In issue 20(1) of The Journal of Evolution and Technology, we published “Nietzsche, the Overhuman, and Transhumanism” by Stefan Lorenz Sorgner (March 2009). In this intriguing article, Sorgner argues that there are significant similarities between the concept of the posthuman (as typically deployed in transhumanist thought) and Nietzsche’s celebrated notion of the overhuman (often referred to, perhaps misleadingly, as “the Superman”). Sorgner does not claim that late twentieth-century and contemporary transhumanist thinkers were knowingly influenced by Nietzsche: this is a question that he explicitly leaves open. Nor does he depict transhumanism as monolithic, or the concept of the posthuman as unambiguous. For all that, he suggests that the similarity between the two concepts – overhuman and posthuman – is not merely superficial: it lies at a fundamental level.
Sorgner compares the posthuman and overhuman concepts in a way that is calculated to bring out a deep similarity. He discusses, for example, how the relevant systems of thought are alike in viewing humanity as merely a work in progress, with only limited potential in the absence of a radical transformation. Humanity is, in other words, not an evolutionary culmination but something that cries out for improvement. Sorgner adds, however, that the idea of the overhuman provides Nietzsche with a grounding for values that appears to be missing in transhumanist thought.
As Sorgner develops his thesis, Nietzsche rejects any concept of transcendent meaning, but finds value in the interest of “higher humans” in permanently and continually “overcoming” themselves. On this approach, the ultimate “overcoming” consists in surpassing the human species itself. The prospect of success in creation of the overhuman is thus supposed to give meaning to human beings who are immersed in the efforts of self-overcoming. For individuals with a scientific materialist view of the world, or a scientific “spirit,” and who have rejected the epistemic and moral authority claimed by Christianity, this is supposed provide an alternative source of meaning. Sorgner’s thesis, then, is that Nietzsche’s thought contains an important value dimension. Further, he suggests, this is missing from the transhumanist movement, which would do well to incorporate it. As Sorgner puts the matter:
Transhumanists, at least in the articles which I have consulted, have not explained why they hold the values they have, and why they want to bring about posthumans. Nietzsche, on the other hand, explains the relevance of the overhuman for his philosophy. The overhuman may even be the ultimate foundation for his worldview.
Is this correct?