Democritus nsIn existographies, Democritus (c.470-390BC) (IQ:190|#36) (Cattell 1000:751) [RGM:68|1,500+] (FA:14) (ACR:4) [CR:285], pronounced “De-mock-rea-tus” (Ѻ), was a Greek materialism philosopher (see: Greek philosophy), who “thought about everything” (Aristotle, 322BC), the “weightiest of the ancients” (Bacon, c.1610), a “universal scholar” (Melsen, 1952), student of atomic theory inventor Leucippus (c.500-450BC), intellectual mentor to Epicurus (341-270BC), noted for [].

Plato | Book burning
In c.380BC, Plato, as reported by Aristoxenus, in his Historical Discourse (c.335BC) (Ѻ), is said to have stated a desire to burn all of books of Democritus:

“Aristoxenus in his Historical Notes affirms that Plato wished to burn all the writings of Democritus that he could collect, but that Amyclas and Clinias the Pythagoreans prevented him, saying that there was no advantage in doing so, for already the books were widely circulated. And there is clear evidence for this in the fact that Plato, who mentions almost all the early philosophers, never once alludes to Democritus, not even where it would be necessary to controvert him, obviously because he knew that he would have to match himself against the prince of philosophers, for whom, to be sure, Timon has this meed of praise: ‘Such is the wise Democritus, the guardian of discourse, keen-witted disputant, among the best I ever read’.”
Diogenes Laertius (c.230), Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (Ѻ)

“Plato speaks of him nowhere, though it is a matter of dispute whether, in some places, he has not controverted his opinions without mention of his name. Hence arose, it may be, the story that Plato in fanatical zeal would have liked to buy up and burn all the works of Democritus.”
Friedrich Lange (1865), History of Materialism (pg. 18)

Here, we are reminded of the insipid hatred with English moral philosophy professor, semi-rector, and reverend William Sewell, in 1849, in his moral philosophy class at Oxford, happily tossed, with great reverie, James Froude’s Nemesis of Faith into the fire in front of the students.
Atoms and voids
Democritus is famous for his motto: [1]

“Nothing exists but atoms and voids.”

This has sometimes been paraphrased as “there are atoms, and there is the void, nothing more”; the latter of which is sometimes called the dictum of Lucretius (student of Epicurus). [2] The following also is attributed to Democritus: [3]

“According to convention there is a sweet and a bitter, a hot and a cold, and according to convention there is color. In truth there are atoms and a void.”

Democritus, according to Pliny the elder (77AD), held the opinion that there were two gods, namely: "punishment" and "benefit". [10]

Principles of Democritus
The six main tenets or principles of Democritus, according to John Tyndall, are as follows: [4]

1. From nothing comes nothing. Nothing that exists can be destroyed. All changes are due to the combination and separation of molecules.
2. Nothing happens by chance. Every occurrence has its cause from which it follows by necessity.
3. The only existing things are the atoms and empty space; all else is mere opinion.
4. The atoms are infinite in number and infinitely various in form; they strike together, and the lateral motions and whirlings which thus arise are the beginnings of worlds.
5. The varieties of all things depend upon the varieties of their atoms, in number, size, and aggregation.
6. The soul consists of fine, smooth, round atoms, like those of fire. These are the most mobile of all. They interpenetrate the whole body, and in their motions the phenomena of life arise.

In regards to principle two, some, such as Jacques Monod (1970), attribute Democritus as saying "everything in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity." Ancient sources, however, attribute some 300 various quotes to him; hence some misattribution seems to be the case here, in regards to this chance quote. [6]

Democritus, as summarized by Alexander Oparin (1936), has the following atomic based evolution model:

“Democritus, like Anaximander, thought that the organic world took its origin in water and that animals passed through a long developmental process before they became such as we find them today. Mechanical self-creation of life resulted from an inherent movement of atoms, according to which the atoms of lifeless, moist earth meet accidentally and unite with atoms of the live and energizing fire.”
Alexander Oparin (1936), The Origin of Life (pg. 5)


Democritus mediating on seat of soul
Democritus, one of the four founding fathers of atomic theory, mediating (Ѻ) on the seat of the "soul" (Paris Salon, 1868), the inscription below the statue reading as follows:

"Hippocrates in time arrived at the conclusion that he had not sought whether the heart or the head was the seat of either reason or sense in man and beast."
— Jean La Fontaine (c.1680), 29th fable

The soul being the Ab-ra-ham-ic religious term for "moral movement" and "continunity", combined—which, in the views of Miguel de Unamuno (1912), is the world viewpoint that constitutes the "basis for action and morals."
Moral teaching | Naturalistic morality
According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Democritus is said to have had the following morality views: [8]

"Just as Democritus's cosmogony invoked no creator-god, so his moral teachings appealed to no supernatural judge of human conduct. He attributed the popular belief in Zeus and other deities to primitive man's incomprehension of meteorological and astronomical phenomena. To support his theory about the origin of worship of the various divinities, Democritus assailed the widespread notion that rewards for righteous actions and punishments for wrong-doing were administered in an afterlife. In the long history of Greek speculation Democritus was the first thinker to deny that every human being has an individual soul which survives the death of the body [this assertion seems to contradict Tyndall's summary above (check)].

Democritus sought to diminish pain during life, of which "the goal is cheerfulness." Cheerfulness is identical not with pleasure, as he was misinterpreted by some people, but "with a calm and steady mind, undisturbed by any fear or superstition or other irrational feeling." Yet Democritus did not advocate a quiet life of repose. His was not the outlook of the retired citizen, drowsing in his rocking chair on the front porch and idly watching the world go by. Democritus taught a naturalistic morality, avoiding ascetic renunciation as well as excessive indulgence, and urging energetic participation in beneficial activities. In particular, "Democritus recommends mastering the art of politics as most important, and undertaking its tasks, from which significant and magnificent benefits are obtained for the people."

Perhaps from his governmental experience in Abdera, Democritus learned that "good conduct seems to be procured better by the use of encouraging and convincing words than by statute and coercion. For he who is restrained by law from wrongdoing is likely to commit crime covertly. On the other hand, he who is attracted to uprightness by persuasion is unlikely to transgress either secretly or openly."



Democritus was said to have been the son of a wealthy father, who devoted the whole of his inherited fortune to the culture of the mind. He traveled everywhere; visited Athens when Socrates and Plato were there, but left the city without making himself known, supposedly, because the dialectic strife in which Socrates employed had no attraction for Democritus, who held that: "the man who readily contradicts and uses many words is unfit to learn anything truly right." He returned poor from his travels, was supported by his brother, and at length wrote his main publication the Great World-System (Megas Diakosmos). [4]

Democritus is reported to have traveled to Egypt, Persia, and India in search of knowledge, all along maintaining a sense of humor—sometimes referred to as the “laughing philosopher”, for his tendency to mock fellow citizens for their follies—an effort that is said to have resulted in the writing of some 60-70 books and or commentaries on diverse subjects including: ethics, logic, planets, colors, senses, air, earth’s surface, fire, geometry, geography, harmony, poetry, painting, military tactics, and diet. [7]

A list of Democritus’ works, which according to the list preserved in Diogenes LaertiusLife, were many and encyclopedic in scope, including: astronomy, mathematics, literature, epistemology, and ethics—none of which, however, survived. [6]
Suicide | Resurrection
Democritus, according to Lucretius, took his own life, when at old age he realized that his mind and memory were fading:

Democritus, when at ripe old age warned him that mind and memory were failing, went freely to place his person in death’s path. Epicurus himself died when life’s light ran out, he who in mind surpassed all men—eclipsed them all, as the sun hung high in heaven, the stars.”
Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things (pg. 81; 3:1039-44)

Democritus was of the belief, likely learned from his studies in Egypt, that after he ceased to exist, he would be resurrected:
“All these things are only daydreams of little children in inventions of men would never want to fade away. What a great folly to protect the body in hope of resurrection, as Democritus promised, who has not yet been resurrected himself.”
Pliny (77AD), Natural History (§7.55)


Quotes | On
The following are quotes on Democritus:

Eudoxus first discovered the proof that the cone is one-third of the cylinder of equal height on the same base, and the pyramid one-third of the prism. No small share [of the discovery] should be assigned to Democritus, who first made the assertion about the above-mentioned figure without proof.”
Archimedes (c.220BC), Mathematical Theorems Addressed to Eratosthenes (see: Eratosthenes) [11]

Democritus, a man who was not only the most learned man about nature of all the ancients but no less industrious than any other inquirer, says that music is more recent, and indemnifies its cause, saying that it was not singled out by necessity, but arose as a result of plenty.”
Philodemus (c.45BC), On Music; Herculaneum papyrus 1497 (col. CCCVI 29-39)

“The words ‘the ancient theory that denies chance’ [by Aristotle] seem to refer to Democritus; for although he appears to have made use of chance in his theory of the formation of the worlds, in his more detailed discussions he says that ‘chance is not the cause of anything’, but refers everything to other causes, e.g. the cause of finding treasure is digging or planting the olive, or of the bald man’s fracturing his skull is the eagle’s having dropped the tortoise to break its shell.”
Simplicius (c.530), Fragment 71b; in: Commentary on Physics (196a14-15; 330.14-20) [11]

Democritus also mastered the whole extent of the science of his time, and that probably with greater independence and thoroughness than was the case with Aristotle; but we have no trace whatever of his having brought all these sciences under the yoke of his system..”
Friedrich Lange (1875), The History of Materialism, Volume One (pg. 82)

“With few great men of antiquity can history have dealt so despitefully as with Democritus. In the distorted picture of unscientific tradition, almost nothing appears of him except the name of the " laughing philosopher," while figures of incomparably less importance extend themselves at full length. So much the more must we admire the tact with which Bacon, ordinarily no great hero in historical learning, chose exactly Demokritos out of all the philosophers of antiquity, and awarded him the premium for true investigation, whilst he considers Aristotle, the philosophical idol of the Middle Ages, only as the originator of an injurious appearance of knowledge, falsely so called, and of an empty philosophy of words.”
Friedrich Lange (1873), History of Materialism, Volume One (pg. 14)
Democritus (tribute)
A well-honed tribute to Democritus from American economist, statistician, and chemistry historian Carl Snyder's 1907 The World Machine: the First Phase, the Cosmic Mechanism. [9]

Quotes | By
The following are various Democritus attributed quotes:

“It has often been demonstrated that we do not grasp how each thing is or is not. Sweet exists by convention, bitter by convention, color by convention. Atoms and void alone exist in reality. . . We know nothing accurately in reality, but only as it changes according to the bodily condition, and the constitution of those things that flow upon the body and impinge upon it. It will be obvious that it is impossible to understand how in reality each thing is.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Pay (Ѻ) fragment #26

“The universe is infinite because it has not been produced by a creator. The causes of what now exists had no beginning.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Pay (Ѻ) fragment #45

“The material cause of all things that exist is the coming together of atoms and void. Atoms are too small to be perceived by the senses. They are eternal and have many different shapes, and they can cluster together to create things that are perceivable. Differences in shape, arrangement, and position of atoms produce different things. By aggregation they provide bulky objects that we can perceive with our sight and other senses.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Pay (Ѻ) fragment #47

“We see changes in things because of the rearrangement of atoms, but atoms themselves are eternal. Words such as ‘nothing’, ‘the void’, and ‘the infinite’ describe space. Individual atoms are describable as ‘not nothing’, ‘being’, and ‘the compact’. There is no void in atoms, so they cannot be divided. I hold the same view as Leucippus regarding atoms and space: atoms are always in motion in space.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Pay (Ѻ) fragment #48

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Pay (Ѻ) fragment #49

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
— Democritus (c.380BC) (Ѻ)

Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.”
— Democritus (c.380BC) (Ѻ)

“Men should strive to think much, and know little.”
— Democritus (c.380BC) (Ѻ)

“One should strive not after fullness of knowledge, but fullness of understanding.”
— Democritus (c.380BC), Fragment #; cited by Friedrich Lange (1865) in History of Materialism, Volume One (pg. 17) (see: information obesity)

“He who is fond of contradiction and makes many words is incapable of learning anything that is right.”
— Democritus (c.380BC), Fragment #; cited by Friedrich Lange (1865) in History of Materialism, Volume One (pg. 17)

“Among all my contemporaries, I have travelled over the largest portion of the earth in search of things the most remote, and have seen the most climates and countries, heard the largest number of thinkers, and no one has excelled me in geometric construction and demonstration—not even the geometers of the Egyptians, with whom I spent in all five years as a guest.”
— Democritus (c.380BC), Fragment #; cited by Friedrich Lange (1865) in History of Materialism, Volume One (pg. 17)

“I would rather discover a single explanation than acquire the Persian kingdom.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D2; cited by Eusebius (c.310AD) in Praeparatio Evangelica (XIV.27.4) [11]

“Animals flock together with animals of the same kind, doves with doves and cranes with cranes and similarly with the other irrational creatures, and so with non-living things too, as one can see in the case of seeds in a sieve and pebbles on a beach. In the one lentils are sorted out by the swirl of the sieve to lie together with lentils, barley with barley, and wheat with wheat, and in the other oblong pebbles are pushed by the motion of the waves into the same place as oblong and round into the same place as round, as if that sort of similarity in things had a kind of attractive force.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D6; cited by Sextus Empiricus (c.200AD) in: Against the Mathematicians (V11.116-18) [11]

“In reality we know nothing; for truth is in the depths. By convention sweet and by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold; but in reality atoms and void.”
— Democritus (c.430BC), Fragment D15, cited by Diogenes Laertius (c.220) in Publication (9.72), + Fragment D16, cited by Sextus Empiricus (c.200AD) in Against the Mathematicians (7.135); by Galen (c.180AD) in On Medical Experience (15.7) and On the Elements According to Hippocrates (1.2) [11]

“Easy is the worst of all teachers for the young; for it is that which gives birth to those pleasures from which the wickedness arises.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D42; cited by Stobaeus (c.550BC) in Publication (II.31.56) [11]

“One will seem to promote virtue better by using encouragement and persuasion of speech than law and necessity. For it is likely that he who is held back from wrongdoing by law will err in secret, but that he who is urged to what he should by persuasion will do nothing wrong either in secret or openly. Therefore, he who acts rightly from understanding and knowledge proves to be at the same time courageous and right-minded.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D46; cited by Stobaeus (c.550BC) in Publication (II.31.59) [11]

“The unwise are shaped by the gifts of fortune, but those who understand such things by the gifts of wisdom.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D61; cited by Stobaeus (c.550BC) in Ethics (III.4.71) [11]

“The unwise hate their life, yet want to live for fear of Hades.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D63; cited by Stobaeus (c.550BC) in Ethics (III.4.73) [11]

“Justice is doing what should be, injustice is not doing what should be, but turning aside from it.”
— Democritus (c.420BC), Fragment D120; cited by Stobaeus (c.550BC) in Ethics (IV.2.14) [11]

1. (a) Brumbaugh, Robert S. (1981). The Philosophers of Greece (ch. 9: Democritus and the Atomic Theory, pgs. 78-). SUNY Press.
(b) Melsen, Andrew G.M. van. (1952). From Atomos to Atom: the History of the Concept Atom (§4: Democritus, pgs. 17-). Dover, 2004.
2. Ulanowicz, Robert E. (2009). A Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin (pg. 22) . Templeton Press.
3. Cornford, F.M. (1938). Background to Modern Science (atomic theory, pg. 25). Cambridge.
4. Tyndall, John. (1874). “Address” (pgs. 3-4), Delivered before the British Association assembled at Belfast. Longmans, Green, and Co.
5. Monod, Jacques. (1970). Chance and Necessity: Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (Le Hasard et la Nécessité: Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne) (English translator: Austryan Wainhouse) (pg. 6). Vintage, 1971.
6. Taylor, Christopher. (1999). The Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus: Fragments: a Text with Translation with Commentary (pg. 158). University of Toronto Press.
7. Furley, David J. (1967). Two Studies in the Greek Atomists: Study I – Indivisible Magnitudes, Study II – Aristotle and Epicurus on Voluntary Action. Princeton University Press.
(b) Scott, George P. (1985). Atoms of the Living Flame: an Odyssey into Ethics and the Physical Chemistry of Free Will (pgs. 33-34). University Press of America.
(c) Works (section) – Wikipedia.
8. Democritus –
9. Snyder, Carl. (1907). The World Machine: the First Phase, the Cosmic Mechanism (dedication page). Longmans, Green.
10. Pliny. (77AD), Natural History (Ѻ)(Ѻ). Publisher.
11. Taylor, C.C.W. (1999). The Atomists: Leucippus and Democritus: Fragments: a Text and Translation with a Commentary by C.C.W. Taylor (pg. 3, 5; Archimedes, pg. 136; Simplicius, pgs. 92, 192). University of Toronto Press.

Further reading
● Laertius, Diogenes. (c.230). Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (TOC) (txt) (WS) (Democritus, §9.7). Publisher.

External links
Democritus – Wikipedia.

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