How should I live? How can I best realise my higher or nobler self? How do my I perfect my existence whilst accepting the fact that the task is without a final end?
How can I establish an original relationship to the world? How can I become the one that I am: unique, singular, and incomparable?
These are just a few of the questions that are posed in the tradition of moral philosophy known as ‘perfectionism’ and that are at the centre of this module. This perfectionism denotes not so much a specific moral theory as a dimension of moral philosophising from Plato and the Socratic schools through to Spinoza and Nietzsche that is concerned with the attainment of the best life.
In this module, the focus is on Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most original and thought-provoking philosophers of the modern period who declares God to be dead and proclaims the superhuman as the future meaning of the earth: this is a clear signal of his perfectionist aspirations. There will be a special emphasis on placing Nietzsche in relation to the American thinker and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82). Nietzsche greatly admired Emerson and regarded him as a fellow iconoclast and nonconformist. He derived much inspiration from his ‘Essays’, and we shall read key ones such as ‘Self-Reliance’ and ‘The Over-Soul’. With respect to Nietzsche we shall read materials from across the entire corpus; early, middle, and late writings will covered, including Schopenhauer as Educator, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and The Gay Science. The material covered in the course represents some of the most original and creative philosophising in modern European and American thought.