Was Nietzsche the first philosopher to really lay claim to the concept of "transvaluation", by which I mean the re-evaluation of all values?

Who if anyone before him made that such a deliberate and overt goal?

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    The answer is trivially yes since "transvaluation of values" is the term specifically reserved for the Nietzschean concept. If by "transvaluation" you mean something not specifically Nietzschean you'll have to describe what that is. And there are no answers to "was X right?" on a philosophical issue other than primarily opinion-based ones, which we try to avoid here. So please expand on the first paragraph, and replace the second one with something more objectively answerable.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 23:07
  • @Conifold eh I don't follow your 1st sentence. i wasn't asking "was X right", per se, and i don't see why it would be opinion based, at least without a confusing epistemology. isn't the whole history of philosophy based on finding out who was or is right?
    – user25714
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 23:26
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    Philosophy isn't science, there is no uncontroversial standard of "rightness", only "right according to" and more or less defensible positions. As for Nietzsche, he pointed to cynics as his precursors:"Nietzsche is not for the feint hearted, and like Diogenes, he appears, in his commentary at least, to be conceited, intolerant, and annihilating. This external arrogance and nastiness... provides for the daring honesty and unrestraint that makes a cynic a great cynic".
    – Conifold
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 23:37
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    a) "Re-evaulation of all values" is still too broad (does it include nihilism, etc.?), not sure what you mean by "mincing words"; b) there are plenty of modern philosophical schools of thought with opposing views on Nietzsche and his role. It doesn't have to be a specific author but some indication as to whose opinion you are interested in would help (analytic? continental?, even that little is unclear). Alternatively you can try explaining your idea of "re-evaulation of all values" (which by itself is an almost vacuous phrase).
    – Conifold
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 23:49
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    @EthanNOPE - I'd rather say that if an idea is logically absurd it is wrong. I cannot imagine any other way to proceed in philosophy and cannot grasp why everyone doesn't hold the same view. I'd agree that analysis cannot establish truth but it is very efficient as a method for establishing falsity. Bradley rightly calls it 'an antidote for dogmatic superstition'. I do not know the reasons why academic philosophers do not trust their own reasoning and maintain so many views that fail in logic. It's one of the mysteries of philosophy.
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 12:50

3 Answers 3


There is a kind of transvaluation of values in Plato's Republic. Ordinary conceptions of justice, temperance, wisdom, courage, and ultimately goodness, are all 'vulgar' distortions of the real nature of these values as embodied in the Forms. Only those who have undergone the education of the philosopher, outlined in Rep. VII, apprehend what justice and the rest really are. The discrepancy between what the vulgar think and the philosophers know about the different values is so radical that 'transvaluation' is not too strong a term to express the philosopher's new perspective, rooted in reality rather than in the vaguenesss and imprecision of everyday belief.


Plato, Republic, tr. C Rowe, ISBN 10: 0141442433 / ISBN 13: 9780141442433 Published by Penguin Classics, 2012.


No, he certainly was not the first to attempt such a thing (at least if we follow Nietzsche's historical analysis of previous transvaluations) nor the first to think about it, but he may be the first to have thought about it and also attempted it (i.e. the first self-conscious attempt) — and he did, I believe, coin the verb umwerten to describe the process.

Arguably classical Greek ethics was the first attempt at such a thing; that is certainly where Nietzsche got the idea, from his analysis of Socrates and the other classical Greek moral philosophers. But these Greeks didn't think of themselves as transforming a coherent ethical system so much as making an inconsistent (and therefore only quasi-ethical) ethical system, consistent and rational. Once these philosophers became culturally dominant, they didn't really argue that much with each other about the content of ethics (what sorts of duties an ethically person has), but about how to understand ethics and how to become a virtuous person.

(Likewise later when the Christians attacked the moral corruption of pagan culture they were, in Nietzsche's sense, transforming it, but again not self-consciously; they thought of themselves as in most senses more loyal to the true meaning of pagan moral philosophy than the pagans themselves, and the apologetic literature of the early Church constantly points out that ordinary low-born Christians have more virtue than philosophers who devote their life to self-perfection.)

The first people to self-consciously devote themselves to a "transformation" of ethics that wasn't just seen as a perfection or purification of the existing society's (quasi-)ethics were the neo-Romans like Machiavelli who not only admired classical culture, but identified a clear distinction between the virtues produced by classical pagan states and the virtues of Christianity, and preferred (and sought a return to) the latter. This Renaissance episode may not strictly reach the standard of "transvaluation" Nietzsche set for his Overman — the creation of new values, not the resuscitation of values out of museum exhibits (what we would now call LARPing) — but Nietzsche definitely identified it as a predecessor to his own attempt to overcome Christian values. Unsurprisingly, this interpretation of the Renaissance fits well with the then-pioneering studies of the historian Jakob Burckhardt, Nietzsche's colleague.

Examples of philosophical reflection on moral inversion can be found from Montaigne on. Montaigne considered whether cannibalism and torture might not be noble; Grotius similarly set up a hypothetical immoral morality (only for the purposes of rejecting it); Kant considered, not a world where all the moral duties were inverted, but one where the duties were normal and the people were all secretly amoral monsters; Hegel coined the term verkehrte Welt.

But all of these figures ultimately had fairly straitlaced, conventional theories of our ethical duties; the only figure who comes to mind who both was highly unconventional ethically and recognized himself as such was Sade, who only barely qualifies as a philosopher. Between Hegel and Nietzsche there were a number of thinkers with unconventional ethical views (Stirner, Marx, maybe Feuerbach) but they generally thought of themselves as trying to ignore morality rather than fashion a new one.


I guess Rene Descartes did earlier, as his famous allegory of the basket of fruit.

Our mind is like baskets of apples. If one apple is spoiled, then it will make all other apples spoil. To keep all apples good, we have to test all apples before putting them in the basket. The same way, all thoughts, valuation, or its truthfulness we need to test before we adapt them to keep our mind good and not get spoiled with bad thoughts.

He called it rationalism instead of trans-valuation but I do look both concept almost same.

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    Descartes had a project of testing beliefs so as to arrive at beliefs were immune from error. Can't see how this amounts to 'transvaluation' in the sense of the question.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 20:45
  • as I understand term trans-valuation means re assigning valuation or re-evaluating of any thing by applying of theory or equation or calculating existing by testing. and Descartes did not just project of testing beliefs so as to arrive at beliefs were immune from error he actually proposed testify every belief`s result through applying math and evaluating the results. and he did also proposed testing theories/belief in all possible aspects and to found possible aspects he produced Cartesian methodologies. so this how i do think he did trans-valuation of thoughts. Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 10:04

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