Ancient Greek History

Democritus – Greek Philosopher of Atomic Theory

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The history of Ancient Greece is filled with renowned philosophers whose works are still inspiring readers. Democritus, a philosopher who specialized in the study of science, is among them. While his teachings are highly influential for modern audiences, his works attracted little interest in his own time, and most of his texts are lost. Here’s more information about the history of Democritus, as well as the contributions he played to philosophy:

Early Life of Democritus

Democritus was born in Thrace in the city of Abdera. Historians differ on the exact year the philosopher was born, with most contending 460 BC but some asserting 490 BC. Democritus came from a wealthy family of nobles, and used his family’s wealth to travel abroad in his youth. Among the most noted places Democritus visited as a young man were Babylon and Egypt, but chronicles of his life attest to him visiting places as far as India.

After returning from his international travels, Democritus focused his life’s work on the study of philosophy. Democritus mainly specialized in natural philosophy, seeking out teachers from throughout Greece to gain as wide a perspective as possible. Of all the philosophers that Democritus sought knowledge from, the teachings of fellow Abdera citizen Leucippus were most influential for Democritus’s later ideas. Socially, Democritus was known as the “Laughing Philosopher,” having gained a reputation in his travels as always being of good humor.

About the Atomic Theory

As previously stated, Democritus is primarily known for his contributions to science. Specifically, Democritus focused his work on atomic theory, a branch of philosophy introduced to him by his mentor Leucippus. In his atomic theory, Democritus argued that the solidity of an object was determined by the types of atoms it was made from. Because of this, a metal object would be made of rigid, hard atoms, while a substance such as water is made of light, slippery atoms. Democritus also used atomic theory to explain how atoms interacted with one another. Viewing atoms as mechanical in nature, Democritus believed that atoms had hooks and sockets that allowed them to interact with one another. Democritus’s work with atomic theory endeared him to many scientists of later eras, with most experts calling him the father of modern science.

His Other Philosophies

While Democritus is most well-known for his work with science, he nevertheless studied a variety of other disciplines, including epistemology and political philosophy. In his study of epistemology, Democritus sought to understand the nature of knowledge. Specifically, Democritus argued that knowledge needed to be divided into legitimate knowledge and illegitimate knowledge. In Democritus’s theory, the chief difference between the two was that legitimate knowledge was reinforced by reason. In his political views, Democritus noted the advantages of democracy, contending that rulers and the elite needed to treat the people with generosity and benevolence. While favoring equality, Democritus nevertheless allowed for slavery and the subordination of women in his philosophy.

Democritus died in 370 BC when he was around 90 years old. In his life and works, Democritus advanced scientific thinking, rightfully earning his place in the pantheon of the great thinkers of the ancient world.


Wikipedia – Democritus

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