Friedrich Nietzsche vs. Henry Nelson Wieman (IV)


Part 4: The Übermensch (Superhuman)


Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Übermensch’


Towards the Superhuman

The antithesis of the last human being is the Overman. A word first on the lexicon used by Nietzsche and its translation in English. The German concept is “Übermensch”. “Mensch” is man in the sense generic – man and woman, the human being. For a long time “Übermensch” was translated in English as Overman, and later as Superman, but today we prefer to translate Übermensch by Superhuman, both to defuse a connotation too masculine, even macho and to avoid a too fast association with a figure of superhero or man of superior race.

The misunderstandings and racist interpretations of the concept have been numerous, as one knows. However, if the concept of Übermensch concerns humanity in its various polarities, we cannot deny that Nietzsche makes a rather virile representation of his concept of Superhuman. All examples of great personalities he cites in his work, which gives an idea of the type of human achievement that Nietzsche calls for (artists, politicians, writers), are men.


What is the Superhuman, according to Friedrich Nietzsche?

In Zarathustra’s Prologue [i], when Zarathustra is speaking to the crowd, he gives several definitions:

In the prologue chapter 3: “I teach you the superhuman. Human being is something that must be exceeded. What did you do to overcome him? “.

Or, in the prologue, chapter 4: “Mankind is a rope fastened between the animal and the superhuman – a rope stretched over an abyss.”

How to understand Zarathustra’s idea of ​​‘overcoming”?

This overcoming is above all a work on oneself, a creation of oneself, a self-discipline, which consists mainly of the elimination of negative affects: resentment, the desire for revenge.

For that mankind be redeemed from revenge:  that to me is the bridge to the highest hope and the rainbow after long thunderstorms. [ii]

Nietzsche formulated this requirement already in the 1870s. It is a common thread in fact in his life and work; and this thread is strongly tinged with biographical considerations. Thus, he wrote to an Italian correspondent in 1874 (10 years before the Zarathustra): “I can not set myself higher goals than to become one day, one way or another, an “educator” in a higher sense: but I am very far from this goal. I must first eradicate from myself any controversy, any negation, all hatred, all malice, and I tend to think that to be free we must first of all sum up what we flee, fear, hate: but then, never look back for the negative and the sterile! From then on it will be no-thing more than to plant, to build and create!” Letter to Emma Guerrieri-Gonzage (May 10 1874).

Nietzsche therefore conceives the education of himself as an internal struggle to extirpate resentment. This self-transcendence is not only an individual affair. Because what you need to neutralize, is more generally the ascetic morality conveyed by our Christian culture, the morality of renunciation and contempt, contempt for life and body. This implies expelling ascetic values, so a good deal of inherited culture.

This re-education of the self exposes a danger, the danger of isolation, of being alone against all (the danger for an exceptional human being who tries to rise above the mass), danger of inner emptiness – we have to replace the old values, the old illusions, which were perhaps partly harmful, but which structured us despite everything.

This reeducation and transformation requires necessarily time. It’s a slow process, a passage, a progress. From there this image of a rope stretched towards the superhuman, above of an abyss: the abyss is the risk of cynicism, nihilism, a relapse in bestiality. This passage, this tension is at the same time transition and decline: Übergang and Üntergang.

What is great about human beings is that they are a bridge and not a purpose: what is lovable about human beings is that they are a crossing over and a going under.

I love those who do not know how to live unless by going under, for they are the ones who cross over.[iii]

Indeed, we must accept to decline, to deny a part of oneself, to perish (this is the Üntergang idea) to cross the bridge that separates the human being from the Superhuman (this is the Übergang idea) and Zarathustra love those who can only live if they can perish, because by perishing they go beyond themselves.

The Superhuman is in fact the one who fully acquiesces in life. To life in all its aspects: destruction and creation, suffering and enjoyment, malice and goodness. In this respect, one of the most fantastical incarnations of the superhuman is undeniably Dionysus. This reference allows us to visualize what Zarathustra means when he says in chapter 3 of the prologue (still a defining element):

The superhuman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the superman shall be the meaning of the earth! [iv]

So the Superhuman is the meaning of the earth (“der Sinn der Erde”). This means in fact a sanctification of life here below, earthly, corporal, of its pleasures, of his sensual, sexual, instinctual truths. And, the reverse, it is the rejection of all the metaphysical, idealistic projections that construct imaginary worlds; “back-worlds,” [“Hinterweltern”] says Nietzsche, to better despise this world, the only one yet truly existent. Let me refer to the speeches of Zarathustra: “Of the Hinterworldly”, “On the Despisers of the Body” or even “On the Bestowing Virtue” (Book I):

I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth and do not believe those who speak to you of extraterrestrial hopes! They are mixers of poisons whether they know it or not. [v]


Nietzsche’s idea of Superhuman, where does it come from?

First of all, from the Greek culture. The idea is fed of Greek mythology. Friedrich Nietzsche’s early writings testify his interest in the Titans, in Prometheus (the one who steals fire from the Gods to offer it to men – this makes one think of Zarathustra, who goes down into the valley carrying the fire of his wisdom). Greek culture is also a culture of aristocrats, which exalts personalities of exception, the exploits of an Achilles or a Ulysses. This aristocracy is naturally magnetized, in Nietzsche, towards the creative geniuses, the artists, poets, and writers.

It is also during his schooldays in Pforta, in a piece devoted to the English poet Byron, that Nietzsche would have used, for the first time, the term Übermensch. He characterizes Byron as a “Übermensch who commands over spirits”, like a man who has known how to make of his life a work of art.[vi]

So Greek culture and classical culture – Friedrich Schiller, for example – are an important source of inspiration for Nietzsche, as a teenager, especially the young Schiller of the Sturm und Drang period who magnifies herofigures. At 15, Nietzsche writes: “I reread yesterday The Brigands: each time, it gives me a singular feeling. The characters seem to me almost superhuman. It looks like a titanic fight against religion and virtue, a struggle at the end of which it is the celestial omnipotence that wins an infinitely tragic victory “[FP 6 [77], August 24, 1859].

Nietzsche bathes in all this mythology, at once classic and romantic, which celebrates the aristocratic ideal of the great man. Another reference, generally less well known, more discreet in the work of Nietzsche is that of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, attached to the transcendentalist movement, who is developing on the east coast of the United States towards the middle of the nineteenth century. Nietzsche discovers Emerson from his high school years. In 1881 Nietzsche will say, regarding Emerson’s Essays: “Never did I feel so much at home in a book “[FP 12 [81], autumn 1881]. He enjoys among other things in the American his gaiety of mind, the famous “Heiterkeit”, and his ability to create a beautiful interiority, as he says – to acquire a true culture, and not a simple erudition.

When Nietzsche wrote The Gay Science, he was reading Emerson, and in the first edition of The Gay Science he paraphrases Emerson: “Dem Dichter und Weisen sind alle Dinge befreundet und geweicht, alle Erlebnisse nützlich, alle Tage heilig, alle Menschen götlich.” Litterally: To the poet and sage, all things are friendly and allowed, all experiences profitable, all days hole, all men divine. Emerson’s original wording being: “To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine”.[vii]

Emerson is also developing a concept which owes much to his reading of Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism and Hinduism – and this will interest Nietzsche: this concept is the “over-soul” (or the supreme soul). By this concept, as Nietzsche understands it, Emerson means the result of a process of appropriation by the individual of experiences historical and cultural extra-individual, the reception in itself of multiple potentialities of existence. Nietzsche has a dynamic conception of self, of individuality; a self in motion, in extension.

And besides the obsession of the great personalities, the other spring of the reflection of Nietzsche concerning the Superhuman, as we have just mentioned, it is the obsession with education, which must create a surpassing of oneself. Basically, Nietzsche is an educator, of himself and others. The Self-formation is certainly a personal asceticism, but it needs encouragement, It is for this reason that Zarathustra decides to dispense his wisdom.

This figure of the educator, Nietzsche approaches it from 1874, especially in his third Untimely consideration, entitled ‘Schopenhauer educator’, of which he says himself in Ecce Homo that it could have been called Nietzsche educator:

The way I understand the philosopher, as a terrible explosive that is a danger to everything, how remote my idea of a philosopher is from anything that includes even a Kant, let alone academic ‘ruminants’ and other professors of philosophy. The piece gives an invaluable lesson here, if we admit that what is basically at issue is not ‘Schopenhauer as Educator’ but instead it’s opposite, ‘Nietzsche as Educator’.  [viii]

In Schopenhauer educator Nietzsche claims:

[…] for your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be. Your true educators and formative teachers reveal to you that the true, original meaning and basic stuff of your nature is something completely incapable of being educated or formed and is in any case something difficult of access, bound and paralyzed; your educators can be only your liberators. [ix]

This quote contains a paradox: trainers are supposed to unveil something that escapes any training. This paradox is found in Nietzsche’s well-known aphorism, which he borrows from the Greek poet Pindar: “Become the one you are”. Indeed the ‘Gay Science’ aphorism 270 reads:

What does your conscience say? – ” You shall become the person you are.” [x]

Nietzsche gave later his Ecce Homo the subtitle: “How one becomes what one is.”

Nietzsche is not very faithful in paraphrasing Pindar’s idea. This can be translated into English as “As you have learned to know yourself” or even better as “Become as you have learned to be, to know yourself.” In this translation we find two things: a) the dimension of action (i.e. to become) and b) the dimension of knowledge (i.e. what you’ve learned). And it is this last dimension that will disappear in Nietzsche. Indeed, the concept of Pindar is: “As you have learned to know yourself through action.”  Pandor writes this sentence in a poem to Hieron who has just been victorious in the Pythian games (in this case the second Pythian games). These are athletics games, which measure the human potential (such as the Olympic Games). So it is about what Hieron is able to do and, in this case, he won. He is glorious and the task of Pindar is to manifest this glory, to versify it so that it does not fall into oblivion. In other words, to eternalize the glory of Hieron so that indeed something remains. The task of the poet is indeed essential for Hieron to become aware of and know what he has learned to be, what he has become by his action.

To “become the one we are”, means, to Nietzsche, not to attain a certain fulfillment of oneself, which would have been predetermined, as all the characteristics of an adult apple tree are in power in an apple seed; but rather to give shape to its existence according to unexpected experiences, experiments, without preconceived ideas, without a path drawn in advance, but with the desire to confront the contradictions of life, to open up to the multiplicity of the perspectives and not to be evasive and avoids the struggles. It must be remembered that Pindar launches his exhortation to a Pythian winner: the context is that of struggle, of rivalry and heroic surpassing oneself.

The action is to excel at games includes the idea of ​​being better than others and, as a result, one learns to know the qualities that make one better, so exceed the one we were before, in other words, what one is really capable of doing, and, at the same time, what other men are capable of doing; this also compared to other men. If I exel, I’m the best. This is related to another maxim in ancient Greek, maybe even more known, which is “Know yourself.” A precept engraved on the pediment of the temple of Delphi. This adage has been interpreted traditionally, more than an exhortation to self-knowledge, as a call to the awareness of one’s own limitations; in other words, take the measure of the human being and know that this measure of man is different from the divine measure. Since beside the “Gnauthi seaton” (“Become the one we are”) we have the phrase “Mêden agan” (“Nothing too much”), an obvious appeal to moderation; all this warns, according to Pindar, the human not to take himself for a God (if he does so he will burn his wings …).  Pindar invites us to understand the radical difference between the human species and the species of the gods, and Pindar in his odes, especially in the one he addresses to Hieron, puts the dimension of the action in the center. It’s about becoming who we are and in order to do so, we must act.  And that’s probably what interests Nietzsche the most and he takes it a step further when he says “Werde der du bist” (Becomes the one you are) and so the dimension of knowledge disappears.

The reason for this, Nietzsche explains in his more mature texts – from Gay Science and Zarathustra. He writes that to him, the concept of knowledge, as it is developed in Western philosophy – ie the concept of objective, adequate knowledge, etcetera – is devoid of meaning. He writes that the concept has a lot of lead in his wing; since when one knows, one only assimilates, one only appropriates, the exteriority, the otherness so that one misses the otherness for itself. So knowledge is always biased, since to Nietzsche, one can not think independently of one’s head.

The problem that Nietzsche has with the formula: “Become what you are!”, is that it states that you have to become this ‘thing’: the true self which would be at the bottom of us. As we have already seen, Nietzsche wrote: “The true nature [self] is not hidden deep within us, it is on the contrary infinitely beyond us; or at least above of that which you usually take yourself to be[what we commonly take as our true self].”, so according to Nietzsche, this true self is not to be reconstituted, it is not to be rediscovered”; we are not at Plato’s point of view, the real self is in Nietzsche to be build.

So according to Nietzsche, we must not think of knowledge as we do classically, but as an interpretation; knowledge is only interpretative and suddenly the question of knowing in an interpretative way becomes a knowledge that is also energizing; that is to say, a dynamic interpretation of Self, affirmative of Self, which enables us to go forward, towards a beyond Self. “To become self” to Nietzsche is a paradox, since it is always about overcoming oneself, surpassing oneself, there is a kind of dynamic tension in always renewing oneself.

On the other hand, education, rather than revealing content (for example, a set of virtues that would be necessary to develop), has to assert a principle: that of a transformation of oneself in adverse circumstances and self-transcendence. This is the very principle of the Superhuman. For Nietzsche the aim of a good education is to create the best conditions so that the true true philosopher can appear. What’s really interesting, in the second part of the above cited text from the 3rd untimely Meditation, is that the educator is not only the one that makes the qualities fructify, the educator is also the one who in this attempt, at a given moment, will discover something that resists. This resistance, basically, is what in a certain sense makes us original and what must be overcome to become our real Self. Because, and this is my Wiemanian interpretation, becoming one’s Original Self is becoming Authentic and overcoming an obstacle (i.e. freeing oneself from the Vicious Circle).

Moreover, we read in aphorism 2 of the Antichrist that in having to overcome an obstacle, on the path of becoming Self, lies a true joy in the strong sense.

What is good? – Everyting that enhances people’s feeling of power; will to power, power itself.

What is bad? – Everything stemming from weakness.

What is happiness? – The feeling that power is growing, that some resistance has been overcome. [xi]

So happiness is also about overcoming obstacles. Happiness is not a kind state, not a ‘democratic’ happiness, a state without waves and pure simple pleasure at bottom. Reading the above lines of Nietzsche regarding ‘walking the path of becoming Self’ with a Wieman mindset is, to me, really amazing:

What is good? – Everything that enhances people’s living of Creative Interchange (Nietzche’s Power being Yoda’s Force, being Wieman’s Creative Interchange), commitment to Creative Interchange (cf. Man’s Ultimate Commitment’), Creative Interchange

What is bad? – Everyting stemming from being a prisoner of the Vicious Circle.

What is happiness? – The feeling that (one’s ability to live ) Creative Interchange is growing; that the negative working of the Vicious Circle has been overcome.

In a posthumous fragment of 1882, Nietzsche confirms this existential ontology: “I want to teach men the meaning of their being: who is the superhuman”. If this idea of transformation, surpassing, perfecting of the self has in the beginning especially a psychological meaning it is, from the 1880s, taking in a biological connotation. When Nietzsche makes his Zarathustra say (Prologue, §3): “You have made the path from the earthworm towards becoming human, and you still have a lot of earthworms in you. In the past, you were monkeys, and even today the human being is more ape than any other monkey “, we can not but see an allusion to the theory of evolution species of Charles Darwin. The Origin of Darwin’s Species has been published in 1859; it is therefore a theory, for Nietzsche, of a burning topicality – and it is indeed extensively discussed in the second half of the nineteenth century.

How does Nietzsche relate to Darwin’s theory? Let’s say Nietzsche, like many of its contemporaries, is interested by the idea of an evolution of species, but he questions the principle of a struggle for survival. Nietzsche considers that life is “wealth, opulence” and not “scarcity” – and that if there is a struggle, it is most of all a struggle for power. In addition, he does not believe in Darwinist idea that during the course of natural selection the strong would prevail over the weak.

Nietzsche rather thinks opposite:

What surprises me most when surveying the great destinies of man is always seeing before me the opposite of what Darwin and his school see or want to see today: selection in favor of the stronger, in favor of those who have come off better, the progress of the species. The very opposite is quite palpably the case: the elimination of the strokes of luck, the uselessness of the better-constituted types, the inevitable domination achieved by the average, even below-average types.[xii]

Unless our-ape-genealogists gave him reasons why Homo sapiens were an exception to Darwinian evolution, Nietzsche was persuaded that “the school of Darwin has everywhere deceived itself.” [xiii]In struggle for man’s existence, it is not the highest, the strongest, the fittest and the fortunate that survive but the lower and the weaker who “predominate through numbers, through prudence, [and] through cunning.” Nietzsche argued that chance variation, contrary to Darwinian’s survival for the fittest, does not yield any benefit to the fittest. He observed that “nature is cruel towards its favourites, it spares and protects and loves the humble.” [xiv]

To use the vocabulary of Zarathustra, Nietzsche considers that the last human beings outweigh the supermen, he means that the reactive forces (anger, instinct of revenge, weak will, …) prevent the emergence of superior human types (creative, original, …). It is to remove this obstacle that he supports the project of training, a breeding (“Züchtung”) of humanity. Nietzsche writes in a posthumous fragment of 1885 (NF-1885,35 [72] & NF-1885,35 [73] May-July 1885):

There must be many superman: all goodness evolves only among its equals. A god would always be a devil! A ruling race. To “the lords of the earth.”[xv]

The hierarchy carried out in a systems of earth government: the lords of the earth last, a new ruling caste. Emerging from them here and there, quite Epicurean God, the Superman, the transfigurer of existence.[xvi]

Thus, becoming a Superhuman is certainly a work that the human being must lead on his own. And it is also a collective project. Nietzsche does not have a clear and detailed representation of the work to be done, and he does not imagine a specific political and institutional system that would dominate the caste of supermen. But he does speak of a hierarchical system. He draws up a typology of types of humanity (priest, scientist, philosopher, man of action, warrior) according to the degree of development of the vital forces within these types. The Superhuman is of course the type of superior fulfillment.

It should be noted that the emergence of the Superhuman is, according to Nietzsche, possible within many different cultures. This emergence has even already taken place at other times, in others places, and those have always been lucky shots of fate. He presents thus in L’Antichrist the men of the Italian Renaissance. The “philosopher-legislator”, which Nietzsche gives as an example, is he, who, by creating and teaching new values, helps to reduce the element of chance and favors the conditions for the advent of the Superhuman.

This is the meaning of this rather disturbing idea of dressage and breeding:

[…] what type of human must be bred, should be willedas having greater value, as being more deserving of life, as being more certain of future. [xvii]

We will come back on this problematic aspect of Nietzsche’s theory, notably certain eugenic traits; rather disturbing and which cannot be ignored.


Henry Nelson Wieman’s ‘Human committed to creative transformation’

Nietzsche’s point of view of the “Übermensch” brings me to Henry Nelson Wieman’s view of the “Human committed to creative transformation”.

According to our interpretation of Henry Nelson Wieman’s philosophy Nietzsche’s Superhuman is the Human who is committed to creative transformation, thus committed to the Greatest Good, to Creative Interchange. He wrote an entirely book on this concept: ‘Man’s Ultimate Commitment’. That this ‘Ultimate Commitment’ will lead to conflict is, according to Henry Nelson, inevitable, since the Human committed to creative transformation will go against the grain:

One cannot escape the conflict by abandoning society because interchange with others is necessary for any creative transformation of the mind at the highest human level.

[…] man is made not for human life as it is,  but for the creativity which transforms life. Therefor he must seek his freedom, his peace and his power, and all the great human values by commitment to a creativity, which overcomes the world as now existing by giving it a dimension and form of possibility beyond the compass of human ideals. [xviii]

We’ve already seen that to Wieman ‘creativity’ is a synonym of ‘creative interchange’. As Nietzsche’s ‘Superhuman’, Wieman’s ‘Human committed to creative transformation’ is constantly evolving. Another synonym that Wieman uses for Creative Interchange is ‘The Greatest Good’. With that in mind the following paragraph shows that Creative Interchange is a state of becoming and that there exists two processes of change: one that we call Creative Interchange and another that Charlie Palmgren coined the Vicious Circle:

The greatest good is not a changeless state of being. The most complete satisfaction can only be found in a process of change but this change must have the character which satisfies. If the process ceases to be the kind of change which satisfies and becomes the kind of change which frustrates and reduces satisfaction to a minimum, it is no longer good. [xix]

Indeed the Vicious Circle frustrates and leads to stress and to evasion and to a changeless state of being. Henry Nelson Wieman has described the opposite, the process of change which satisfies, repeatedly. About this creative transformation of the human, he writes, for instance:

It is that creative transformation of the individual which enables him to enter into fuller and more enriching interchange with other individuals, which enable him to find more to appreciate in a greater diversity of situations. […]

This process which expands and enriches the appreciable world cannot stop if the individual is to experience the greatest good. No matter what range and depth of positive value the individual may have reached, he cannot find satisfaction of his individuality in its wholeness unless the expansion and enrichment continue. If it stops at any level, no matter how rich his life may be, misery, frustration, and desperation can occur of the creative transformation does not continue. [xx]

This brings us back to ‘my’ formula: CI2: Continuous Improvement through living Creative Interchange. And Wieman writes repeatedly: “The individual must commit himself to creative good, here called creative transformation, to find satisfaction.”[xxi]

This ‘ultimate commitment’ requires work, hard work:

This commitment requires action to modify all the conditions of human existence in such a way that this creative transformation can operate most effectively throughout society ad human history. [xxii]

These conditions must enhance the probability that Creative Interchange thrives and The Vicious Circle slows down. I’ve always presented this with following picture:



Wieman’s take on, what Charlie Palmgren coined decades later the Vicious Circle, was based on what Harry Stack Sullivan called “security operations”[xxiii]. He paraphrase’s Sullivan’s thoughts as follows:

These are devices by which the individual protects his self-esteem. The individual ordinarily is not conscious of his own security operations; but he uses them to protect that sense of his own self-worth without which he cannot live with any hope nor any confidence. These security operations, however, do not give the individual a correct knowledge of himself nor of his own worth. They are essentially deceptive.


Yet the individual’s own idea of himself is very largely shaped by what others think of him, not that he necessarily agrees with what others think, but what he thinks of himself is built up in defense of their judgments. Consequently security operations are ways of thinking, feeling and acting performed to build and perpetuate a false picture of oneself, a false picture of other people and of the social situation.

These security operations which misrepresent oneself and others and the conditions of human existence cannot guide one into situations, which satisfy the individual in his true character and wholeness. They do the contrary. They mislead. Yet these security operations determine in great part what the individual thinks is his own worth and the worth of other people and what he thinks are the good things to seek and cherish in life. Yet so far as security operations dominate the individual, he seeks the opposite of what can satisfy himself in the wholeness of his being. [xxiv]

In other words: When one is committed to his Vicious Circle (cf. Charlie Palmgren) one is everything but committed to Creative Interchange (cf. Henry Nelson Wieman), so this human is no Superhuman (cf. Friedrich Nietzsche). A Human who is committed to creative transformation is living from its original worth, or, in Wieman’s words, from “the unity of the self”:

The chief evil of security operations is that they disrupt the unity of the self. Evidence seems to indicate that the newly born are unified as individuals and continue to have this unity until it is disrupted by security operations. [xxv]

Wieman states here that we are born as unifiedand that this unity is broken by the Vicious Circle. The unity of self is what sometimes is called the Creative Self or even the Original Self living from his Intrinsic Worth. Wieman goes on to describe the reunion of the created self with the Creative Self, the goal of the Human committed to creative transformation, in his words the ‘unified self’, as follows:

A unified self does not mean a self free of all conflicts. It does mean a self, free of conflicts which cannot be treated in such a way as to promote creative transformation. The unified self is not a static or completed condition but the very opposite. It cannot be achieved or approximated except by commitment to creativity [i.e. creative interchange]. Only by learning from others in depth and others learning for oneself in depth, thus releasing the wholeness of individuality in each, can man be unified and this unity be satisfied. But this involves continuous creative transformation with inner conflicts continuously undergoing modification.

This seems to indicate that man in his present condition is transitional to something beyond what he is now. He must either destroy himself or rise toward a level of being not yet within his reach of imagination. This was the teaching of Nietzsche and many others. But the imaginative picture of the super human set forth by Nietzsche cannot be correct precisely because no man in his present state can imagine what that higher level of being may be. The chief thing to be transformed in man is imagination [his mind], not his biological organism. Since the higher being will be chiefly distinguished by a transformed imagination, the imaginings of man today, including the imaginings of Nietzsche, cannot picture that transformed imagination. [xxvi]

Thus Nietzsche’s ‘Superhuman’ is Wieman’s ‘Human committed to creative transformation’. A transformation, which has to be continuous and the final outcome is not known, cannot be imagined. We’re talking about the Creative Self who transforms the created self continuously and that transformation cannot be controlled from the outside-in. That creative transformation is a reality, which Wieman explains as follows:

The goal of this commitment is to unify the self for action, to attain that reorganization which will have right intuitions, and to join oneself with the most important reality there is. The most important reality is the creative transformation of man, which is going on in human history.

That man can undergo creative transformation is demonstrated by the fact that it has actually occurred to various degrees in many cases. […]

Albert Camus has said, “man has not been endowed with a definite nature… is not a finished creation but an experiment of which he can be partly the creator.” Nietzsche, Paul Sartre, G.B. Shaw, Hegel, Karl Marx, Arnold Toynbee and others have expressed the same idea. […] These men do not agree on the kind of transformation, which will bring man to the kind of being which he must become if he is to be saved from degradation or destruction, nor do they agree on the procedures to be followed to this end.  But that man is not complete, that he is in process of being created, that he must be further transformed before he can attain his definitive nature, on this crucial issue they all agreed.[xxvii]

This transformation we consider is in fact a transformation of the mind. We’re coming back to one of Wieman’s basic questions: “What can transform the mind, since the mind can’t do this on its own?” Henry Nelson Wieman claims in this context:

The reorganization of the conscious and unconscious levels [of the mind] of the human being is the greatest good to be sought because [1] it is triumphant over the dark realities, [2] it enables one to act effectively under the guidance of reliable intuition, [3] it unifies the self so that all the resources of his life can be bought into action, [4] it satisfies the wholeness of his being as nothing else can do. [xxviii]

The commitment to Creative Interchange has thus four major benefits: it is triumphant over the dark realities, including death; it enables one to make the right decision in the midst of a crisis and the accompanying ambiguity; it reconnects with the OIriginal Self so that the whole self can brought into action and it is incredible satisfying. The goal of personal commitment to Creative Interchange is to bring about this creative transformation of the self and like transformation in others. Wieman sees technology as one of the needed conditions that must be present for creativity to operate widely and securely throughout human life:

A technology must be created capable of providing all men with the utilities and environmental conditions to undergo creative transformation indefinitely beyond the present state of human existence. Such a technology carries with it a system of communication and interdependence reaching all people of the planet. This magnified power of control and this worldwide interdependence can bring on great evils and can reduce creativity to a minimum. In many cases such has been the consequence and it will continue to be so, with greater evils to come, unless a [last] condition is added to [this one]. [xxix]

So Henry Nelson Wieman predicted the invention of communication systems like the worldwide Internet and the interdependence of all people, together with some of the great dangers of this technology, like the potential danger of Artificial Intelligence. To cope with this dangers he identifies his ‘last’ condition, that our world must bring forth the next two or three hundred years, in order to reach the fullest attainment of human good:

The [last] condition is what we have been describing throughout this writing. It is change of institutions and action of individuals resulting from recognition of the moral predicament of man and from practice of personal commitment. It is a change in institutions and action of individuals which will bring into the lives of many people the dominance of creativity which in the past has occurred only in the lives of a few. This is not only our vocation and opportunity. It is a demand forced by a peril hanging over us more deadly than ever before threatened the whole of humanity at once. This peril may never cease to threaten so long as civilization continues. But it may be mastered by turning it into a servant of man’s creative transformation. [xxx]

In this part Henry Nelson Wieman is in fact talking about the Vicious Circle and the Creative Interchange process, and states that we must know them both and understand them appreciatively if life is ever to rise to greatness. But understanding both is not a guarantee for success. We must live up to the responsibility to choose for the commitment to Creative Interchange. We won’t live the process always perfectly. Fact is that a human being has now the power to meet the demands of Creative Interchange as it could not before. Henry Nelson Wieman closes his book ‘Man’s Ultimate Commitment’ with following remarkable paragraphs:

I have explained what I mean by creative and transforming power. I mean two things [1] interchange which creates appreciative understanding of unique individuality; [2] integration within each individual of what he gets from others in this way, thus progressively creating his own personality in power, knowledge, and capacity to appreciate more profoundly diverse individuals, peoples and things.

I know that I cannot be in error in holding the belief that I am at least partially in error concerning the character of the reality to which I am ultimately committed. Hence I know with certainty that I am ultimately given to what is more than, and in some respects different from, everything affirmed in this book. With this triumph over error I make my last commitment: I cast my error, my failure, and my guilt into the keeping of creative and transforming power. [xxxi]


Nietzsche’s ‘Superhuman’ vs. Wieman’s ‘Human committed to Creative Interchange’

Nietzsche’s and Wieman’s thinking are both unfinished works. This is in adequacy with their major subjects: the ‘Superhuman’ and the ‘Human committed to Creative Interchange’. Indeed, both are promises open on the future, a steep path without a predefined goal; it’s a direction towards a higher level of humanity.

To Nietzsche, the ‘Superhuman’ is “the meaning of the earth” and to Wieman, the ‘Human committed to Creative Interchange’ is committed to “what operates in all human life to create, save and transform.”

Both, Nietzsche and Wieman have a dynamic conception of self: a self in motion, extension, and expansion. They are paraphrasing somehow Pindar’s formula “Become what you are.” The difference between the two is that Nietzsche denies and Wieman embraces that it states that you have to become your Original Self. To Nietzsche, the real self is to be build and to Wieman the Original Self is to be re-discovered; both agree that this can only happen through struggle and action.  “To become self” is to Nietzsche about surpassing yourself and to Wieman about becoming your Original Self by surpassing your actual created self using your Creative Self, core part of your Original Self.

A main difference between Nietzsche’s ‘Superhuman’ and Wieman’s ‘Human committed to Creative Interchange’ is that Nietzsche speaks of a hierarchical system, so the Superhuman is still part of the happy few and according to Wieman everybody can commit himself to Creative Interchange and obtain superior fulfillment that way.

Both, Nietzsche and Wieman were interested in Buddhism. In this essay Nietzsche’s interest in Buddha and Buddhism has been described several times. Less known is that Wieman has been considered as a Buddhist by several writers and even by his daughter. For instance, in his article, “Creativity in the Buddhist perspective” Nolan Pliny Jabobson cites a paragraph of Wieman’s ‘Intellectual Autobiography’ that “might have been written by a Buddhist” [xxxii]You can find more in ‘Buddhism and Wieman on Suffering and Joy’ written by David Lee Miller, chapter 6 of a book edited by Kenneth K. Inada and Nolan P. Jacobson ‘Buddhism and American Thinkers’. [xxxiii]

In another book, Nolan P. Jacobson cites Miller: “Creative interchange as the Bodhisattva Ideal is a model that calls for a certain kind of rationality that is integral to the flow of life, centering us in the depths of the sustaining and transformation foundations of life.” And continues:

On hearing Miller’s paper at the Conference, Wieman’s wife Laura, came forward to tell Miller that Wieman’s daughter, Kendra, had come to much the same conclusions, presenting a paper entitled “Creation Without a Creator” at a recent meeting in Berkeley. “I’ve always believed,” Kendra Smith says, “that there was more similarity between my fathers thinking and Buddhism than he ever conceded.”[xxxiv]


[i]Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A Book for All and None.Translated by Adrian Del Caro. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2006, pp. 3-16.

[ii]ibid. – On the Tarantulas – p. 77.

[iii]ibid. Prologue 4,p. 7.

[iv]ibid. Prologue 3,p. 6.

[v]ibid. Prologue 3,p. 6.

[vi]Safranski, Rüdiger, Nietzsche A Philosophical Biography, Translated by Shelley Frisch, London: Granta Books, 2002, p. 35.

[vii]Nietzsche, Friedrich,The Gay Science, Translated by Walter Kaufmann, New York, NY: Vintage Books, A division of Random House, 1974; Translator’s Introduction, pp. 7-8.

[viii]Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, The Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings. Translation Judith Norman. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.115.

[ix]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Untimely Meditations,Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2007, p. 129.

[x]Nietzsche, Friedrich,The Gay Science, Transl. by Walter Kaufmann, op. cit. aphorism 270, p. 219.

[xi]Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, The Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings. Translation Judith Norman. Op. cit. p. 4.

[xii]Nietzsche, Friedrich, Writings from the late Notebooks, Translated by Kate Sturge, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2003, p. 258.

[xiii]ibid. p. 259.

[xiv]ibid. p. 260.


[xvi],35[73] II

[xvii]Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, Translated by Judith Norman, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Aphorism 3, p. 4.

[xviii]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America ®, Inc. Reprint, Originally published: Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958, p. 73.

[xix]ibid. p. 105.

[xx]ibid. pp. 105-106.

[xxi]ibid. p. 107.

[xxii]ibid. pp. 107-108.

[xxiii]Sullivan, Harry Stack. The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry,New York NY: Norton, 1953, pp. 261-263 and 290-291.

[xxiv]Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment, op. cit. pp. 108-109.

[xxv]ibid. p. 109.

[xxvi]ibid. pp. 109-110.

[xxvii]ibid. p. 294.

[xxviii]ibid. p. 295.

[xxix]ibid. p. 303.

[xxx]ibid. p. 304.

[xxxi]ibid. pp. 305-306.

[xxxii]Jacobson, Nolan, Pliny. Creativity in the Buddhist Perspective. The Eastern Buddhist, New Series, Vol. 9, No. 2, October 1976, p. 55.

[xxxiii]Ed. Inada, Kenneth, K. & Jacobson, Nolan P. Buddhism and American Thinkers, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984, pp. 90-110.

[xxxiv]Jacobson, Nolan Pliny. Understanding Buddhism, Carbondale ILL: Southern Illinois University Press. 1986, p. 125.

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