A PHILOSOPHICAL LOOK AT THE EGOCENTRIC INTERPRETATION OF SELF-TRANSCENDENCE IN MAN IN THE LIGHT OF NIETZSCHE
Man by nature it has been said is an insatiable being. He is never satisfied and fulfilled within any particular state. He wants always to move beyond his present condition and consequently realize himself in the ultimate end. In other words, man seeks to transcend himself in all his activities. Man is never a static and motionless being that remains constant at any particular position. He is rather gifted with those qualities that make him an active being full of potentialities and capabilities. What then is self-transcendence? It is that characteristic movement of man in which he continually surpasses himself, in all that he is, all he wishes and all that he has. I mean it is that constant tendency possessed by man to always go beyond the already acquired situation in search of the supreme cause of his being, his primary origin and what should be the final end.
With regard to this, some solutions were given for the essence of self-transcendence and egocentricism is one of them. This was however developed by modern and contemporary philosophy, above all by the representative of the existentialist current, beginning with Nietzsche. In this project therefore, attempt is made to examine the egocentric interpretation of self-transcendence in man in the light of its greatest exponent and defender by name Friedrich Nietzsche.
STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Nietzsche has the belief that man, in his present life, finds himself in a precarious, pitiable, devastating, alienated, decadent, and inauthentic condition, full of deficiencies and miseries. Consequently, something has to be done in order to free man from this litany of problems. This is because there exists in every man that tension to free himself from the slavery of ignorance, error, fear and passions. Therefore, the crux of the problem lies in the recovering of the self through the acquisition of a truer and more proper being by effectuating a fuller and more complete actualization of his own possibilities. The message is that man must as a matter of fact be surpassed and to fully realize himself, he must shatter the fetters of metaphysics, morals and religion, and in particular, he must eliminate the idea of God.
PURPOSE OF THE WORK
Nietzsche in a bid to free man from his depressed state brought to the consciousness of all the fact that man must abandon or eliminate the idea of God, religion and morality. An exhaustive effort is therefore made towards analyzing, exposing and evaluating this surpassing of oneself in a bid to realize oneself and we shall see also why it is egocentric.
SCOPE OF THE STUDY
Going through many books especially philosophical Anthropology by B. Mondin, one will see immediately that many people made one contribution or the other on the issue of self-transcendence. Many still said many things with regard to the egocentric interpretation of self-transcendence in man. However, in this work much attention is paid to Nietzsche who as it has been said earlier is the greatest exponent and defender of this egocentric tendency in man. We equally considered the abstract and spiritual manifestation of self-transcendence in other events outside man. Besides, relevant materials could be sought from other philosophers and works of Nietzsche and any other material we consider necessary no matter the source.
It involves expository and critical approach. Hence, the egocentric interpretation of self-transcendence in man will be diagnosed, exposed, carefully and systematically examined in the light of Nietzsche. This project also gives room for a well systematized and critical evaluation of Nietzsche’s mind on egocentricism in man.
THE NOTION AND MEANING OF SELF-TRANSCENDENCE IN MAN
Self-transcendence being a quality outstanding in all human actions has its etymological meaning taken from the Latin word “Transcendere” which means to ascend on, elevate oneself above, cross, displace, scale, or simply going beyond. Going with this etymological meaning, the concept transcendence is attained by experience and at this level of experience, it denotes a spatial relation: the relation of surpassing, unboundedness, passing beyond, displacement in the sense of being above, being beyond, outside of etc. Consequently, we have such expressions like “to transcend one’s own confines”, ambient or environment, “to transcend every limit” to transcend the cloud and so on. Following this, the concept of self-transcendence is transferred now from the realm of material or sensible to that of the abstract and spiritual concept. From this angle, it therefore becomes possible to say that the substance transcends the accidents, intellective knowledge transcends sensitive knowledge. The soul transcends the world of matter or body etc.
In our own time in philosophy, the term has taken up a technical meaning. It indicates today the divine reality, namely, it can refer to the Divine (the transcendence is God) As Mondin points out, we use the term transcendence today even more often when speaking not only of God but also of man. All along, we have been talking on the transcendence of sensible objects. But we can apply the term to the subject. In this case therefore, we can talk of auto- transcendence. The term therefore indicates the property of man by which he constantly goes beyond himself in all that he thinks, wills and all that he realizes or achieves. We can say therefore that man transcend himself. He transcends himself in thought, in liberty, in language, in association and in many other things. In fact “he is never satisfied with his achievements”.
1.1 THE PRINCIPAL PARTS OF SELF-TRANSCENDENCE
The term transcendence is divided into two principal parts namely horizontal or historical transcendence and vertical or metaphysical auto-transcendence, While horizontal transcendence consists of a simple going towards the future, but remaining within the horizon of space and time and therefore of history. On the other hand “Vertical transcendence refers to the one that pushes higher, and tends to exceed the limits (bounds) of space and time, towards infinite”.
In the horizontal transcendence, man tries to overcome his cosmic limitations, and project himself to a better future like in the various technological products such as car, air-conditions, houses, medicine, airplanes etc. The vertical auto-transcendence is seen as a movement from the phenomenal to noumenal level. Here, man tries to discover realities behind the spiritual world.
1.1.1 THE EGOCENTRIC INTERPRETATION OF SELF- TRANSCENDENCE.
A careful and critical examination of the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Stoics, Descartes, Feurerbach, Hegel and Nietzsche reveals that man is always seen as trying to extricate himself from life shackles, alienation, entanglement or the state of oppression. The purpose of this liberation is to reinstate man back to his true nature and this of course should be done through discovering human potentialities, which will enable him to realize and actualize himself. This solution has the good of the subject as its primary objective. According to the egocentric solution, “the movement of self-transcendence has its one aim, the perfection, the fulfillment, of man’s being in its individual person”. This was retaken and developed by F. Nietzsche, as we shall see later.
1.1.2 THE SOCIAL INTERPRETATION OF SELF- TRANSCENDENCE
Also called the philanthropic solution. It aims at giving humanity better state of affairs. Its target is the elimination of individualism and egoism, an attempt to create awareness in the people such that they will emancipate from individualism miseries and social inequalities and consequently arrive at perfect happiness. Many people supported this view like Karl Max, Marcus, Bloch, Garaudy etc. Their target is the movement from individual self to the entire community. They have no religious overtone. It is given a social dimension. That is man as a social being is seen going beyond himself.
1.1.3 THE THEOCENTRIC INTERPRETATION OF SELF- TRANSCENDENCE.
The crippling and devastating individualism of the egocentric position and the incompleteness of the social\ philanthropic interpretation of self-transcendence explains the need for man to search for something more permanent and reliable. Therefore to cling on the egocentric and social interpretation of self-transcendence will amount to absolutizing the horizontal dimension of self-transcendence. When this total dependence on the horizontal level takes place, it will be very difficult for man to really surpass and assert himself. Therefore, the horizontal dimension comprising egocentric and philanthropic interpretation of self-transcendence does not provide a fertile ground for the realization of ones ultimate end. This is because the question of self-transcendence goes beyond the horizon of space and time and as such, recognizes the metaphysical dimension. This is the solution that man’s self-transcendence can only be realized completely in God. Hence, the theocentric interpretation of self-transcendence centers on God and sees God as the end point of every human endeavour. God as it were, pulls all creatures onto himself due to goodness and love. God being the unmoved mover, draws every other being to himself. Some of the exponents of this view include: Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Blondel, Lonergan etc. It is therefore only in God that one can gain perfect fulfillment and consequently realize oneself. This is the view of the theocentric interpretation of self-transcendence.
1.2 ABSTRACT MANIFESTATION OF SELF-TRANSCENDENCE.
The concept of self-transcendence does not only exist in the concrete and experiential sense of human existence but also extends to the metaphysical realm. It goes beyond the physical world and extends itself to abstract things. That is “from material things, the concept of self-transcendence was transferred into the realm of a spiritual and abstract concept”4. As a result of this extension of the concept of self-transcendence to metaphysical things, we can then say that substance transcends accidents, the world of spirit transcends that of matter, God transcends the world, the soul transcends the body, intellectual knowledge transcends sensory knowledge and things of this nature. These things are really spiritual and abstract for we cannot touch them. We shall therefore at this juncture examine critically one after the other this spiritual and abstract manifestation of self-transcendence to see to what extent they are true.
1.2.1 SUBSTANCE AND ACCIDENT
What can we say to be the meaning of a substance? It can be defined as a being whose nature is to exist in itself. For instance, we can see such things like racehorse, maple tree, robin, human being etc whose centers of existence and activity remain independent. “Beings that go on being what they are behind the restless face of everyday change” 5
On the other hand, accident “refers to those beings that cannot exist on their own, any more than the grin on the face of the cat can be found apart from the cat”6. The basic and outstanding fact about these ways of being (accident) is that they cannot exist on their own and so depend on some prior being for their existence. Hence “an accident can then be defined as a being whose nature is to exist in another”7.
The word substance is derived from the Latin term sub (under) stans (standing) and it literally means “Standing under” or that which stands under. Substance constitute the very nature or essence of a thing and accident represents any of its qualities which is not essential to its nature; for instance color, size, weight etc. Various philosophers equally contributed on the superiority of substance over accident. Therefore, one can courageously say that substance transcends accident. This was so because the concept of transcendence not only dwells on material and tangible things but also goes beyond. For Descartes “substance is an existent which requires nothing but itself in order to exist”8.
1.2.2 BODY AND SOUL
The concept of transcendence is seen and experienced in the body and soul relationship. It was indeed an issue that captured the minds and thoughts of many philosophers and theologians alike. The human soul is the principle of intellectual activity and as such, it is incorporeal and subsistent. That is to say that the human soul in its relationship with the body can “exist and operate even when it is separated from the body”9.
Consequently, the soul being the principle of intellectual life, takes the form of the human body. The transcendence of the human soul over the body is equally seen in the immortality of the soul, but the human soul is a spirit as well as soul; that is, it has activities-understanding and willing – which being intrinsically independent of the body for their exercise, indicate an act of existence equally independent of the body. There is therefore no principle of death in the soul, for neither can it be broken up into parts nor is it vitally dependent upon some other being whose destruction it would share. This is because the soul of man is spiritual as we noted earlier since it performs operations that are independent of matter. Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas would see the human soul as the substantial form of the body as against philosophers like Plato and Descartes for whom the soul is a separate substance independent of the body to which it is accidentally united or as against the views of John B. Watson and David Hume who see the human soul as something that is unknowable or does not exist at all. The point remains that the human soul is superior to the body and many religions will support this view. This is why at the point of death as some religions hold, the soul leaves the body and does not decay and the body on the other hand decays. Therefore as spiritual, the soul of man must be the “product of a direct creation; it must be immortal, for
there is no principle of dissolution in a spiritual being”10.
1.2.3 MAN AND THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE
The creation account shows that human beings are creatures of God, made in his image and likeness (Gen 1:27) and as such “they are the words of visible creation under God”11. The scripture made us understand that no other thing was created in the image and likeness of God except man. Hence, the only animal that resembles God is man. This resemblance is seen in our soul. This therefore bears an eloquent testimony of the superiority and importance of man over all the created things. Besides, an image is a copy of something else, resembling it in some specific way.
“Men and women are important images of God, who infinitely transcends them, because they have a specific likeness to God in virtue of their spiritual operations of understanding and willing”12. The transcendence of man over the world is also felt in the immortality of man’s soul as against other creatures of God. Whereas other things will one day perish and go out of existence, the human soul does not perish. Besides all these, man is the only animal given the power to walk upright (Homo erectus). He is the only animal that is endowed and gifted with the faculty of reasoning. (homo sapiens) and many other factors that make man unique among the creatures of God. Other creatures like plants and other lower animals cannot boast of these things. Considering the above enumerated talents and gifts to man, we see that he is really a unique being. This uniqueness therefore distinguishes him from all other creatures. For instance, man can engage himself in the production of many things in the field of science and technology. Thanks to his intellect and rationality. Besides, man is a creature that thinks and deliberates over an action before executing it and he is quite conscious of himself. That is why he can be held responsible for his daily actions. These things cannot be found among the lower animals. For instance, one cannot hold a goat responsible for eaten up ones yam in ones farm or barn because a goat does not posses the above outstanding qualities which man possesses. It is not in the nature of a goat to possess these things. On the other hand, man possesses all these qualities and this makes man a unique animal or being. It is because of these facts and many other ones that we say that man transcend his environment and the creatures in it.
1.2.4 GOD AND THE UNIVERSE
To talk about the transcendence of God over the universe is already a clear fact to the human knowledge. Our emergence into this world and the entire universe itself is the handwork of God. This is because created things cannot be greater than its creator and as a matter of fact should remain under its direction and sustainance.
In short there is nothing which is not subject to the government of God, for it is God who maintains all creatures in existence and moves all things including subordinate causes, in accordance with his will13
This implies therefore that there is no cause which can impede his action, because no cause can happen independent of him. God shows his transcendence over all creatures by preserving them in existence. “Just as the song is continually dependent upon the singer if it is to be heard, so the creature is continually dependent upon God if it is to exist”14. God moves and sees to the movement of all the creatures and through this movement which they receive from God, they are able to act since they cannot act outside God. Therefore, we can say that God “rouses creatures from inactivity to activity”15 We can also deduce here that this movement of the universe presupposes a mover who is not moved himself by any other thing since he transcends both the creatures and movement. God is indeed the “prime mover, the unmoved mover and the source of the motion of the universe”16. The creature “remains a contingent being deriving its existence from God and so the creature exists only as long as God sustains it”17.
Stretching the transcendence of God over the creatures, we come to see his immutability. What does this means? It means that “God is in no way subject to change”18. All other creatures can change from one state to another. For instance; man changing from the state of poverty to richness etc. God is eternal because he continues to exist of himself without having beginning and without the possibility of ceasing neither acquiring anything nor suffering the loss of anything. Simply put, God transcends the universe.
1.3 MANIFESTATION OF SELF-TRANSCENDENCE IN OUR DAILY PROGRAMMES AND THE WORLD
The limitedness of man which springs up as a result of man’s boundedness within space and time does not make him wait on nature in providing for his well-being. For instance, he throws himself into creating and inventing many things. Today, man has many achievements like the construction of modern houses, reduction in infant mortality, and complete eradication of some diseases through medicines, processed food items, easy means of transportation in the air, sea and land and all these are possible due to the break through in science and technology; that is the outcome of human ingenuity. In politics, man also propounds laws and the rule of life for a better conduct and happy future. Ethics also contributes its own quota. It helps to create the awareness on what to do and what to guard against for the overall welfare of all. These guiding principles make man to live in peace and harmony with others. Economically, man is also making sincere efforts to ameliorate his ugly and devastating situation in the world.
Man also brings in sophiscated implement like tractors instead of relying on local implement in his farm work. But one thing remains clear and that is that man is simply seeking to transcend himself in all these actions and consequently arrive at a better condition and fulfilled life.
 L. Asiegbu: “Auto-transcendence”, unpublished Lecture notes on Philosophical Anthropology” Bigard Memorial Seminary Ikot-Ekpene, 1977-1980.
 B. Mondin, philosophical Anthropology (Bangalore: Theological publications in India, 1998) p.197.
 Ibid., p.199-200.
4 Ibid., p.197.