Nietzsche and Transhumanism: A Reassessment
Keywords:Nietzsche, transhumanism, history of ideas, mysticism
This paper addresses the scholarly debate over Nietzsche’s relationship to transhumanism. Most writing on this topic has focused almost exclusively on whether or not Nietzsche’s thought is philosophically compatible with transhumanist philosophy. Because ideas are not always transmitted in philosophically cogent ways, this approach is inadequate to address the question of how Nietzsche may have influenced transhumanism. I propose replacing the current approach with a history of ideas approach that also tracks “para-philosophical” vectors of influence. Bringing to bear such an approach, I argue that Nietzsche was crucial in laying the groundwork for transhumanism. First, his rejection of Being, of a fixed ontological order, decisively undermined essentialist conceptions of human nature, opening the door to a radical refashioning of the human being such as that envisioned in the transhumanist “posthuman.” Second, Nietzsche’s superman and the transhumanist posthuman are instantiations of apotheosis, a perennial impulse toward self-divinization at the core of many mystical and esoteric systems. The superman represents the ideal of apotheosis filtered through Nietzsche’s materialism and his processual turn, and it is in this modified, post-Nietzschean form that the ideal passes to transhumanism. Finally, I demonstrate that Nietzsche’s thought is not as philosophically incompatible with transhumanism as some critics claim.
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