Like every other human endeavour, philosophy is not without its beginnings and development. Philosophy started in time and developed with time. But philosophy is as old as man in the sense that from man’s humble beginning he has always asked philosophical questions that demands philosophical answers. So we can actually say that philosophy has always existed from time immemorial.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. explain the origins and development of philosophy 
  2. describe the characterizes a philosopher” 
  3.  demonstrate that every man is in a sense a philosopher. 


3.1 Immanent Origin of Philosophy

This is not origin as “when”, that is, the origin in time. We are rather referring to the genesis, that is, what gives birth to philosophy. Philosophical thinking arises when one is confronted with reality whose causes are still unknown. Man is led to the province of philosophy by the difficulties he encounters in trying to make meaning out of human life. When he is faced with the basic questions about the ultimate meaning of reality as a whole and of human life in particular. What is the meaning of life? Why does death occur? Why do we experience failure? Why are there suffering and evil in the world? What is the nature of knowledge? What is truth? Can truth and falsehood be distinguished? Does God exist? These and many more are the difficulties that man ponders on and they are philosophical questions. The moment we ask these questions, we are at the same time beginning to philosophize.

No wonder the root, the origin, the foundation of philosophical act is the sense of wonder. Philosophy begins in wonder. This is why Socrates states that “the sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher, philosophy indeed has no other origin….” (Theaetetus 155d) Aristotle confirms this statement (Met., 1,ii 982b 11-21). Thomas Aquinas is of the same opinion when he states:” the reason the philosopher is compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonders” (Com. On Met. 1, 3, 55). Willaim James proclaims: Wonder is the mother of metaphysics” (Some Problems of Philosophy, p.38). Albert Einstein in his book: The World as I see it, says:

  1.  “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feels amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle.” (p.5) 

What does it really mean to wonder? To wonder means to realize that there is something strange behind things that we ordinarily perceive. To wonder is to notice something extraordinary in the ordinary things we see. Therefore, wonder is the origin of philosophy. Wonder not only creates a desire to seek further but also gives the impetus to go on searching. According to Josef Pieper, wonder is “not merely the beginning but the source, the wellspring of philosophy” (Leisure the Basis of Culture, p.3). The more one wonders, the more one philosophizes. To philosophize means to enquire into the ultimate cause of things, to transcend the day-to-day world. This does not mean
working away or ignoring the concrete sensible world (abstract travel), but asking ultimate questions about the visible and ordinary reality of life. To philosophize is to have a childlike attitude, which is full of wonder. A child’s world is fresh, new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is these wonder and excitement that lead to questioning. List five Things that make you wonder and what can you say about them?


  1.  How did philosophy begin? 
  2. How old is philosophy? 

3.2 Development of Philosophy

We have just concluded the first part of the origin of philosophy. I believe by now you have realized that in some sense you are a philosopher especially when you wonder about the problems of life. In this section, we want to trace the development of this wondering mind to the level that can be called philosophical. Philosophy as philosophy, that is a science, was not known in the primitive times. If it was known at all, its distinctive character was not known. Philosophy only began to take shape in the late eighth and especially sixth centuries B.C. This is not to say that the elementary truths of philosophy were only not known, they were not known in an organized form of schools of thought. They were known from spontaneous and instinctive exercise of reason which is today called common sense and from primitive traditions, religion and mythology.

In other words, philosophy always existed and it is as old as man himself because man always raised sublime questions within the scope of reason. But these questions and their possible solutions were treated in the contexts of religion, mythology and supported by instinctive teachings of common sense. Thus they were known in pre-philosophic fashion and existed in pre-philosophic state. Even in the highly scientific culture of the Semitics and the Egyptians, there was no philosophic speculation. The general ideas were embedded in religion. Religion took the place of philosophy and from religion, philosophic truths were known. The Jews even scorned human wisdom and the achievements of pure reason but were rich in prophecy and law.

The story however, was different among the Indo-European civilization. Their traditions were inclined to rational and philosophic speculations. It was not because they set out on the routes to philosophic speculations but because of the nature of their religions, which placed emphasis on purity. The whole idea of purity, yoga system of prayer, transcending the ephemeral world, became the method to be in union with the Brahma or Atman; hence the turn to Metaphysics. All the Eastern Religions: Buddhism, Shintoism, Confusianism, and Taoism, among others, were slowly moving closer to philosophic speculation but all of this was based on moral principles not on purely rational thinking. It was only in Greece among the ancient world that the wisdom of man found its right path and attained its vigor and maturity. Thus the Hellenes became the organ of reason and human world while the Jews became the organ of revelation and the Word of God. In Greece, philosophy achieved its autonomy and distinguished itself from religion and at the same time defined its territory as the scientific study of purely rational truth. There is no doubt that the Greeks did abuse their reason by attempting to judge the things of God within the limit of human reason and Paul the Apostle refers to them as becoming “vain in their thought which is foolishness in the sight of God.” (I Cor. ) But we must agree to give credit to the Greeks who left their reason undefiled in their sole search for truth.

3.3 Formation Stages: The Pre-Socratics

There are three developmental stages of Greek Philosophy from Tales to Aristotle.

3.3.1 Ionians

At this time, human reason was out unaided in its power, to search for the causes of things. Man was first fascinated by the reality of the senses- material things. The first thinkers of Hellas naively took matter to be the complete explanation of things. This was even more evident because the most important phenomenon of nature was change. Tales (c. 624-546 B.C.) concluded that water was the sole substance, preserving its identity through all the transformation of bodies. Anaximenes (c. 588-524 B.C.) thought that the sole substance was air. For Haraclitees, it was fire while Anaximander refers to his sole substance as the

Boundless or the Indeterminate. These materials – Water, Air, Fire and the Boundless were seen as active, living and endowed by an internal force with unlimited powers. And so for Tales, all things “are full of gods.”

3.3.2 The Physicists

These were the philosophers of sensible nature. They were represented by Hiraclitus who was so captivated by change that for him, only change is real, all things are in the state of flux. We do not touch the same thing twice nor bathe twice in the same river. He was the philosopher of evolution.

3.3.3 The Italians

The Italians are represented by Pythagoras and the Eleatic schools of Philosophy It is to Pythagoras that we owe the term philosophy. He is the first to give the universe the name “cosmos”. He reduced reality to number. For him every essence has its number and every essence is number. The Eleatic has the credit of raising Greek thought to the metaphysical level. The oldest Eleatics was Xenophanes whose disciple was Parmenides (c. 540 B.C.), the father of metaphysics. Parmenides transcended the world of sensible phenomena and that of mathematical numbers and attained the world of reality which is strictly the object of the intellect. He reached this abstraction and was fascinated by it. He had his eyes on one thing alone – what is and cannot not be; being is; non-being is not. He was the first to formulate the principle of identity or non-contradiction – the first principle of thought.

3.4 The Period of Crises: The Sophists and Socrates

Sophistry is not a system of ideas, but a vicious attitude of the mind. The Sophists professed to be teachers of virtue. They did not seek the truth; their sole aim of intellectual activity was to convince themselves and others of their superiority. Their weapon which they considered the most desirable, was the art of refuting and disproving by skillful arguments all and every question. Theirs was intellectual game of conceptual content devoid of solid significance. It could be said that they believed in the pride of knowledge without believing in truth. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) brought sanity to Greek thought and rescued it from the Sophists. He reformed philosophic reasoning and directed it to truth which is its proper goal. He saw this as a divine mission. He saw himself as a physician of souls. His business was not to construct knowledge in others but to help men give birth to knowledge in them. This was mostly the way he used to conquer sophism of his time. Socrates was however, undoctrinal.

3.5 The Period of Fruitful Maturity: Plato and Aristotle

Following the trends of events closely, you will soon understand the stages of the spread of the Early Church. As stated earlier, the initial persecution of the church during the stoning of Stephen had aided the spread of the Gospel throughout Palestine. It was said that some of the members of the young church at Jerusalem escaped to Damascus, other fled three hundred miles to Antioch, the capital of Syria, of which great province Palestine was a part. At Antioch these faithful members went into the Jewish synagogue, and there, gave their testimony to Jesus as the Messiah. It was also said that in every synagogue a place was set apart for Gentile worshippers. Many of these heard the gospel at Antioch and embraced the faith of Christ; so that in that city a church grew up wherein Jews and Gentiles worshiped together as equals in privilege. Acts 11:22 said that when news of this condition, reached Jerusalem, the mother church was alarmed and sent a representative to examine this relation with the Gentiles. Fortunately, the choice of a delegate fell upon Barnabas, the broad-minded, open-hearted, and generous.

3.5.1 Plato (427-347 B.C.) was a Disciple of Socrates and also his Heir

He discovered important metaphysical truths. Since things are more or less perfect, more or less beautiful, good, loving, then there must be a Being who possesses these perfections in their absolute natures. This being is perfection or goodness itself. All other things participate in him. He divided reality into two segments: the Ideas or the Forms in the Perfect World and are the true objects of the intellect while the sensible things are the imitations or shadows of the ideas and are the objects of the senses. According to him, the knowledge of the Ideas cannot be derived from the senses, they come from on high, and thus they are innate in our souls. The souls which pre-existed the body had intuitive knowledge of the Ideas. That knowledge still remains with us but darkened or clouded by the life of the body. The things of our sensible experience, since they are the shadows of the Ideas remind us of them. Through them we remember the original ideas. 

3.5.2 Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Of all philosophers, holds a special and unique position. He was a rare genius. He extracted the truth latent in Platonic thought and synthesized whatever was true and valuable in all of ancient Greek thinkers. He founded for all time the true philosophy. Aristotle held that there exists
in everything an intelligible and immaterial element called FORM, in virtue of which a thing possesses a specific nature. But it does not exist separate from things as Plato taught, it inheres in them as one of the factors which constitute their substance. Thus, sensible objects, though mutable and mortal, are not merely shadows, they are real. The world is subject to becoming or change, yet it contains enduring substantial realities. Thus the corporeal universe is the object of scientific knowledge – the science of physics. Aristotle was an achiever. For this reason, in spite of the mistakes defects and gaps, which may be found in his works – an evidence of the limitations of human wisdom – Aristotle is truly the philosopher per excellence.


 Name the three developmental stages of Greek philosophy;


Philosophy has had a long history and an exciting development. But like every human science it has not reached a level of perfection as not to need any improvement. To reach such level would also imply that man has stopped wondering on the reality around him. All of us are contributors to the development and improvement of philosophy.


In this unit, you have learned that the genesis of philosophy is the sense of wonder. Philosophy asks questions on the things that perplex the mind. We have seen that man from the beginning has always been perplexed about many things. But the articulation of that perplexity and
the possible solutions for them were gradual. It went through different stages to arrive at the point of philosophy. At a point man was fascinated by the sensible reality that the truth of reality was reduced to sensible matter. At another time, the truth of reality could only be attained though logical disputation and finally man could attain reality as it is in itself.


  1.  Why do we refer to the wisdom of the ancient as pre- philosophical? 
  2. The sense of wonder is the origin of philosophy. Explain


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