Nietzsche’s Paradox–Nihilism and Teleology

by Max Andrews

It would be an appropriate evaluation of Friedrich Nietzsche to state that his mere calling for the übermensch is a teleological claim.  To call for redemption of something and to set a standard model is a purposeful and meaningful proclamation.  The desire appears to be motivated by the very thing Nietzsche is often accused of, nihilism.  Nietzsche was in despair over the implications of Christianity with no God—that was nihilism, which was a catalyst to his philosophizing with a hammer.

Nietzsche never denied there being any meaning or purpose.  His qualm was that if Christianity continues without God, which would be meaningless and purposeless.  He understood that there had to be meaning and purpose.  The teleology, for Nietzsche, was a pursuit to overcome those things, which were life denying.  Christianity, God, idols, and false ideas were all life denying and life prohibiting concepts.  Nietzsche recognized the human nature and need for a teleology, but how?  In his pursuit for meaning and purpose he calls for the übermensch to do just that.

In Charles Darwin’s Decent of Man, he argued that human nature is not the result of God but the fact of it having risen by evolution instead of having been placed there by God may give hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future.  The parallel as outlined in The Will to Power is that an aspect of truth was the will-to-power:  “Let us admit to ourselves… how every higher culture on earth so far has begun.  Human beings whose nature was still natural… were still in possession of unbroken strength of will and lust for power.”  The übermensch was the higher state of being.  Darwin attempted to account for teleology by natural means, Nietzsche merely capitalized on that and spiritualized it into a secular teleology.

By combining the empirical warrant (Darwin) and the spiritual or philosophical warrant, Nietzsche’s teleology is complete.  Each contribution would have been inadequate if left alone.  Hardship, suffering, and sacrifice on a scientific level promotes a natural advancement of the animal whereas if hardship, suffering, and sacrifice is combined with a purposive and conscious goal there is an appearance of meaning to the process.

There is an alienation that man possesses within himself and others that Nietzsche does not explicate but is there by implication.  Despite this, man is capable of transcending himself but he needs motivation, goal, a path, and a sense of direction—the übermensch. Science a nature cannot and will not provide what is needed for this transcendence.  Without the transcendence there is no teleology, there is no purpose or meaning in a closed system.  In his writings, Nietzsche affirms Darwin’s scientific account for the biological advancement of man.  In The Will to Power Nietzsche takes the scientific account and capitalizes on it by stating that philosophy should set itself with ruthless courage to the task of improving that aspect of the world which has been recognized as susceptible to being changed.”  In the same work, Nietzsche states that man is a rope between animal and the übermensch—a rope over an abyss.

The abyss is where Nietzsche’s paradox can be found.  He recognizes that he needs meaning, value, and purpose.  Nietzsche dreads the notion of nihilism and he recognizes that it is imminent; it is an abyss that must be avoided.  God could provide that meaning, value, and purpose that is needed.  Nietzsche understands the abyss to be just that.  Nietzsche’s übermensch is what provides the necessary teleology he needs.


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