedge out there that it is, in our lifetime, unlimited. There are no limits – whether it be scientific, philosophical, artistic or self-knowledge – knowledge is unlimited to us.
So our lives are limited, but knowledge is not. This should be a good thing, right? I mean, this means that we can spend our entires lives learning – there will never be a time when we run out of things to learn. Yet, Zhuang Zhou writes that ” If you use what is limited [your life] to pursue what has no limit [knowledge], you will be in danger”.
So what exactly is Zhuang Zhou saying? Well, I believe that Zhuang Zhou is saying that perhaps we will never be satisfied with our search for knowledge. After all, there is so much information out there that we will never be able to learn it all – and thus we begin to feel discontent, unsatisfied or even depressed at the idea that no matter how hard we try or how much we learn – there will still be knowedge out there that we will never know of. I could spend the rest of my life studying bamboo – just bamboo. I could dedicate all my years to researching and learning about bamboo – about its biology, its purpose, its evolution, its uses – and yet, even if I spent say 100 years studying bamboo, there would still be aspects of this plant that I would never know about. Every time we learn something new, this only opens more doors on the path to knowledge. In other words, knowledge is unlimited, and many times us humans think that what we want is something ‘unlimited’. Yet, in regards to knowledge, unlimtied means that we will never be satisfied. We can learn all we want, but we will never know everything, and we will die with many mysterious uncertainties, unexplained phenomenas, and unanswered questions lingering in our minds.
The other reason that the pursuit of knowledge might be dangerous is simply because knowledge can be a powerful weapon. Knowledge can destroy our current perspective on things, it can cause us to see the world in a different light, it can teach us ways to manipulate or hurt people. Knowedge can show us how to do this or do that, and sometimes these actions may have serious consequences. Knowedge is useful, but usefulness can be utilized in many different ways – from good deeds to crimes. Thus, knowedge can be dangerous in that it can teach us things that may be harmful, or it can expose us to a new perception that hurts us.
So, Zhuang Zhou ends his statement saying “If you understand this and still strive for knowledge, you will be in danger for certain!”. Or, if you understand that your life is limited and that knowledge is dangerous, yet you still chase after knowedge, you will be in danger no matter what!
Some may think that this is supposed to turn people off from a pursuit of knowledge. That ‘danger’ automatically implies something bad – something harmful, something that should be avoided. However, I should like to add that Zhuang Zhou was also strong critic of words and of preconceived notions. Zhuang Zhou believed that words held people back, and that words were merely a standard that kept people in line. Zhou makes numerous hints that words are just that – they are merely words. They are symbolic but have no tangible, physical substance. They do not exist materially – and therefore the only meaning a word has is the meaning that is given to it by an individual. Zhou states that you shouldnt let words hold you back, because words do not technically exist in the physical world.
So, while most people would associate ‘danger’ with something negative, something that ought to be avoided, I think that Zhuang Zhou would believe that ‘danger’ isn’t necessarily bad (indeed, Zhou didn’t beleive there was such a thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’). Just because the word ‘danger’ implies harm does not mean harm will actually come. Thus, I do not think that Zhuang Zhou was not trying to scare people off from the path of knowledge.
Rather, I think that Zhaung Zhou was saying that striving for knowedge can (most likely will) lead to danger, yet this doesn’t mean bad things will necessarily happen to you. It may be ‘dangerous’, but just because something is dangerous, that does not necessarily mean one should avoid it. Driving, for example, is very dangerous. Going dozens of miles an hour in a metal car, coupled with the fact that there are numerous hazards, bad drivers, bad weather, possible car malfunctions, distractions etc. Driving is very dangerous when we consider all the possibly things that could happen – yet we still do it. Another example of something dangerous could be sleeping. When we are asleep we become vulnerable, unconscious – unaware. Something bad could happen to us – yet we still sleep and never worry about it.
Thus, Zhuang Zhou is saying that a path towards knowledge will lead to danger, but this does not necessarily imply bad things will happen to you. When you think about it, most of the things we do are dangerous – yet we still do them. So, one shouldnt be afraid of the path to knowledge just because it is dangerous. So, Zhuang Zhou said that striving for knowledge will lead to danger.
Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote “never was anything great achieved without danger”. Thus, while the path may be dangerous, it can lead to great things. Do not shy away from knowledge just because it leads to danger – if anything, embrace it. After all, living can be quite boring sometimes. A little danger is rather fun every now and then.
I am usually critical of organized religion, but every now and then I look around, I analyze my thoughts, and I think to myself ‘The Hindu’s were right all along’.
Monism, all paths leading to Brahman, the illusion of contradiction, the Kali Yuga, cyclical time, Moksha – I believe in all of these things in one form or another. Perhaps not exactly as a true Hindu would, but these ‘Hindu’ ideas are very much ones that I hold in one way or another.