Notebook, 1993--


Ancient Greek Philosophy
The Atomists

Democritus 460-370 B.C.

Leucippus was the founder of the so-called Atomistic school of philosophy. He was a contemporary of Empedocles and Anaxagoras, and the preceptor of Democritus who [p. 160] in the long run became more famous than his master. Nothing is known of the date or place of his birth. At all events, he went to Elea where he studied under Parmenides before settling finally in Abdera of Thrace where he developed his theory and where he had as pupil Democritus. Two of the works of Leucippus are the ŮLarge UniverseÓ and "On the Mind".

Democritus [460-370 B.C.] was born in Abdera of Thrace. He had written many works dealing with numerous and varied branches of learning including Ethics, Natural Philosophy, mathematics, Poetry, and so on. But his most important work is that of his metaphysical concepts with title "Minor Universe".

Leucippus and Democritus agree with Parmenides that Becoming and Decay in substance are impossible. Moreover, that being does not change, that it is impossible for the many to emerge from the one, and the many to create the one. But whereas the Eleatics accept the concept of Being, as existing, and reject the Not-Being as non-existent, the Atomists identify the Not-being with the vacuum or void and thus justify movement and the multiplicity of phenomena. Whereas the Eleastics deem multiplicity and the change of being as a simple phenomenality and deception, the Atomists adopt the notion that since the multiplicity of things does in fact exist and because they are subject to becoming and decay, there remains no other solution but to accept the fact that both Being and Not-being exist. In this manner, the Atomists reject the argument of the Eleatics to the effect that "the Not-being does not exist", and daringly suggest that "Being does not exist more than Not-being". But Being is that which is completely the matter of material, and the Not-Being the "void" or empty space. The complete and the void are understood to be one within the other and are mutually divided. But this material division does not progress infinitely, it has a limit. These limits are the extreme or last or the primary elements contained within being, the atoms [a-privative temno, to cit]. The atoms are the least compact and the material bodies cannot be divided further which are found within the empty space. Both the atom and the void are infinite.

The bodies in accordance with the atomists comprise systems of atoms. The entire universe is composed of atoms or indivisible particles of matter and the void. The atoms can neither be created nor destroyed, they are complete, there is no inner core within them, only a void or space separates them. Division and multiplicity exist only there where Being or the complete is separated from the Not-being. The atoms are infinite in number, but they are of identical substance, the matter, and have no qualitative differences. They differ only in [p. 161] shape, form and size. Every creation or change in the composition of the bodies could be explained by the union or coalescence or change of position and the arrangement of the atoms. Each decay is due to the separation of the atoms between them. According to the Atomists there exist qualities which are cohesive with the substance of the bodies, irregardless of our senses and feeling, and others again directly dependent upon us and our senses. The latter are conventional qualities: warmth, cold, sweet, and so on. The former, those that are cohesive with the atoms are gravity, probability, and hardness. [pp. 160-162]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication.]



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