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Thus Spoke Zarathustra

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One of Nietzsche’s most well-known and signature works, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” contains the concept of an Overman (in some translation versions, also called the Superman, originally in German known as der Übermensch). The whole notion of that is, in my opinion, one of the most contradictory, conflicting and inconsistent ones in the history of world philosophy and scientific research. The application of this theory to everyday life is, to the least, a sign of arrogance and distorted morality; using this concept as a part of official policy and a basis for governmental activity is bound to lead to the inhumane and appalling practices that took place in Nazi Germany, or Khmer Cambodia, for instance. To my mind, Nietzsche should have taken the labor of making himself clearer and explaining his ideas of the Overman more profoundly, because there are at least three ways of interpreting them and understanding them that exist in today’s scientific community, and all of them are conflicting and have been criticized by the author himself at his time, in one way or another.

            First of all, the concept of the Overman is brought to the people by Zarathustra as a gift from him, who had spent ten years in solitude and reflections; a gift implies something of blessing and benefit to the recipient. However, the Overman theory is perceived critically even by the Saint, whom Zarathustra meets on his way to the people. The Saint uttered: ‘"Give them nothing. Take rather part of their load, and carry it along with them- that will be most agreeable unto them: if only it be agreeable unto thee!” (Nietzsche, p.6). This at once creates in my mind the parallel with the mythological hero, the Prometheus, who brought people the fire from the skies, which had been stolen from the gods of the Olympia for the benefit of people. However, the way people made use of this gift reminds us of an old saying “hell is paved with good intentions”.

            Zarathustra’s Overman is a result of a lengthy period of evolution, development and modifications that the humanity needs to undergo. He places his Overman on top of the hierarchical pyramid of social and biological progress and claims that the whole amount of human material, if it’s appropriate to use such language, serves the highest aim of creating the necessary environment for the appearance of the Overman. It is no wonder that many religious figures accused Nietzsche’s Overman concept as a reference to the Darwinist theory, and there is no wonder, because in the book, Zarathustra proclaims that an Overman is relative to the ordinary people, in the same way as ordinary people relate to apes. In fact, commonplace people are compared to apes in a way that they are inferior towards the Overman: “What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame” (Nietzsche, p.11). Later on, during the course of the narration, Nietzsche offers us yet another metaphor for the triad “Animal-Man-Overman”: he says that “Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Overman - a rope over an abyss”. He means that the transformation towards an Overman is dangerous and not necessarily bound to succeed, but represents a challenge worth accepting. The book also contains one more metaphor for this transformation, quite a beautiful one: the camel first turning into a lion, then the lion turning into a child. In this allegory, the camel embodies a regular person who asks few questions and doesn’t disobey the rules and traditions. The lion is the “partly awakened” creature who already shows interest in the laws under which our world exists. The child is the peak of the possible creation, who overcomes the previous stages in insight and understanding. This postulate at once causes distress and misunderstanding, because most people contemporary to us, as well as those who lived before us and those who will follow in our footsteps, generally belong to the group of the “ordinary” people, as Nietzsche calls them, and therefore, have virtually no value in the society. The only use these people can bring is being one small part of the society that is bound to produce a person to surpass all of them combined, the Overman. For an individual human being, this concept seems degrading and humiliating, if not insulting. Although everyone possesses different talents and uses his or her potential differently, it is important to bring out the best there is in a person and cultivate it, not to suppress it by the daunting theories like those.

            According to the Overman theory, the value and importance of a human life can be measured by how large was the contribution of that particular human individual to the development of the Overman. This leads to devaluation of each individual and sets very illusionary standards. All men, according to those, must try as hard as they possibly can to accelerate the pace of the evolution, and women are, respectively, bound to give birth to better and more “updated” versions of people, who are merely the stages humanity takes to produce a qualitatively different material: : “I love him who laboureth and inventeth, that he may build the house for the Superman, and prepare for him earth, animal, and plant: for thus seeketh he his own down-going” (Nietzsche, p.13). All of this sounds quite non-motivating and discouraging in terms of anything an ordinary person may aspire to.

            Also, one can notice certain aspects of the Overman concept that point at that the salvation can be received from him by the ordinary people, thus, raising the Overman to a half-godly status and displaying obvious religious characteristics of the concept itself. Naturally, by some people, especially by clericals, this theory was labeled as a blasphemous one. The essence of the Overman as a savior is contained in the following words: “Verily, a polluted stream is man. One must be a sea, to receive a polluted stream without becoming impure. Lo, I teach you the Overman: he is that sea; in him can your great contempt be submerged” (Nietzsche, p.12). This aspect of the Overman is being enhanced even more, and provided that, according to Nietzsche, “God is dead”. Taken this postulate, all the hopes of mankind are from that moment concentrated around the Overman. In other words, the notion of God, in Nietzsche’s opinion, is no longer capable of providing humanity with a set of unbeatable values and that is why a new value structure needs to be invented, the center of which would become exactly the figure of the Overman.

            What remains unclear to me in this theory is what after the Overman has been developed and achieved is intended to happen next. The question remains if it would be possible to breed a whole race or generation of such improved creatures, or the Overman will be one of a kind or a small group of such men. Secondly, there is a question if the improvements would imply only physical or solely moral perfection, or that Overman would possess a combination of those graces and values. Thirdly, the society and the environment would, in case of successful Overman process, find itself faced with a situation of stratification and segregation, when Overman will be forced to coexist with the so-called ordinary men. Moral dilemmas are inevitable: sooner or later, a question will appear, whether those Overman should adhere to the rules and regulations set forth for the ordinary people, or should they be exempted from obedience to those. Consequently, if there is no or lesser control over the behavior and deeds of an Overman, it would be problematic for the society to maintain an acceptable level of order. Moreover, it would be hard to define what happens to the “ordinary people” when the long awaited age of Overman comes. These facts are dim and remain a matter of discussion which advocates for the Nietzsche’s theory. Without proper explanation and detail, this theory is doomed to repeat the faith it encountered in the mid-1930s in Germany, i.e. becoming an ideological basis for the anti-human experiments and policies. Proclaiming the majority of people to be “Untermenschen” almost certainly leads to denigration of those people and to racism. It is important to remember that comparing people and their hierarchy is a highly sensitive issue, and it has to be treated with accuracy and thoughtfulness.

            Clearly, there is a shift in the picture of world proposed by Zarathustra who says: “I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lightning out of the dark cloud- man” (Nietzsche, p.15). The devaluation of an individual’s life has already been mentioned. However, this passage provokes yet one more question: what are the distinctive characteristics by which the Overman can be recognized when he or she arrives? Also, one doesn’t know if this creature is of male or female gender, an Overwoman, for instance. In addition, the whole concept of an Overman emerging contains some kind of eschatological aspect in it, as the appearance of that creature is the finalizing part of the history of humanity. Nietzsche is not particularly specific on that matter.

            It is important to mention one more harmful influence of the Overman theory upon the minds of men: the disappearance of moral responsibility for ones’ actions. This may sound illogical at first, because breeding an Overman is something that requires enhanced moral qualities from the ordinary men, but there is one peculiarity. Provided that the existence of the Overman is the highest priority for the mankind, one may be entrapped in the “ends justify the means” postulate, which is dangerous. People will tend to fall out of habit of bearing responsibility for their actions. Instead of trying to take control over their lives and making a difference during their lifetime, they will use the Overman as a pretext for indecisiveness and their passive ways.

            Nevertheless, there is something in this idea that people might be found of – the idea of surpassing the thresholds within and out that keep a person from evolution towards something better. In this sense, the idea of free will and ethical responsibility for one’s actions is quite useful and beneficial. Education, for instance, should be taken as a granted process of equipping one with a standard set of tools and instruments which may not be applicable to the changing circumstances of the environment. The moment when an individual starts to analyze things around him or her and make independent choices based on his understanding what is right and wrong, is precious. However, one needs to make these choices not for the fear of punishment, but for his own personal judgment, otherwise, such behavior, no matter how wise it may be, has no value whatsoever.

            Therefore, although Nietzsche’s intentions might have been good, his theory is largely imperfect. He intended to set up a higher aim for the humanity to pursue, but his concept turned out to become the one that justified all means on one’s way to an aim. One may argue that Nietzsche in “Thus Spake Zarathustra” only wanted to inspire the mankind to strive for higher and nobler virtues, to promote independent and critical thinking, and to help rising a new generation of people who would honor life in all its forms. If that is so, then, in my opinion, the author did not quite achieve the purpose.

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