Democritus

  • Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.
  • If you suffer injustice, console yourself; the true unhappiness is in doing it.
  • Good means not merely not to do wrong, but rather not to desire to do wrong.
  • By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.
  • Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.
  • Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.
  • Hope of ill gain is the beginning of loss.
  • I would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia.
  • It is better to destroy one’s own errors than those of others.
  • It is godlike ever to think on something beautiful and on something new.
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1 Response to Democritus

  1. shinichi says:

    Democritus (Greek: Δημόκριτος, Dēmokritos, “chosen of the people”) (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos.

    His exact contributions are difficult to disentangle from 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 nineteenth-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. Largely ignored in ancient Athens, Democritus was nevertheless well known to his fellow northern-born philosopher Aristotle. Plato is said to have disliked him so much that he wished all his books burned. Many consider Democritus to be the “father of modern science”.

    We know that he wrote on Babylon and Meroe; he must also have visited Egypt, and Diodorus Siculus states that he lived there for five years. He himself declared that among his contemporaries none had made greater journeys, seen more countries, and met more scholars than himself. He particularly mentions the Egyptian mathematicians, whose knowledge he praises. Theophrastus, too, spoke of him as a man who had seen many countries. During his travels, according to Diogenes Laërtius, he became acquainted with the Chaldean magi. A certain “Ostanes”, one of the magi accompanying Xerxes was also said to have taught him.

    After returning to his native land he occupied himself with natural philosophy. He traveled throughout Greece to acquire a knowledge of its culture. He mentions many Greek philosophers in his writings, and his wealth enabled him to purchase their writings. Leucippus, the founder of the atomism, was the greatest influence upon him. He also praises Anaxagoras. Diogenes Laertius says that he was friends with Hippocrates. He may have been acquainted with Socrates, but Plato does not mention him and Democritus himself is quoted as saying, “I came to Athens and no one knew me.” Aristotle placed him among the pre-Socratic natural philosophers.

    The many anecdotes about Democritus, especially in Diogenes Laërtius, attest to his disinterest, modesty, and simplicity, and show that he lived exclusively for his studies. One story has him deliberately blinding himself in order to be less disturbed in his pursuits; it may well be true that he lost his sight in old age. He was cheerful, and was always ready to see the comical side of life, which later writers took to mean that he always laughed at the foolishness of people.

    He was highly esteemed by his fellow-citizens, “because,” as Diogenes Laërtius says, “he had foretold them some things which events proved to be true,” which may refer to his knowledge of natural phenomena. According to Diodorus Siculus, Democritus died at the age of 90, which would put his death around 370 BC, but other writers have him living to 104, or even 109.

    Popularly known as the Laughing Philosopher (for laughing at human follies), the terms Abderitan laughter, which means scoffing, incessant laughter, and Abderite, which means a scoffer, are derived from Democritus. To his fellow citizens he was also known as “The Mocker”.

    Democritus followed in the tradition of Leucippus, who seems to have come from Miletus, and he carried on the scientific rationalist philosophy associated with that city. They were both strict determinists and thorough materialists, believing everything to be the result of natural laws. Unlike Aristotle or Plato, the atomists attempted to explain the world without reasoning to purpose, prime mover, or final cause. For the atomists questions should be answered with a mechanistic explanation (“What earlier circumstances caused this event?”), while their opponents search for explanations which, in addition to the material and mechanistic, also included the formal and teleological (“What purpose did this event serve?”). Modern science has focused on mechanistic questions, which have led to scientific knowledge, especially in physics, while teleological questions can be useful in biology, in adaptationist reasoning at providing proximate explanations, though the deeper evolutionary explanations are often held to be thoroughly mechanistic. The atomists looked exclusively for mechanistic questions, and only admitted mechanistic answers. Their successors until the Renaissance became occupied with the teleological question, which arguably hindered progress.

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