How old are questions like:

Who are we?

Where do we we come from ?

How does the world work?

My current belief is that these questions are as old as our species but I have no evidence to back it up. Is there anything in the history of philosophy or even human species that support this view, or am I just mistaken in my conviction?


3 Answers 3


How old are philosophical questions? Verification of any answer presupposes the existence of written texts. It is plausible that these questions have been posed much earlier, but about the time before textual tradition we can only speculate.

Concerning written texts we have:

  • From Hinduism: The Vedas, dated to about 1.500-500 BCE. They deal with the questions Who are we? and Where are we from?

  • Hebrew bible: The book of genesis dates somewhere from 1.000-500 BCE, dealing with the questions Who are we? and Where are we from?

  • Greek Literature: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey deal with the questions Who are we? and Where are we from? Homer dates to the 8th century BCE. But his works incorporate much older hymns about gods and humans. The question How does the world work? is the subject of the Ionian philosophers of nature. The first known is Thales born in the 7th century BCE.

Questions of the type above are not only dealt with by philosophy, but also by myths and by religion. One can discuss whether the fragments of Ionian philosophers of nature and the Vedas including the Upanishads are already philosophical or still speculative texts.


This question is difficult to answer because the idea of a "philosophical question" is very vague.

The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast begins with Thales of Miletus (7th Century BCE), and a number of sources list him as the first identifiable philosopher in the Western tradition.

However in a more general sense you would also be able to argue that philosophy has existed almost as long as society - any parent who has had to explain to their questioning child why it is important to treat other people well, for example, could be said to be "doing philosophy" in a broad sense.


We can have no evidence when questions such as these began to arise amongst us; for they were likely to be spoken, or gestured at; and these leave no evidence that we can now see.

The earliest artifacts are stone implements, like the tip of a spear; being practical they tell us nothing apart from the practical question posited: how to hunt better. Not every question is a philosophical question.

The earliest artifacts we know of that are symbolic expressively, are paintings and carvings; we cannot know now what these mean; though we may be able to make broad judgements by looking at the symbolic world of aboriginal peoples, say for example of Australia, whose mythos dreamtime, means 'time out of time' or 'everywhen' which is close to the sense of eternal; but also means much else.

We do have documentary evidence of actual philosophical questions, which roughly arose around the same time (given the length of our species-life).

For example the Ishvaya Upanishad opens with questions:

The disciple asked: Om. By whose will directed does the mind proceed to its object.

At whose command does the prana, the foremost, does its duty?

At whose will do men utter speech?

Who is the god that directs the eyes and ears?

To which:

The teacher replied: it is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Life of life, and the Eye of the eye. Having detached the self, and renounced the world, the wise attain immortality.

(One might ask, what came first, the question or the answer? In this fragment - the question, but the answer was already there).

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