Nietzsche Quotes on Stoicism: The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage

Updated February 9, 2024

Both Friedrich Nietzsche and the ancient Stoics had a concept of the ideal individual, a blueprint for what it means to lead the ultimate human life. What happens when you compare the Übermensch versus the Stoic sage, though? Are there similarities between these ideas, or are they completely in opposition to one another?

Like any discussion that involves the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, the answer is: that it’s complicated.

In short, though, we see that there are a number of points of overlap between the two concepts, including ideas about the pursuit of wisdom, inner virtue, and growth through adversity. On the other hand, the Nietzschean Übermensch is a more assertive figure than the Stoic sage and is guided by the values he creates for himself rather than prescribed virtues.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in to take a closer look at how these two idealized figures compare and contrast.

The Stoic Idea of the Sage

In classical philosophy, an individual who has attained wisdom is known as a sage. The idea of a person who possesses wisdom shows up in a number of philosophical schools, including:

  • Platonism
  • Aristotelianism
  • Epicureanism
  • Stoicism

In Stoicism, the notion of the sage was a crucial point of discussion. If you are anxious about your ability to truly attain wisdom, it’s worth noting that the sage was considered an unattainable ideal, not something that actually exists in reality. In fact, the Stoics were uncertain whether a sage had ever actually existed– the only two people who may have gotten close were Diogenes of Sinope and Socrates.

epictetus quote about wisdom nietzsche and The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." 

– Epictetus

To the Stoics, the main goal in life was to live a virtuous life. In order to live virtuously, one must live in accordance with nature.

marcus aurelius nietzsche The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage

"The wise man sees in the misfortune of others what he should avoid." 

Marcus Aurelius

A Stoic sage, then, is one who achieves a state of inner tranquility through virtuous living. There are four Stoic virtues– wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.

A true sage to the ancient Stoics could never be harmed by fate or external forces. They don’t experience sorrow when dealing with poverty, illness, a bad reputation, or other “dispreferred indifferent.” At the same time, they don’t feel any desire for “preferred indifferents,” such as wealth, fame, good health, and so on.

epictetus quote about wisdom nietzsche and The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage

"These are the signs of a wise man: to reprove nobody, to praise nobody, to blame nobody, nor even to speak of himself or his own merits."

 – Epictetus

The Stoic sage’s fulfillment comes entirely from virtue and thus leads to their eudaimonia, which translates to happiness, welfare, or “good spirit.”

Here’s what Marcus Aurelius had to say about the sage:

“How comes it that souls of no proficiency nor learning are able to confound the adept and the sage? Ah, but what soul is truly both adept and sage? His alone, who has knowledge of the beginning and the end, and of that all-pervading Reason which orders the univers in its determinate cycles to the end of time.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The Nietzchean Idea of the Übermensch

In his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche discusses the concept of the Übermensch, which can be translated to “Overman” or “Superman.” Though the idea of the Superman was particularly associated with Nietzsche, others like Goethe have also employed this concept in their works.

To Nietzsche, the Übermensch is able to transcend societal norms and the “herd morality” of conventional Christian thoughts in order to create values of his own that are rooted in the reality of existence on earth.

Here are some key points to know about the Nietzschean Übermensch:

  • The Übermensch goes beyond traditional moral standards: Instead of abiding by conventional morality, the Übermensch questions and reevaluates established values. Nietzsche criticizes what he sees as the limitations and constraints imposed by conventional morality.
  • The Übermensch creates their own personal values: The Übermensch is a creator of values. Instead of adhering to pre-existing moral codes, this is a person who establishes their own set of values and meaning.
  • The Übermensch is closely associated with the notion of the will to power: The concept of the will to power is central to Nietzsche's philosophy and is closely associated with the Übermensch. It, in brief, refers to the fundamental drive within individuals to assert themselves, overcome challenges, and enhance their own existence.
  • The Übermensch is life-affirming: The Übermensch affirms life in its totality, including both the joyous and difficult aspects. Embracing the idea of eternal recurrence, the Übermensch is depicted as someone who would willingly choose to live their life over and over again.
  • The Übermensch is an autonomous individual: The Übermensch is portrayed by Nietzsche as a self-reliant and independent individual who creates their own path and values, free from external influences.
  • The Übermensch storms through obstacles: The Nietzschean Übermensch has completely overcome the limitations of being human. This is an individual who engages in continuous self-overcoming, facing challenges and adversities with strength and creativity.
  • The Übermensch values courage, strength, and proactive engagement: The Übermensch rejects any and all values associated with weakness, pity, and passive acceptance.

Again, it’s important to recognize just how many different interpretations there are of the Nietzschean Übermensch. Because his writings were so complex and open to multiple interpretations, you’ll find many thinkers who have widely varying views about the concept.

What Did Nietzsche Say About Stoicism?

Like many of Nietzsche’s ideas, his thoughts on Stoicism were complex and not easily summarized in a few pithy sentences. Though we tend to want simple answers to questions, the truth is that one can’t rightfully say that Nietzsche either fully embraced or fully rejected the ideas of the ancient Stoics.

One of his most well-known passages that discusses Stoicism directly comes from his book Beyond Good and Evil. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at what the infamous philosopher has to say about the ancient Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism.

Breaking Down Nietzsche’s Discussion of Stoicism in Beyond Good and Evil

In this often-cited passage from Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche lets loose and talks directly to the Stoics about their worldview.

“You desire to LIVE "according to Nature"? Oh, you noble Stoics, what fraud of words!

Right out of the gate, Nietzsche accuses the Stoics of using deceptive language and questions the sincerity of their desire to live in agreement with Nature.

Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves INDIFFERENCE as a power—how COULD you live in accordance with such indifference?

To Nietzsche, nature is actually “boundlessly extravagant” while also being “boundlessly indifferent.” To truly live in accordance with nature, wouldn’t a paradox present itself when one tries to emulate a Nature that is, in his view, indifferent and without a fixed purpose?

To live—is not that just endeavouring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different? And granted that your imperative, "living according to Nature," means actually the same as "living according to life"—how could you do DIFFERENTLY? Why should you make a principle out of what you yourselves are, and must be? In reality, however, it is quite otherwise with you: while you pretend to read with rapture the canon of your law in Nature, you want something quite the contrary, you extraordinary stage-players and self-deluders!

To Nietzsche, true living involves valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, and endeavoring to be different from the indifferent and purposeless Nature he describes.

In your pride you wish to dictate your morals and ideals to Nature, to Nature herself, and to incorporate them therein; you insist that it shall be Nature "according to the Stoa," and would like everything to be made after your own image, as a vast, eternal glorification and generalism of Stoicism!

Another criticism Nietzsche spews at the Stoics is accusing them of a type of arrogance. Essentially, he asserts that they want to instruct Nature to follow their own morals and ideals. He posits that the Stoics are trying to mold Nature into the image of Stoicism, implying that the Stoics delusionally believed they could impose their values on Nature itself.

With all your love for truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently, and with such hypnotic rigidity to see Nature FALSELY, that is to say, Stoically, that you are no longer able to see it otherwise—and to crown all, some unfathomable superciliousness gives you the Bedlamite hope that BECAUSE you are able to tyrannize over yourselves—Stoicism is self-tyranny—Nature will also allow herself to be tyrannized over: is not the Stoic a PART of Nature?... 

In this passage, Nietzsche goes so far as to characterize Stoicism as a form of self-tyranny. He argues that the Stoics, in their attempt to live by their principles, have become tyrants over themselves, rigidly adhering to a false interpretation of Nature.

But this is an old and everlasting story: what happened in old times with the Stoics still happens today, as soon as ever a philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the most spiritual Will to Power, the will to "creation of the world," the will to the causa prima.”

Finally, Nietzsche goes on to expand beyond critiquing Stoicism to a broader discussion on philosophy as a whole. In this passage, he expresses his view that all philosophy is an attempt to create the world in its own image. Through their attempts and desires to understand and explain the world, Nietzsche says, philosophers end up shaping the world based on the beliefs that they hold.

Who Was Nietzsche?

Stepping back a bit and understanding a bit more about Nietzsche and his philosophy will likely help you gain a clearer picture of his relationship with Stoic philosophy.

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, and philologist who lived from 1844 to 1900. Best known for his profound and often controversial ideas on a wide range of topics, including morality, religion, culture, art, and the nature of existence, his works are characterized by their poetic and aphoristic style.

Many concepts that are still kicking around today in our modern world can be traced back to Nietzsche, including the notion of the “death of God,” ideas about nihilism, and the concept of the Übermensch.

Though Nietzsche's works didn’t reach a huge audience while he was actively writing, a series of lectures given by Georg Brandes at the University of Copenhagen stirred up quite a bit of discussion and excitement about him.

After Nietzsche passed away at the turn of the 20th century, his writings and ideas became increasingly more well-known. His philosophy and writings are both complex and controversial, influencing a diverse selection of groups over time.

With the clear-eyed vision of hindsight in our favor, we see that Nietzsche was a precursor to other highly influential philosophical movements, including:

What Are the Core Ideas of Nietzsche’s Philosophy?

You could easily spend the rest of your life studying the ideas of Nietzsche and still feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface. That being said, let’s look at some of the key aspects of his philosophy to help us better understand his views on Stoicism and how the Übermensch compares to the Stoic sage.

  • Will to power: Nietzsche proposed the concept of the "will to power," suggesting that a fundamental driving force in human beings is the desire for self-overcoming and the pursuit of power. This idea has been interpreted in various ways, including as a psychological force, a creative impulse, or a fundamental aspect of existence.
  • Eternal recurrence: In his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche introduced the idea of eternal recurrence. This essentially posits that the universe and all events within it are eternally recurring in an infinite cycle. This concept challenges us to consider how they would live their lives if they had to relive them over and over again.
  • The idea of the Übermensch: The topic of our post today is the Übermensch, which represents an individual who transcends conventional moral and societal norms, creates their own values, and embraces a life of self-affirmation.
  • His views on traditional Western morality and Christianity: Nietzsche was critical of traditional Western morality, particularly as influenced by Christianity. He argued that moral values had been inverted and that concepts such as good and evil needed to be reevaluated. He famously declared that "God is dead," suggesting the decline of religious authority in shaping human values in the modern world.
  • His views on the Enlightenment: Nietzsche also criticized the rationalist and Enlightenment traditions, arguing that reason alone could not provide meaning and purpose. He emphasized the importance of instincts, emotions, and the irrational aspects of human nature in addition to reason.

The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage: The Similarities

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at the Stoic notion of the sage in addition to who Nietzsche was and his idea of the Übermensch, let’s start to compare and contrast these ideas.

Are there any points of overlap between the Nietzschean Übermensch and the Stoic sage?

seneca quote about wisdom nietzsche and The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage

"No man was ever wise by chance." 

– Seneca the Younger

Here are some similarities between the two idealistic concepts:

  • Individuality and self-overcoming: Nietzsche's Übermensch is characterized by individual autonomy and the ability to overcome societal and moral constraints. Similarly, the Stoic Sage is self-sufficient and capable of mastering their own reactions to external events through the cultivation of virtue.
  • Inner virtue and wisdom: Nietzsche's Übermensch is a creator of values, establishing their own meaning and purpose in a seemingly indifferent universe. The Stoic Sage, too, is focused on inner virtue and wisdom, creating a personal ethical framework aligned with nature and reason.
  • Moving beyond societal norms: Both the Übermensch and the Stoic Sage transcend conventional moral standards. Nietzsche criticizes traditional morality, and the Übermensch creates their own values beyond societal norms. Stoicism, while advocating that individuals should live a virtuous life, also challenges conventional moral judgments by focusing on inner virtue rather than external approval.
  • Individual excellence and growth: Both concepts emphasize the importance of individual excellence. The Übermensch seeks self-realization and self-expression, while the Stoic Sage strives for moral and intellectual excellence as part of the path to eudaimonia.
  • The inevitability of adversity and its relationship with personal growth: Both Nietzsche and Stoicism acknowledge that everyone is going to experience difficult times in life. The Übermensch confronts challenges and embraces the idea of eternal recurrence, while the Stoic Sage accepts the external events beyond their control, embraces fate, and focuses on what they can control.

seneca quote about wisdom nietzsche and The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage

“He who seeks wisdom is a wise man; he who thinks he has found it is mad.”

 – Seneca

The Übermensch Versus the Stoic Sage: The Differences

Now, it’s time to explore some of the key differences between these concepts of the ideal individual.

  • Where they find authority for their values: The Übermensch creates their own values and meaning. Authority stems from the individual's will to power, and they actively engage in the reevaluation of traditional values. The Stoic sage, on the other hand, aligns their will with nature and reason, finding authority in universal principles.
  • Will to power versus apatheia: Nietzsche's concept of the will to power suggests a fundamental drive to assert oneself and overcome challenges. The Übermensch actively engages with life's challenges. While the Stoic sage isn’t necessarily an aesthetic that doesn’t participate in life, the sage does strive for inner peace and serenity by cultivating virtues and maintaining equanimity. Stoic philosophy promotes the idea of apatheia, a state of tranquility and freedom from disturbing emotions.
  • Ideas about morality: The Übermensch goes beyond conventional moral standards and establishes their own ethical framework. Nietzsche says traditional morality is something that limits individual authenticity and creativity. The Stoic sage, on the other hand, upholds the Stoic virtues in order to achieve eudaimonia.
  • Acceptance versus assertion: The Übermensch is a creative force, actively shaping their own values and affirming life in the face of eternal recurrence. The creation of meaning is a central aspect. The sage, however, emphasizes acceptance of external events beyond their control and instead focuses on those things that are in their control.
  • Individualism versus cosmopolitanism: Nietzsche's Übermensch is highly individualistic, emphasizing the uniqueness and creativity of each individual. In contrast, Stoicism has a more universalist perspective. This means that the sage seeks alignment with universal principles and living in accordance with nature, while seeing themselves a part of connected whole.
  • How to deal with adversity: The Übermensch confronts adversity and embraces challenges as part of the process of self-overcoming. While the Stoic sage also embraces adversity, this figure recognizes that they don’t have control over external events and focuses on living virtuously and cultivating inner tranquility.

“Now I will explain how you can recognize that you are not wise. The wise man is full of joy, cheerful and calm, undisturbed. He lives on equal terms with the gods. Now examine yourself: if you are never sad, if no hope disturbs your mind with anticipation of the future, if by day and night the condition of your spirit is even and unvarying, alert and happy with itself, then you have reached the high point of human good.” 

– Seneca the Younger

Nietzsche Quotes

You can say a lot of things about Nietzsche, but you certainly can’t say that his ideas or writings were simplistic. The ideas he proposed have had a huge influence on our world today. Let’s look at some of the best-known and most thought-provoking quotes from the famous German philosopher.

“Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“The greater the obstacle the more glory in overcoming it. - What does not destroy makes me stronger.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“In solitude the lonely man is eaten up by himself, among crowds by the many.“

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“There will always be rocks in the road ahead of us. They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones; it all depends on how you use them.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“I was in darkness, but I took three steps and found myself in paradise. The first step was a good thought, the second, a good word; and the third, a good deed.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Nobody is more inferior than those who insist on being equal.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzche Quotes About Wisdom

Since we’re discussing the idea of the Übermensch and the ideal individual, let’s take a look at some of Nietzsche’s most fascinating quotes about wisdom and personal growth.

“The flame is not as bright to itself as it is to those it illuminates: so too the sage.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler. an unknown sage - whose name is self. In your body he dwells; he is your body. There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“My wisdom has long accumulated like a cloud, it becomes stiller and darker. So does all wisdom which shall one day bear lightnings.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Wisdom sets bounds even to knowledge.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“To become wise you have to want to experience certain experiences, and so to run into their open jaws. This is very dangerous, tobe sure; many a "wise man" has been eaten up in doing so.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“It is not enough to prove something, one also has to seduce or elevate people to it. That is why the man of knowledge should learns how to speak his wisdom: and often in such a way that it sounds like folly!”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Once and for all, there are many things I choose not to know.--Wisdom sets limits even to knowledge.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“The growth of wisdom may be gauged exactly by the diminution of ill-temper.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

“Scholarship has the same relationship to wisdom as righteousness has to holiness: it is cold and dry, it is loveless and knows no deep feelings of inadequacy or longing.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Stoic Quotes About Wisdom and the Sage

Finally, let’s close out by looking at some quotes from the ancient Stoic philosophers about what it means to be wise and how one can work towards becoming a sage (even though they likely won’t achieve it).

"It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows." 

– Epictetus

“Now I will explain how you can recognize that you are not wise. The wise man is full of joy, cheerful and calm, undisturbed. He lives on equal terms with the gods. Now examine yourself: if you are never sad, if no hope disturbs your mind with anticipation of the future, if by day and night the condition of your spirit is even and unvarying, alert and happy with itself, then you have reached the high point of human good.” 

– Seneca the Younger

"The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going." 

– Epictetus

“I seek the is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance that does harm."

– Marcus Aurelius

“A physician is not angry at the intemperance of a mad patient, nor does he take it ill to be railed at by a man in fever. Just so should a wise man treat all mankind, as a physician does his patient, and look upon them only as sick and extravagant.” 

– Seneca the Younger

“The Fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them.”

– Cleanthes

"He who exercises wisdom exercises the knowledge which is about God." 

– Epictetus

“A good mind possesses a kingdom.” 

– Seneca the Younger

“It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them.”

– Epictetus

“He who seeks wisdom is a wise man; he who thinks he has found it is mad.”

– Seneca the Younger

"Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat."

– Epictetus

Are You Striving to Be an Übermensch or a Sage?

By comparing the Übermensch versus the Stoic sage, we are able to get a better sense of our own concept of the ideal individual. While there are a number of similarities between these two imagined figures, including a focus on wisdom, overcoming adversity, and not bowing to societal norms at the expense of virtue, there are also some stark differences. The Nietzschean Übermensch is an assertive figure who creates his own values, while the Stoic sage accepts his inability to alter external events and focuses on following the four cardinal Stoic virtues– wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice.

Are you searching for more philosophical inspiration as you work to determine the best way to live your life? Make sure you check out our Stoic quotes blog for more articles, insights, and philosophical musings!

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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