7 Contributions of Democritus to Philosophy and Science

Some of the main Democritus's contributions To philosophy and science Are atomism, anthropology and important knowledge of astronomy.

Democritus of Abdera (c.460 BC - 370 BC) was a Greek philosopher, also known as the"laughing philosopher"or"the smiling philosopher"because he was always cheerful and liked to see the comic side of the life.

Democritus's contributions

In spite of being contemporary with Socrates, the line of thought of Democritus is located in the presocratic period, since its philosophical approach resembled more of the presocratic thinkers than that of Socrates and Plato.

He is believed to have studied astronomy and theology with the wizards (wise men) of the Persian King Xerxes. With the inheritance of his father, he traveled and studied in Persia, Babylon, India, Ethiopia, Egypt, Greece.

Having exhausted his inheritance, he returned to his homeland and settled with his brother Damosis. Here, he focused his studies on natural philosophy, which he taught through public classes. He was a disciple of Leucippus, with whom he founded the school of atomism.

Democritus' works cover various areas, including ethics, physics, math , Music and cosmology. Most of these jobs have survived through secondary sources, such as Aristotle .

7 fundamental contributions of Democritus to philosophy and science

1- The school of atomism

One of the most relevant contributions of Democritus was the creation of the philosophical school of atomism. This line of thought arose in response to the Parmenides , Who affirmed that matter is immutable and eternal and that the changes that our senses observe are errors of perception.

In this sense, Democritus and Leucipo They pointed out that there existed, in fact, certain immutable materials, which combined in different forms to give rise to the changes that we observed in the matter. These"immutable materials"were called"atoms"(which means"indivisible"in Greek).

According to the atomist school, atoms are tiny, solid particles that vary in size, mass, and shape and move in the void of repulsion. When they collide with each other, they form clusters that give rise to more complex materials.

This means that the macroscopic objects we observe on a daily basis are actually clusters of small atoms.

Democritus' theory of atoms was correct in many respects, but was rejected by philosophers. However, it influenced the development of the atomic theory of Dalton .

2- Theory of perception

Democritus' theory of perception is closely related to the school of atomism. This philosopher pointed out that the images ( Eido Were actually layers of atoms.

These films of atoms shrink and expand. Only those that shrink enough are able to enter the human eye.

In this sense, it is the changes produced in the films of atoms that allow us to perceive reality. Likewise, the visible properties of macroscopic objects (such as size and shape) are the product of such films.

Democritus' theory of perception also includes other meanings. For example, with respect to taste, the philosopher pointed out that the different flavors were produced by the forms of the atoms: some are soft and generate sweet sensations, while others are rough and bitter.

From this, it is observed that this Greek philosopher asserted that characteristics such as taste and color were not properties of atoms, which was then proved incorrect. Despite this, his theory was of benefit to science.

3- Knowledge

In terms of epistemology, Democritus distinguished two types of knowledge: bastard knowledge and legitimate knowledge. The bastard knowledge is that subjective and insufficient, which is obtained through sensory perception.

For its part, legitimate knowledge is genuine knowledge, which is obtained through the processing of bastard knowledge, using an inductive reasoning.

4- Anthropology

Although there is no conclusive evidence, some historians point out that it is possible that Democritus was the creator of the theory of the historical development of human communities.

This assumption is made taking into account the information obtained through secondary sources, according to which Democritus showed interest in the study of the origin of the Companies Their institutions and their culture. This means that this Greek scholar may have been one of the earliest anthropologists.

5-"The supreme good"

In matters of ethics, Democritus followed a philosophy similar to hedonism, so much that it could be considered the predecessor of this one.

He was one of the first philosophers to propose the existence of a"supreme good"or goal, which he called"good humor"or"joy."

This good humor was directly related to the human being's ability to enjoy life without having to worry about the problems that surround him.

He also pointed out that this state of well-being was achieved through the moderate search for pleasures, distinguishing two types: useful and harmful pleasures, the useful ones being those that generated joy.

Democritus is credited with the phrase"a brave man is one who overcomes not only his enemies but his pleasures".

6. Mathematics and Geometry

Democritus was one of the pioneers in mathematics and geometry. In fact, he wrote treatises on numbers, figures, tangents, irrational numbers, among others. However, in our days there are no copies of these treatises and they are only known from secondary sources.

Likewise, it is known that Democritus was the first to observe that the volume of a cone is equal to the third of the volume of a cylinder having the same base and the same height of the cone in question.

7- Astronomy

Democritus was also the first philosopher to realize that the celestial body we know as the Milky Way was formed by the light of thousands of distant stars.

He was also one of the first to argue that the universe was full of planets, some of which were uninhabited.


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  5. Democritus. Retrieved on May 3, 2017, from philosophybasics.com.
  6. Democritus. Retrieved on May 3, 2017, from britannica.com.
  7. Democritus. Retrieved on May 3, 2017 from ancient.eu.

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