Who was the earliest known philosopher?
Is it Confucius or Thales they were both around same time.

  • Would you include theology?
    – Michael
    May 16 '14 at 21:48
  • @user3645033 Known by whom?
    – user6760
    May 16 '14 at 22:40
  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic. May 17 '14 at 0:39
  • 3
    This question could be closer to being on-topic if it defined philosopher.
    – virmaior
    May 17 '14 at 0:56
  • 1
    @user3645033 no. Please give us the definition you want us to work from. The word philosopher has several meanings. If you want the first person we know of called a philosopher: Thales. If you want the first person to think of something we could all philosophical: no idea.
    – virmaior
    May 17 '14 at 11:40

If you include theology, then Akhenaten would be a viable candidate for developing perhaps the 1st known monotheistic religion and concluding that everything in the World came from a single common source.

  • 2
    In this way, it seems to me that we are equating philosophy with any form of "human thinking: in this way, it make no sense. I think we have to restrict the discussion to historical persons, with recorder activities and works : if not still existing one, at least documented through survived fragments or paraphrases. May 17 '14 at 9:51
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA. Taken from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy. Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. I'd say it counts. May 18 '14 at 8:09
  • Then we might as well count Graoumpf the caveman, who theorized the world must have come from an egg who hatched because the Primordial Ape dropped it after confusing it with a mango. Everybody who came up with a made up worldview is not a philosopher.
    – armand
    Jun 9 at 1:00
  • @armand, what makes a person a philosopher?
    – Michael
    Jun 9 at 3:03

Bible The book of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes should date before Thales, and I am pretty sure there are even earlier philosophical writings.
EDIT: Now that I am thinking of it, 10 commandments are from book of exodus

  • 1
    Nice reference; however Ecclesiastes is usually attributed to 1-2 centuries after Thales.
    – Michael
    May 16 '14 at 21:48
  • 6
    How do we judge what is philosophy? For instance, the Code of Hammurabi is older and contains many of the same elements as the ten commandments: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi
    – Rex Kerr
    May 16 '14 at 21:49

Here this answer just clarifies that it is known that Lao-tzu or Laozi was born around 600 BC and had written the Tao Te Ching, and as the founder of philosophical Taoism (p.s. sometimes he is also revered as a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.)

In that sense that Confucius is not as earlier as Laozi. There are some ancient documents also recording the event that Confucius politely asks questions to the elder Laozi for some enlightenments.

  • Laozi was probably not a historical person... which makes it hard for him to be the first philosopher.
    – virmaior
    May 17 '14 at 2:51
  • I did not claim Laozi is the absolutely first one, but just that he is earlier than Confucius.
    – wonderich
    May 17 '14 at 3:47
  • Yes and that claim is dubious because it's more likely Laozi was manufactured by later Taoists to give their views precedence. Moreover, that would make your answer a comment on whether Confucius is first rather than an answer.
    – virmaior
    May 17 '14 at 3:53
  • 1
    This is from Wikipedia, this is a historical record of "Records of the Grand Historian (史記)" that Confucius asks about politeness, manner and etiquette to Laozi: "孔子曾向他學習禮法,在現在洛陽仍然有「孔子入周問禮碑」。《史記·老子韓非列傳》:孔子適周,將問禮於老子。老子曰:「子所言者,其人與骨皆已朽矣,獨其言在耳。且君子得其時則駕,不得其時則蓬累而行。吾聞之,良賈深藏若虛,君子盛德容貌若愚。去子之驕氣與多欲,態色與淫志,是皆無益於子之身。吾所以告子,若是而已。」" Perhaps one should be able to read it and understand it before jumping to the conclusion.
    – wonderich
    May 17 '14 at 5:43
  • 1
    @ virmaior: 老子, His name is widely known as 李耳, indeed 姓李名耳,字伯陽. What you are trying to teach me now is like a non-Christian person tries to persuade the world that Jesus never exists in this world. (Analogous to your a non-Taoism school tries to persuade the world that Laozi never exists in this world.) And I clarify that Laozi certainly is not deity in my view. I am only convinced that Jesus and Laozi ever exist in this world, this human history. (Not the other could-happend multi-universe.)
    – wonderich
    May 17 '14 at 19:16

Traditionally, the earliest philosopher is Thales. But Zoroaster might be a better candidate IMHO. His dates are between the 18th and the 6th centuries BCE depending on the source.

Insofar as I'm aware, the idea of uncompromising duality, namely right vs wrong at the expense of any other option (and as opposed to the Eastern Asian variety which allows for fuzzier alternatives), traces back to him and Zoroastrianism.

That said, methinks I'd take the idea of "earliest known philosopher" with a grain of salt: anonymous thinkers, theologists and law makers were probably thriving in the great river valleys (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ganges, China) long before the Code of Hammurabi reached us from the 18th century BCE.

  • Ah yes. I don't know why I forgot Zoroaster. But I think, now, that he may be more of a religious figure than a philosopher.
    – iGbanam
    May 20 '14 at 22:06
  • @Yasky: personally, I'd put him in the philosopher group because the notions of Correct vs Incorrect, Right vs Wrong, Good vs Evil, etc., in a word uncompromising duality with no in betweens, ifs or buts, all trace to him. As I recollect, these notions and concepts then get picked up by the Jews when they were exiled in Babylon (the ideas of angels and devils were alien to them prior to that), and ultimately trickle down into Western culture as aristotelian logic from there. The Eastern notion of logic is fuzzier, in that it allows things to be true and false or neither. May 21 '14 at 8:49

From the two Wikipedia links you provide, Thales died five years after Confucius was born.

So I infer, from Wikipedia, Thales

  • I don't think any of them were. I am sure philosophy goes ways before. These are the earliest I could find. May 16 '14 at 20:23
  • Thales is the earliest documented.
    – iGbanam
    May 16 '14 at 20:34
  • 2
    @user3645033 Yes, there were surely earlier people who thought philosophically about things. But that alone is not enough to say those people were philosophers, just like the fact that you did some math problems in high school does not make you a mathematician. Whatever great insights potential philosophers may have had prior to the pre-Socratic awakening, they failed to pass their ideas on to others to build on them. So in a vey meaningful sense, Thales really was the first philosopher because he was the first person to contribute to philosophy in a way that would be cumulative.
    – David H
    May 17 '14 at 3:23

Indian philosophy traces it's earliest roots to Kapila, the founder of the Sankhya philosophy which all Indian Philosophy is derived from. Some say that Pythagoras came to India and studied this philosophy during his travels. Kapila is mentioned by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I am unaware of any date given to him, but very very early.


From Wikipedia:

[The Rigveda] is one of the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language. Philological and linguistic evidence indicate that the Rigveda was composed in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent, most likely between c. 1500–1200 BCE, though a wider approximation of c. 1700–1100 BCE has also been given.

While it may not be the oldest written source of philosophy, the Rigveda is definitely one of the oldest sources known to day as well as one of the most influential ones.

As such, the anonymous writers of the Rigveda are some of the earliest known and most influential philosophers.


In the Odyssey (supposedly written by Homer around 800 BC) we find among other gems the story about the cyclops Polyphemus:


The philosophical lesson is not to believe nobody to be somebody!

A couple of hundred years later Parmenides of Elea says that you shouldn't believe nothing to be something!

This is essentially the same logical point!

Parmenides is considered to be a philosopher then WHY not Homer?

My vote on the first known philosopher therefore goes to ... HOMER!

  • I made some edits correcting spelling and putting two sentences together. You can see the changes by checking the "edited" link above my avatar. You can also roll these back. Welcome to the SE. May 18 '18 at 17:00

Thales was certainly the earliest known Western Philosopher and was probably the world's earliest known Philosopher-(626 BCBCE-545 BC/BCE).

Confucius followed Thales (and was probably a contemporary of Pythagoras). As for Lao-Tzu, his dates are unknown, though he was probably much younger than Thales.

Indian Philosophy has deeply rooted ancient origins. As one of the posts stated, Pythagoras probably traveled to India and studied Sankhya Philosophy-(which would date back to the 500's BC/BCE), though I do not know if Sankhya Philosophy predates Thales. If Sankhya philosophy does predate Thales, then it is India that was the birthplace of Philosophy, making Greece-(or really Greco-Anatolia), as the birthplace of Western Philosophy/The Philosophy of Science.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.