Bust of Democritus. Villa of the Papyri.

Born c. 460 BC Abdera, Thrace

Era Pre-Socratic philosophy Region Western philosophy

School Atomism

Main interests Nature

Notable ideas Atoms and the void as the fundamental constituents of the physical world

Democritus (/dɪˈmɒkrɪtəs/, dim-OCK-rit-əs; Greek: Δημόκριτος, Dēmókritos, meaning “chosen of the people”; c. 460 – c. 370 BC) was an Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher from Abdera, primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe.

FEW of Democritus’ original work has survived, MOST references. Many of these references come from ARISTOTELES, who viewed him as an important rival in the field of natural philosophy

Atomic hypothesis
See also: Atomism
We have various quotes from Democritus on atoms, one of them being:

δοκεῖ δὲ αὐτῶι τάδε· ἀρχὰς εἶναι τῶν ὅλων ἀτόμους καὶ κενόν, τὰ δ’ἀλλα πάντα

Δημόκριτος, DEMOKRITOS, meaning “chosen of the people”; c. 460 – c. 370 BC) was an ANCIENT-GREEK PRE-SOCRATIC philosopher from THRACE/ABDERA, primarily remembered today for HIS FORMULATION of an atomic theory of the universe.
Democritus knew that if a stone was divided in half, the two halves would have essentially the same properties as the whole.Therefore, he reasoned that if the stone were to be continually cut into smaller and smaller pieces then; at some point, there would be a piece which would be so small as to be indivisible. He called these small pieces of matter “atomos,” the Greek word for indivisible. Democritus, theorized that atoms were specific to the material which they composed. In addition, Democritus believed that the atoms differed in size and shape, were in constant motion in a void, collided with each other; and during these collisions, could rebound or stick together. Therefore, changes in matter were a result of dissociations or combinations of the atoms as they moved throughout the void. Although Democritus’ theory was remarkable, it was rejected by Aristotle, one of the most influential philosophers of Ancient Greece; and the atomic theory was ignored for nearly 2,000 years.

None of Democritus’ original work has survived, except through second-hand references. Many of these references come from Aristotle, who viewed him as an important rival in the field of natural philosophy.

Along with Leucippus the most important representative of the ancient atomic theory (compare atomic theory). According to Democritus and his teacher Leucippus – whose ideas cannot be separated from Democritus – reality consists of an infinite number of indivisible bodies, atoms,

Although many anecdotes about Democritus’ life survive, their authenticity cannot be verified and modern scholars doubt their accuracy. Democritus was said to be born in the city of Abdera in Thrace, an Ionian colony of Teos. Ancient accounts of his life have claimed that he lived to a very old age, with some writers claiming that he was over a hundred years old at the time of his death.
Ancient accounts of his life have claimed that he lived to a very old age, with some writers claiming that he was over a hundred years old at the time of his death.

Christopher Charles Whiston Taylor [de] states that the relation between Democritus and his predecessor Leucippus is not clear; while earlier ancient sources such as Aristotle and Theophrastus credit Leucippus with the invention of atomism and credit its doctrines to both philosophers, later sources credit only Democritus, making definitive identification of specific doctrines difficult.

Atomic hypothesis
See also: Atomism
We have various quotes from Democritus on atoms, one of them being:

δοκεῖ δὲ αὐτῶι τάδε· ἀρχὰς εἶναι τῶν ὅλων ἀτόμους καὶ κενόν, τὰ δ’ἀλλα πάντα νενομίσθαι [δοξάζεσθαι]. (Diogenes Laërtius, Democritus, Vol. IX, 44) Now his principal doctrines were these. That atoms and the vacuum were the beginning of the universe; and that everything else existed only in opinion. (trans. Yonge 1853)

The theory of Democritus held that everything is composed of “atoms,” which are physically, but not geometrically, indivisible; that between atoms, there lies empty space; that atoms are indestructible, and have always been and always will be in motion; that there is an infinite number of atoms and of kinds of atoms, which differ in shape and size. Of the mass of atoms, Democritus said, “The more any indivisible exceeds, the heavier it is.” However, his exact position on atomic weight is disputed. His exact contributions are difficult to disentangle from those of his mentor Leucippus, as they are often mentioned together in texts. Their speculation on atoms, taken from Leucippus, bears a passing and partial resemblance to the 19th-century understanding of atomic structure that has led some to regard Democritus as more of a scientist than other Greek philosophers; however, their ideas rested on very different bases.

Democritus, along with Leucippus and Epicurus, proposed the earliest views on the shapes and connectivity of atoms. They reasoned that the solidness of the material corresponded to the shape of the atoms involved.Using analogies from humans’ sense experiences, he gave a picture or an image of an atom that distinguished them from each other by their shape, their size, and the arrangement of their parts. Moreover, connections were explained by material links in which single atoms were supplied with attachments: some with hooks and eyes, others with balls and sockets.

The Democritean atom is an inert solid (merely excluding other bodies from its volume) that interacts with other atoms mechanically. In contrast, modern, quantum-mechanical atoms interact via electric and magnetic forces and are dynamic.

Correlation with modern science
The theory of the atomists appears to be more nearly aligned with that of modern science than any other theory of antiquity. However, the similarity with modern concepts of science can be confusing when trying to understand where the hypothesis came from. Classical atomists could not have had an empirical basis for modern concepts of atoms and molecules.

The atomistic void hypothesis was a response to the paradoxes of Parmenides and Zeno, the founders of metaphysical logic, who put forth difficult-to-answer arguments in favor of the idea that there can be no movement. They held that any movement would require a void—which is nothing—but a nothing cannot exist. The Parmenidean position was “You say there is a void; therefore the void is not nothing; therefore there is not the void. The position of Parmenides appeared validated by the observation that where there seems to be nothing there is air, and indeed even where there is not matter there is something, for instance light waves.

The atomists agreed that motion required a void, but simply rejected the argument of Parmenides on the grounds that motion was an observable fact. Therefore, they asserted, there must be a void.

Democritus held that originally the universe was composed of nothing but tiny atoms churning in chaos, until they collided together to form larger units—including the earth and everything on it. He surmised that there are many worlds, some growing, some decaying; some with no sun or moon, some with several. He held that every world has a beginning and an end and that a world could be destroyed by collision with another world.


Democritus argued that the circular cross-section of a cone would need step-like sides, rather than being shaped like a cylinder.
Democritus was also a pioneer of mathematics and geometry in particular. According to Archimedes, Democritus was among the first to observe that a cone and pyramid with the same base area and height has one-third the volume of a cylinder or prism respectively, a result which Archimedes states was later proved by Eudoxus of Cnidus. Plutarch also reports that Democritus worked on a problem involving the cross-section of a cone that Thomas Heath suggests may be an early version of infinitesimal calculus.

Democritus thought that the first humans lived an anarchic and animal sort of life, going out to forage individually and living off the most palatable herbs and the fruit which grew wild on the trees. They were driven together into societies for fear of wild animals, he said. He believed that these early people had no language, but that they gradually began to articulate their expressions, establishing symbols for every sort of object, and in this manner came to understand each other. He says that the earliest men lived laboriously, having none of the utilities of life; clothing, houses, fire, domestication, and farming were unknown to them. Democritus presents the early period of mankind as one of learning by trial and error, and says that each step slowly led to more discoveries; they took refuge in the caves in winter, stored fruits that could be preserved, and through reason and keenness of mind came to build upon each new idea.

The ethics and politics of Democritus come to us mostly in the form of maxims. As such, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has gone as far as to say that: “despite the large number of ethical sayings, it is difficult to construct a coherent account of Democritus’s ethical views,” noting that there is a “difficulty of deciding which fragments are genuinely Democritean.”

Later Greek historians consider Democritus to have established aesthetics as a subject of investigation and study,[8] as he wrote theoretically on poetry and fine art long before authors such as Aristotle. Specifically, Thrasyllus identified six works in the philosopher’s oeuvre which had belonged to aesthetics as a discipline, but only fragments of the relevant works are extant; hence of all Democritus’s writings on these matters, only a small percentage of his thoughts and ideas can be known.

Diogenes Laertius attributes several works to Democritus, but none of them have survived in a complete form.
,,That Organisms first came from moist soil.

Everything that exists in man is made up of atoms.

The SOUL=PSYCHE=ΨΥΧΗ consists of very small, smooth, round atoms, like fire.

Spirit, soul, vital heat, vital principle are all one and the same thing.

They are not limited to humans or animals, but are scattered throughout the world.

And in man and other animals, the intellectual atoms, with which we think, are distributed throughout the body.

However, these subtle atoms, which make up the soul, are the noblest and most wonderful part of the body.

The wise man cultivates thought, frees himself from passion, superstition, and fear, and seeks in contemplation and understanding the humble happiness that exists in human life.

Happiness does not come from external goods.

Man must get used to finding within himself the sources of pleasure!!

Cultivation is better than riches.

No power and no treasure can compare with the expansion of our knowledge.

Happiness is fickle and carnal pleasure provides only short-term satisfaction.

We achieve lasting satisfaction by gaining calmness, cheerfulness, mediocrity and some order and symmetry in our lives.

We can learn a lot from animals – spinning from the spider, thrift from the swallow, singing from the nightingale and the swan.

But strength of body is kindness only to beasts of burden, but strength of character is kindness to man.

Like the heretics of Victorian England, Democritus raises above his scandalous metaphysics a very presentable morality.

Good deeds must be done not out of compulsion, but out of conviction, not out of hope of reward, but for their own sake.

Man should feel more shame towards himself when he does evil, than towards the whole world.

Eventually Democritus proved his principles and perhaps vindicated his advice by living to the age of 109.

Diogenes Laertius narrates that when Democritus publicly read his greatest work, the <<Great Diacosmos>>, the city of Abdira gave him a hundred talents!!

But perhaps Abdera had undervalued their currency.

When someone asked him what was the secret of his longevity, he replied that he ate honey daily and bathed his body in olive oil.

Finally, when he lived long enough, he daily reduced his food, determined to die of starvation.

He was very old, Diogenes tells us, and he looked like he was dying.

His sister mourned him because she would die on the feast of Thesmophoria, which would prevent her from fulfilling her duties to the goddess.

He then reassured her and ordered her to bring him daily warm breads or some honey and by bringing these into his nostrils he was kept alive during the holy festival.

But when three days had passed since the feast, he breathed his last without pain, as Hipparchus assures us, having lived 109 years!!!

His city issued him at public expense, and Timon the Athenian praised him.

Democritus did not found a school, but formulated the most famous scientific hypotheses and gave philosophy a system, which, despite being denounced by many, survived everyone and reappears in every generation!!!!

Historical editing: Giorgos Giwrgos Chavales