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The Übermensch and the Bodhisattva: the two Offspring of Nihilism

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Friedrich Nietzsche once described himself as “the Buddha of Europe,” albeit as the “antipode” of his Indian counterpart. Indeed, Nietzsche believed that the historical Buddha’s starting assumptions were not so different from his own: no God, no metaphysics, no objective value to existence and no purpose to the endless sufferings of life. From this common nihilist ground, however, Nietzsche believed two opposite roads opened up: the life-negating ethics of the Buddha’s Bodhisattva ideal, or the life-affirming ethics of his own Übermensch ideal. In this talk, I will present the way in which Nietzsche sets up this dichotomy and explore some features of his ambivalent relation to Buddhism. After highlighting the important affinities between Nietzsche’s and the Buddha’s views on metaphysics and on the universality of suffering, I will examine the ways in which Nietzsche’s Übermensch is meant to stand as the polar opposite of the Buddhist ideal.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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