Ancient History & Civilisation

THE ATOMISTS
(LEUCIPPUS OF ABDERA, DEMOCRITUS OF ABDERA)

Together, Leucippus and Democritus are often called the ‘early’ atomists, to distinguish them from their famous later successors, Epicurus and his school, who took over and developed their teaching. We know so little of Leucippus, however, that there is no point in treating him separately from his colleague and contemporary, Democritus, and indeed even Aristotle often treated them simply as a doublet. Democritus was an extremely prolific writer, and the sheer volume of his work seems to have swamped that of his slightly older colleague. Because of the number of his writings, there are many implicit and explicit references to him; Aristotle’s responses to him pervade works such as Physics and On Generation and Corruption at a deep and implicit level. The testimonia translated below are only a small proportion of the available evidence.

Although Diels/Kranz attribute nearly 300 fragments to Democritus (and two to Leucippus), they contain little of their most important work, for which we have to rely on testimonia. In fact, a great many of Democritus’ fragments are ethical quips, and over eighty of these are attributed in our source to ‘Democrates’. Since we know of no Democrates, and since a couple of the maxims are elsewhere attributed to Democritus by name, most scholars have long assumed that Democritus was meant. But for the atomic theory and its ramifications we are entirely dependent on testimonia, and it is clear from extant book titles and testimonia that Democritus covered not only familiar Presocratic chestnuts such as embryology and why magnets attract iron, but also wrote books on mathematics and geometry, geography, medicine, astronomy1 and the calendar, Pythagoreanism, acoustics and other scientific topics, the origins of humans and animals, and even literature and prosody. Importantly, it is also clear that not only did he cover this wide range of topics, but he covered them in some depth—for instance, by raising and answering possible objections. He was therefore an important bridge between the dogmatism of many of the Presocratics and the fully fledged philosophy of Plato.

The basic premisses of the atomic system are that all that exists is atoms and void, that (in response to Parmenides) both of these had always existed (that is, that void no less than atomic matter satisfies Parmenidean criteria for being), that atoms are in constant motion through the void, and that all things are made up of atoms and void. T1–3 are good Aristotelian summaries of the basic atomist position, T4 and F1 reproduce some of their arguments for the existence of void,2 and T6 and T7 outline a couple of arguments for the eternity of atoms and void. Since the atomists appear to have reached a conclusion about the fundamental structure of the world which echoes our own in naming invisibly minute particles as the basic building-blocks, and since they did this in an age long before microscopes and sophisticated science, we are faced first and foremost with the question how they arrived at this startling conclusion. It was, in fact, a deduction from Eleatic principles, mediated by the ideas of Empedocles that there can be a plurality of indestructible elements, and that all change is mixture. If what-is cannot move, then since the fact of movement is self-evident, there must, the atomists surmised, exist void or non-being (if it is not too paradoxical to say that it exists) to allow for movement. Equally evidently (or at least, evident to the senses), there is change, generation, and destruction, and these kinds of facts must be explained without contravening Parmenidean principles. If change and so on occur at the gross level of the senses, then the reality of things, the unchanging level of things, must be beyond the senses. And so the atomists came to posit a world in which the only two realities were atoms and the void.

Zeno had argued (see p. 78) that if any object is infinitely divisible, it must be divided ultimately either into parts with no finite size (but if so, even infinite parts of no finite size do not add up to an object of any finite size) or parts with finite size (but if so, infinite parts of finite size would add up to an object of infinite size). The atomist response was to deny that objects are infinitely divisible. One can divide them down to minute parts, but the process of division ends there. T8 is Aristotle’s summary of atomist thinking along these lines.

Anaxagoras had argued that the natural substances which are the basic building-blocks of things were infinitely divisible: however much you divide a piece of wood, it will remain wood all the way. But it was presumably Leucippus, as the earliest of the atomists, who made an intuitive leap of genius and proposed that the world was ultimately made up things which do not have qualities, as wood does. He said that if you were to continue to divide anything, at some point you would reach things which are not further divisible—they are atoma, indivisibles. These atoms do not have qualities themselves (except size, shape, position, and arrangement), but the conglomerations of atoms that we recognize as the things of the world do have qualities. Thus only atoms are the fundamental realities of the world, and everything else is nothing but transient and random concatenations of atoms.

The indivisibility of atoms is a deduction from the idea that only atoms and void exist (T5): since it is void that allows any kind of change to take place, including division, then if there is something solid to offset void, it must be totally solid—that is, entirely free of void—and so indivisible and indestructible. T9 adds that for the early atomists atoms were indivisible because they had no parts—division being division into parts—but if this is not an Epicurean contamination, it is probably only a restatement of the voidlessness of the atoms. A ‘part’ is at least theoretically separable from the whole of which it is part, and so if an atom had parts it would have something separable, which would introduce void into it. However, there is a potential difficulty for the early atomists here: given that the atoms have size and shape, then parts of them are distinguishable. One can talk about the jagged bits of a toothed atom, for instance, or the corners of a square one. It is possible, then, that while Leucippus and Democritus insisted on the actual indivisibility of atoms, they accepted their theoretical divisibility, despite the talk in T9 about atoms having no parts.

The account of the formation of compound bodies in, for instance, T3 and T5 makes it clear that this is a random event, due to the accidental collisions of atoms as they fall through the infinite void.3 How, then, can Leucippus say, at F2, that nothing happens at random? ‘At random’ here means ‘in vain’; the kind of necessity Leucippus is referring to is sheer physical necessity: given their three basic qualities—shape, arrangement, and position—the atoms are bound to form compounds; and given that there are infinite compounds in an infinite void, all possible compounds will be formed. But any compounds will be temporary, however long-lasting, because each atom must retain its independence: being solid, it cannot merge with any other solid atom. Of the three basic qualities, as T2 clearly shows, ‘shape’ is self-explanatory, ‘position’ refers to the orientation of the atom, and ‘arrangement’ refers to their situation relative to other atoms. To these three basic qualities, one could add size, which is not mentioned in many of the testimonia only because difference of size is taken for granted. As for the size of atoms, although as the basic and quality-less elements of things they are necessarily minute, an atom is not actually defined in virtue of its small size, but only in virtue of its freedom from void, and according to T10 (and some other incidental testimonia) it is therefore theoretically possible for there to be vast atoms. But since atoms by definition have no secondary qualities such as colour (T2), and since the reason they have no such secondary qualities is presumably because of their minute size, it seems unlikely that the atomists held that there were enormous atoms, and certainly our earliest and best evidence is that all atoms fell below the threshold of perception (T1, T3).

Not unnaturally, given their views, the atomists were led to a deep suspicion of the evidence of the senses, and even to a kind of scepticism (F4). If T11 is to be trusted, Democritus’ reasons for this scepticism went further than just the contrast between the evidence of the senses and what reason tells us about the realities of the world. He also (like his fellow Abderite, Protagoras) pointed to the relativity of sense-impressions to justify his doubts about the senses; however, whereas Protagoras adopted the relativist position that, in cases of clashing perceptions, all perceptions are true, Democritus concluded that none of them is true. And from this it follows, as F3 suggests, that to attribute any quality to anything is no more than a convenience and a convention. However, the continuation of F3 shows that Democritus’ began and ended his scepticism with the senses; he believed that we could reach the truth by means of our intellect. His doubts about the senses are also reflected in his account of their working and his important explanation of the objects of sense in T12 and especially the long (and often obscure) T13.4

But this straightforward picture of scepticism is not the full story. T13 contains an analysis of perceptible properties: we perceive something as salty, say, because of the shapes of the configurations of the atoms involved. It follows from this that the senses must give us access to the truth. Since atomic configurations of such-and-such a kind will always and inevitably produce on our tongues an impression of saltiness, then that impression of saltiness is reliable. Moreover, elsewhere (T14), and in apparent contradiction toT11, Aristotle bluntly says that according to Democritus the senses give us truth. On the one hand, then, Democritus found the evidence of the senses unreliable; on the other hand, he found them reliable. How can we resolve this dilemma? He must have made a distinction between the ontological or scientific statement ‘X is sweet’, which means that ‘X has its atoms configured in such a way as to produce sweet taste on the tongue’, and the empirical statement ‘X is sweet’, made by someone as a result of her subjective experience of eating strawberries. The first kind of statement is objectively true; the second is not true, but a product of convention.

In roughly the middle of T13 Theophrastus tells us that for Democritus the atoms had weight. This is somewhat surprising in view of the traditional insistence that the atoms had only three properties—shape, position, and arrangement. However, it is supported byT15 too. Perhaps Democritus and the doxographical tradition felt, as I have already suggested, that size was too obvious a property to stress, and also that weight was an obvious concomitant of size. Since the weight of compounds varies according to how much void there is in them, then two equal-sized atoms must have the same weight, since by definition they have no void in them, and therefore the larger an atom is the heavier it must be. It looks as though T16 is wrong, then, in distinguishing Democritus from Epicurus on this score; certainly the report does not inspire confidence in claiming that Democritus attributed only two properties, size and shape, to atoms.

But if atoms had weight, can we also specify their motion in the void? In other words, should we say (as Epicurus did) that they had downward motion? But Epicurus had to introduce his doctrine of the ‘swerve’ to explain how atoms with the same motion could ever come into contact and form compounds, and there is no sign of any such doctrine in the early atomists. On the contrary, Aristotle complains in T17 that they did not specify what motion the atoms had. In all likelihood, they thought of the atoms as having random motion, due to all the collisions and reboundings that were taking place between them (see e.g. T5); in other words, they may not have said what, if any, particular form of motion the atoms originally had, before the first collisions and reboundings caused them to have random motion. They stressed the eternity of atoms and void, and therefore the question of what first caused their motion, or what it was like ‘before’ they began to collide, does not really arise. And it is possible that they spoke of atoms having ‘weight’ only within a formed or forming world—that is, only once there is a context for the concepts of ‘weight’ and ‘direction’ to make sense.

Like all compounds, worlds are chance aggregates of atoms. With perfect consistency, given that there are infinite atoms in infinite void, Democritus held that there were innumerable worlds (T22, T23). But how were they formed? Or how, at any rate, was our world formed? There are some areas of unclarity in the picture given us by T18–21. First, the relevant number and kind of atoms have to become separated from the rest in a sufficient area of void (T18); then an Empedoclean or Anaxagorean whirl or vortex arises, which, through the principle of like to like, separates out the broad regions of the world into the familiar Presocratic concentric pattern, with the light elements of fire and air on the periphery outside water and earth (T20, T21). The whole world is protected by a kind of membrane around the outside (T19). However, there are clashes between our sources: talk of a membrane is explicit only in T19 and has to be read into T21, and whereas T19 has light atoms being ‘sieved’ out of the whole process of world-formation altogether, T21 takes the more traditional line that light atoms form the lighter peripheral fire. Also, the account of the formation of the heavenly bodies is different in T19 and T21. Nevertheless, although it is clear that none of our sources had the actual words of Democritus or Leucippus to guide them, the big picture does emerge.

One thing that is clear is that in their account of the origin of worlds, the atomists made considerable use of the principle that like attracts like (on which see F5). This is how the original regions of the cosmos were formed. However, generally, we are told that atoms stick together because their shapes allow them to ‘become entangled’. It is not at all clear how the atomists reconciled these two processes. Perhaps ‘like to like’ provides the first impulse for similar atoms to come into contact, and then they form more stable compounds because they can become entangled. But even this cannot be the whole picture, because Democritus speaks of fire atoms as being spherical (T12, T24), and it is impossible to see how they could become entangled. This remains an area of mystery in the doctrine of the early atomists.

Leucippus and Democritus were thoroughgoing materialist scientists. Even things that we might think of as immaterial are for them no more than conglomerations of atoms. T24 shows that they regarded soul or mind as atomic, made up of spherical, fiery atoms, because they are the most mobile, and the soul is what imparts movement to living creatures; Democritus also held that soul atoms were distributed evenly throughout the body, with one soul-atom adjoining each body-atom (T25). T24 also shows how the atomists followed through their theory of the composition of the soul into an atomic theory of respiration and life. Even more remarkably, T26 and T27 inform us that Democritus regarded the gods as atomic compounds. True, they are particularly large and long-lived compounds, but they have lost their vital Homeric quality of indestructibility, since all compounds of atoms must be liable to dissolution. It was a common belief that dreams were the appearance of the gods to us, and so, just as ordinary vision is the taking in of ‘images’—atomic emanations given out by all objects (T13)—; the dreamt gods too are just such images, perceived while asleep (T27, T29). Although Democritus accepted that these gods have certain powers, such as foretelling the future,5T28 shows that he deprived them of their traditional functions as bringers of rain and so on. Like his predecessors—and Democritus is in many ways a consummate Presocratic, the epitome of the scientific tendencies of his predecessors6—he explained all such phenomena by natural laws. F6 and T30–4 display a few interesting theories (and remember also T10 and T11 under Anaxagoras, p. 129). F6 is a particularly interesting conundrum in the days before the concept of the dimensionless point entered mathematics.

Finally, we come to Democritus’ ethics. As already remarked, the vast majority of the extant fragments are ethical in content, consisting mainly of sound and rather conservative advice, but stressing above all the good of the individual over the good of the state or group. There are occasional near contradictions within these fragments: in a couple of fragments, for instance, Democritus recommends involvement in the public life of one’s community, despite the doubts about the value of this apparently expressed in F7. Or again, despite the praise for democracy in F16, another fragment appears to support the idea that ‘might is right’ (DK 68A267). However, a constant theme is the value of moderation in all things (e.g. F7–11), with oneself as responsible for one’s own condition (F10, F14). He also stresses the importance of pleasure in various ways, most critically as a criterion (T35, F12–14). His importance in the history of ethics is that he was the first, as far as we know, to make a single aim—the attainment of ‘contentment’ (T35, T36, F7, F8)—; the criterion to be followed when considering whether or not any particular action should be carried out, and, in a manner strongly reminiscent of Socrates, he located the goal of contentment in one’s mind rather than in the acquisition of power or money. The contrast between mind (or soul) and body, with the mind taking the authoritative role, is clearly drawn (F17, T37). The mind is seen as the seat of happiness and misery, reason and emotion, character and intelligence (e.g.T35, F8). The relationship between contentment and pleasure is not perfectly clear, but it is likely that Democritus thought that the most pleasant life overall was the life of moderation and contentment, and therefore implicitly distinguished these mental or spiritual pleasures from the grosser pleasures of the body. F18 suggests that he may also have expressed the contrast between physical and mental pleasures in terms of how fleeting and satisfying they were, and also shows that he anticipated Plato in linking pleasure and need (see also F11), with need perceived as a kind of pain. Gross hedonism is therefore self-defeating because its pursuit of pleasure leads it to value the pains or needs which will lead to subsequent pleasures.

It is a fascinating question whether there was any explicit connection between Democritus’ atomic theory and his ethics. It is relatively easy to suggest that, because the soul is atomic, and because the soul-atoms are spread evenly throughout the body, major disturbances in the soul are to be avoided, as injurious both psychologically and constitutionally. It is also easy to see that in both fields, ethics and physics, Democritus would recommend critical examination of the evidence of the senses, so that (in ethics) one does not necessarily follow an immediate whim, without first seeing whether or not where it leads is truly conducive to one’s long-term pleasure. Moreover, in T22 Hippolytus reports, in effect, that Democritus saw the whole of human life as futile. Since he believed that we inhabit a world which is a chance concatenation of atoms, and may be destroyed at any moment by collision with another world (T22), and which is subject to bombardment by alien diseases (T34), he might well have encouraged us to achieve contentment, which is also glossed as ‘composure’, ‘equanimity’, and ‘freedom from fear’ (T35, T36). Otherwise his philosophy could easily induce a state of panic!

T1 (DK 67A7; KRS 545; T 48a) Leucippus and Democritus covered everything with a single explanation in a particularly systematic fashion, and came up with a first principle that was in accordance with the way things are. Some of the thinkers of old had decided that what-is is single and unmoving, on the grounds that void is nonexistent, and that there could be no movement without a separately existing void, nor even a plurality of things without the existence of something to keep them apart … Leucippus, however, thought that he had come up with explanations which conformed with the evidence of the senses in that they would not do away with generation or destruction or movement, or with the plurality of existing things. But as well as conceding these things to appearances, he also agreed with the monists that there could be no movement without void, that the void is non-existent, and that nothing about what-is can not be. For what really and truly is, he said, is a plenum. Nevertheless, he said, this is not single, but there are numerically infinite existents, which are imperceptible because of their minute size. These things are in motion in the void (for the void exists), and their coming together constitutes generation, while their dissolution constitutes destruction. They act and are acted upon wherever they happen to come into contact, but their coming into contact does not make them a single entity. They generate things by combining and becoming entangled with one another, but no plurality, Leucippus said, could arise from what is truly single, nor could a singularity arise from what is truly multiple—that is impossible. Instead (similarly to how Empedocles and some others claim that things are modified and acted upon through their channels) he said that all alterations and all modifications happen in the following way: dissolution and destruction, and growth too, are the results of solid objects slipping in through the void.* (Aristotle, On Generation and Destruction 324b35–325b5 Joachim)

T2 (DK 67A6; KRS 555; T 46a) Leucippus and his companion Democritus say that the elements are the full and the void, by which they mean what-is and what-is-not, with what is full and solid being what-is, and what is void and rarefied being what-is-not. Hence they say that what-is has no more existence than what-is-not, because void exists just as much as solidity. These, according to them, are the material causes of things. And just as those thinkers who make the underlying substance single generate everything else by means of the modifications of this single substance, and posit rarefaction and condensation as the sources of these modifications, so Leucippus and Democritus say that differences are responsible for everything else. But they say that there are only three differences—in shape, arrangement, and position. For they say that what-is differs only ‘by structure, contact, and inclination’, of which ‘structure’ is shape, ‘contact’ is arrangement, and ‘inclination’ is position. So, for instance, A differs from N in shape, AN differs from NA in arrangement, and Image differs from H in position. But just like the other thinkers we have been looking it, Leucippus and Democritus carelessly said nothing about the origin of movement and how things have movement. (Aristotle, Metaphysics985b4–20 Ross)

T3 (DK 68A37; KRS 556; T 44a) A few extracts from Aristotle’s On Democritus will show the views of these men. ‘Democritus thinks that the nature of the eternal existents consists in minute substances, infinite in number. To accommodate them, he assumes that there is an infinitely large place, different from them. He calls this place ‘void’ and ‘no-thing’ and ‘infinite’, and he calls each of the substances ‘thing’,* ‘solid’, and ‘being’. He thinks that these substances are too small to be perceived by us, that they have all kinds of forms and shapes, and are variously sized. Treating these things as elements, he generates and compounds out of them things which are large enough to be visible and perceptible. These substances are moving in the void in a chaotic state. As a result of their dissimilarities and the differences I have just mentioned, as they move they collide and become entangled with the kind of entanglement that makes them in contact with and adjacent to one another, but fails to generate anything whatsoever with a truly single nature out of them, since it is perfectly stupid, according to Democritus, to think that something which was two or more could ever become one. He attributes the ability of the substances to stay together to the extent that they do to the ways in which they fit together and seize hold of one another. For they have countless differences—they may be crooked, for instance, or hooked or concave or convex. So he thinks that they hold on to one another and stay together for a certain amount of time, until some stronger force from around them comes along and shakes them and breaks them up.’ The creation he speaks of, as well as its contrary, dissolution, happens not only to living creatures, but also to plants, worlds, and in short to all perceptible bodies. So if creation is the combination of atoms, destruction is their dissolution, and according to Democritus creation is just modification. (Aristotle [fr. 208 Rose] in Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On the Heavens’, CAG VII, 294.33–295.24 Heiberg)

T4 (DK 67A19; T 52b) Their arguments are, first, that without void it is inconceivable that there could be such a thing as change of place (i.e. movement and increase), since it is impossible for a plenum to be receptive of anything. If a plenum could receive something, two objects would be in the same place, and then you could have any number of bodies coinciding, since it would be impossible to specify a point at which this coincidence would stop … These considerations gave them one way to demonstrate that there is such a thing as void, and a second argument is based on the observation that some things contract and are compressed. For instance, they claim that a wine-cask can hold not only the wine, but also the wineskins which the wine is in,* and they explain this by claiming that a compressed body contracts into the void which is within it. Third, they all use void to explain the phenomenon of growth, the point being that food is a body, and it is impossible for two bodies to coincide.* They also cite as evidence what happens to ash: ash in a vessel can hold as much water as an empty vessel can.* (Aristotle, Physics 213b4–22 Ross)

F1 (DK 68B156; T 178c) There is no more reason for thing to exist than for no-thing to exist.* (Plutarch, Against Colotes 1 109a7–8 Einarson/de Lacy)

T5 (DK 67A14; KRS 557, 584; T 57) The opinion of Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus on the first principles was that they are numerically infinite, indivisible and atomic, and that nothing can happen to them because they are ‘solid’ and have no void in them. That is, they claimed that division takes place because of the void in bodies. They said that these atomic bodies (which were separated from one another in the infinite void, and differ from one another in shape, size, position, and arrangement) are in motion in the void, and that as they overtake one another they collide, and that while some rebound in random directions, others become entangled, if their shapes, sizes, positions, and arrangements are conformable, and stay together, and so bring about the generation of compound entities. (Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On the Heavens’, CAG VII, 242.18–26 Heiberg)

T6 (T 69b) Those who say, as Democritus of Abdera does, that this is just what has always happened, and regard this as a first principle, are wrong and fail to state the necessity of the cause. They say that nothing boundless has a beginning, but a cause is a beginning, and what always exists is boundless, and therefore, he says, to ask for a cause for anything of this kind is to look for a beginning for something that is boundless. (Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals 742b17–23 Bekker)

T7 (DK 68A71; T 64a) But with a single exception [Plato] everyone is clearly in agreement about time: they all say that time is not generated. In fact, Democritus even uses this to disprove the notion that everything is generated; after all, he says, time is not generated. (Aristotle, Physics 251b14–17 Ross)

T8 (DK 68A48b; T 49) The assumption that there exists a body that has magnitude, and that it is everywhere divisible, and that this division is possible, creates problems. For what will there be that survives the division? … A magnitude? But that is impossible, because it means that there is still something that has not been divided, whereas ex hypothesi the body was everywhere divisible. On the other hand, if no body or magnitude remains, and yet the division will occur, then either the body consists of points and the things out of which it is made have no magnitude, or it will be nothing at all in the first place. If this is the case, then, the body in question would consist and be composed of nothing, and would itself be nothing at all, just an illusion … This, then, is the argument which apparently forces one to conclude that there are atoms possessed of some magnitude. (Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption 316a14–317a1 Joachim)

T9 (DK 67A13; KRS 558; T 50a) Those who denied infinite divisibility, on the grounds that we are unable to divide anything infinitely, and therefore cannot prove the possibility of unceasing division, said that bodies are composed of indivisibles and are divisible into indivisibles. However, whereas Leucippus and Democritus attribute the indivisibility of the primary bodies not only to the fact that nothing can happen to them, but also to the fact that they are minute and have no parts, Epicurus later said that although they did have parts, the fact that nothing can happen to them still guarantees their indivisibility. (Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Physics’, CAG X, 925.10–17 Diels)

F2 (DK 67B2; KRS 569; T L1) In his On Mind Leucippus says: ‘Nothing occurs at random, but everything happens for a reason and because it has to.’ (Aëtius, Opinions 1.25.4 Diels)

T10 (DK 68A43; KRS 561; T 63a) Epicurus and Democritus held these views [the basic notions of atomism], but they disagreed with each other in so far as one of them maintained that all atoms were minute and that this is why they are imperceptible, while the other, Democritus, claimed that there could even be enormous atoms. (Dionysius in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 14.23.3.1–5 Dindorf)

F3 (DK 68B9a, 9b, 10, 6, 7, 8, 11; KRS 549, 550, 554; T 179a) Democritus occasionally does away with sensible phenomena, saying that none of them really and truly presents itself to the senses, but is only thought to do so, while the only truth in existing things is the existence of atoms and void. He says: ‘Sweet exists by convention, and so does bitter, warm, cold, and colour; in reality there are atoms and void.’ … And in Confirmations … he says: ‘In actual fact we have no certain understanding, but our grasp on things changes depending on the condition of our bodies, of the things that enter into it, and of the things that impinge upon it.’ Again, he says: ‘That we have no true understanding of what anything is or is not like has often been demonstrated.’ And in his On Forms he says, ‘It is important for a person to use this criterion to realize that he is removed from reality’; and again, ‘This is yet another argument which demonstrates that in reality we know nothing about anything, but that belief restructures things for each of us’; and again, ‘However, the difficulty of knowing what anything is in reality will be clear.’

In these passages, then, he rejects apprehension more or less entirely, even though his remarks are aimed in particular at the senses. But in Criteria he says that there are two kinds of knowledge, one which comes through the senses and the other which comes through thinking, and he calls the one that comes through thinking ‘genuine’, and ascribes to it trustworthiness in the assessment of truth, while the one that comes through the senses he calls ‘bastard’, and denies that it is reliable in the discernment of truth. His actual words are: ‘There are two forms of knowledge, one genuine, the other bastard. To the bastard kind belong all the following: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. But the other kind is genuine and is far removed from the bastard kind.’ (Sextus Empiricus,Against the Professors 7.135.1–139.4 Bury)

F4 (DK 68B117; T D15) In reality we know nothing; for the truth is hidden in an abyss. (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 9.72. 10 Long)

T11 (DK 68A112; KRS 548; T 177) Then again, along the same lines some thinkers have concluded that the truth about appearances depends on what is perceived. They think it wrong to assess the truth by majorities and minorities, and point out that the same thing appears sweet to some of those who taste it and bitter to others; the upshot of this, they claim, is that if everyone were ill or insane, except for two or three healthy or sane people, it is the latter who would be thought ill or insane, not the former. They also say that many other creatures perceive things in ways that directly contrast with the ways we perceive them, and even a single individual does not always perceive things the same way. It is unclear, then, which of these perceptions are true and which are false, since the one lot is no more or less true than the other. This is why Democritus, at any rate, says that either nothing is true or at least that the matter is unclear to us. (Aristotle, Metaphysics 1009a38-b12 Ross)

T12 Granted that sensible qualities are perceived by us but do not essentially inhere in bodies, some of them, according to Democritus, are inevitable consequences of the aggregation of certain kinds of atoms (as, for example, fire gains the sensible quality of heat as a result of the aggregation of spherical atoms—a sphere being mobile) … while others give an impression of change, thanks to the changing position and arrangement of the atoms, although the compounds are preserved.… For example, the same body seems now pale and now dark, or now cold and later hot, as a result of changes in the position and arrangement of the atoms in the compound. Fire, however, always appears the same, even if the atoms out of which it is composed change their positions, because spherical atoms always have the same effect on us. (Philoponus, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On Generation and Destruction’, CAG XIV.2, 17.20–32 Vitelli)

T13 (DK 68A135; KRS 574, 589; T 113) Democritus says that sight is due to the manifestation of things in the eye, but he gives a peculiar account of this manifestation. He says that it does not occur immediately in the pupil, but that the air between the organ of sight and the seen object is compressed by the seen object and the seeing eye (for according to him everything is constantly giving off an emanation) and so gains an imprint of the object, and then, since the air is solid and is of a different colour to the pupil, it manifests in the eyes, which are moist.* A firm object cannot receive any such imprints, but a moist one lets them through, and that is why moist eyes have better sight than hard eyes—provided (a) that the outer membrane is particularly fine and firm, (b) that the inner parts of the eye are as spongy as possible, as free as they can be of firm, tough flesh, and filled with thick, oily liquid; (c) that the channels in the eyes are straight and dry, so that they conform to the imprints, because everything finds it easiest to recognize what is akin to itself*

His account of hearing closely resembles what others have said on the matter. He says that the air enters the empty part of the ear and causes a disturbance. Although in fact air is entering the whole body in the same way, it enters most easily and in the largest quantities through the ears, because there it finds the largest amount of empty space to pass through and so hardly lingers at all. That is why only this part of the body perceives sounds. Once the air is inside the body, it spreads out as a result of its speed, since sound occurs when the air is compressed and is forced into the body. In other words, just as he explains perception on the outside of the body as due to touch, so he also explains perception inside the body in the same way. People can hear best, he says, if (a) their outer membrane is firm, (b) their channels are empty, as dry as possible, and open over the whole body as well as the head and ears, (c) their bones are firm and their brain is well-tempered and the matter surrounding it is as dry as possible. These conditions ensure that the sound is not be broken up as it enters, since it passes through a considerable area that is empty, dry, and open, and spreads rapidly and evenly throughout the body, without escaping to the outside …

This is how he explains sight and hearing; his account of the remaining senses closely resembles what one finds in the majority of other authorities. On thinking, he says only that it happens when the mind’s blend is moderate. Things change, however, he says, if the mind becomes too hot or too cold, and that is why in days past men were right to suppose that under these circumstances a person was not in his right mind. It is clear, then, that he attributes thinking to the composition of the body—which is perhaps not an unreasonable view for someone who makes the mind corporeal …

Democritus does not give the same account of all sensible qualities, but explains some by the size of their atoms, others by the shapes of their atoms, and others by the arrangement and position of their atoms … He explains heaviness and lightness in terms of size. For, he says, if every item were to be divided up, then even though there would be different shapes, nevertheless the weight of things is naturally related to their size. The same does not go for compounds, however, which are lighter if they contain more void, and heavier if they contain less. This is what he says at some points, but elsewhere he says that a thing is light simply because of its fineness.

He gives pretty much the same account of hardness and softness, saying that something compact is hard, and something loose is soft, and explaining degrees of hardness or softness along exactly the same lines. However, there is a difference between the position and accommodation of void spaces in things that are hard and soft, and in things that are heavy and light, which explains why iron is harder than lead, but lead is heavier than iron: iron has an irregular composition, consisting of considerable areas of void interspersed with some solidity, with generally more void than lead, whereas lead has less void and a regular composition, with an equal distribution of void and solidity throughout. Hence it is heavier, but softer, than iron.

That is what he has to say about heavy, light, hard, and soft. As far as the rest of the sensible qualities, he says that none of them really exists, but that they are all modifications brought about by changes in our sensory apparatus, which is what causes an impression to arise. He even denies real existence to heat and cold, claiming instead that changes in us are caused by changes in the configuration of atoms, on the grounds that only a tightly packed mass has the power to prevail, whereas something that is distributed over a wide area is imperceptible. And as proof of the fact that sensible qualities have no real existence he points to the fact that they do not appear the same to all creatures; what is sweet for us may be bitter for other creatures, and may be sour or pungent or astringent to yet others, and the same goes for other qualities.

Democritus also claims that people differ in composition according to their state* and their age. This too makes it clear, he says, that condition is responsible for impression, and in general that is how he would have us think about sensible qualities. However, as in other cases, so here too he attributes them also to the configurations.* He does not explain which configurations are responsible for all sensory qualities, but focuses on tastes and colours—and even where these are concerned he goes into more detail about the configurations responsible for tastes, while referring the actual impression to the person concerned.

Sour taste, then, is angular and twisted in its configuration, and small and light. Because of its sharpness it rapidly penetrates throughout the body, and because it is rough and angular it acts as a cohesive and contractive agent. That is why it warms the body by creating empty spaces within it; for the more void a thing contains the warmer it is.

Sweet taste consists of configurations that are rounded and not too small. Hence it serves basically to relax the body, and it gently and unhurriedly accomplishes all its work. It disturbs the other tastes, because as it makes its way through the body it pushes the others off course and moistens them. Once they have been moistened and moved from their usual arrangement they stream into the stomach, which is the easiest place for them to go since there is more void there than anywhere else.

Astringent taste consists of large, angular configurations, without the slightest roundedness. When these configurations enter the body, they clog and block the channels and stop their contents flowing, which is why astringent tastes cause constipation.

Bitter taste consists of configurations that are small, smooth, and rounded, but with a roundedness that also contains wrinkles; that is why it is viscous and sticky.

Saltiness is the taste made up of configurations which are large and, so far from being rounded, are only occasionally crooked, so that they are not especially twisted. By describing them as crooked he means that they can interlock and become entangled with one another. These configurations are large because saltiness comes to the surface of things, whereas if they were small and were in a position to be struck by things around them they would get mixed up with everything else. They are not rounded, because saltiness is rough, whereas roundedness is smooth. And they are not entirely crooked, because they do not readily become entwined, which is why salt is friable.

Pungent taste is small, rounded, and angular, without crookedness. This is because pungent taste, through being small, rounded, and angular, warms and relaxes the body with its roughness. After all, that is what angularity is like.

He also attributes all the other qualities a thing may have to configurations in the same way. But he does say that no configuration is pure—that is, free from admixture with others. In every configuration there are many shapes, so that a single taste consists of configurations that are smooth and rough, rounded and sharp, and so on. It is the dominant configuration which prevails with regard to the sensory apparatus and determines which quality will be perceived. It also depends on what kind of condition it finds when it enters the body. For this makes quite a bit of difference too, since the same configuration can sometimes have opposite effects, and opposite configurations the same effect. Anyway, so much for what Democritus has to say about tastes …

He says that there are four simple colours. What is smooth is white, since that which is not so rough as to cast a shadow or be hard to penetrate is bright. But bright objects are bound also to have straight channels and to be translucent. White objects that are hard are formed from such configurations—like the inner surface of cockles—because that is what makes them free from shadows, shiny, and straight-channelled. However, white objects that are powdery and brittle are made out of configurations which are rounded and obliquely inclined in their position relative to one another and in their combination in pairs,* and whose general arrangement is highly consistent. Given this make-up, these objects are powdery because the configurations make contact with one another only tangentially, brittle because of their consistent structure, and free from shadows because they are smooth and flat. One object is whiter than another the more its configurations are exactly and purely as described, and the more the arrangement and positioning of the configurations conform to the above description.

That is the configuration of white objects. Something black is made up of the opposite kind of configurations—that is, those which are rough, crooked, and irregular. This is what makes them overshadowed, with channels that are crooked and hard to penetrate. Moreover, their emanations are sluggish and disrupted. For the quality of the emanation also makes a difference to the impression received, which changes thanks to the air it contains.

The same kind of atoms that make something hot also make something red, except that it takes larger atoms to make something red. The larger the combinations of these same configurations, the more a thing is red. Proof of the fact that redness is composed of configurations of this kind is to be found in the fact that we get hot when we blush, and other objects get hot when placed in a fire, until they turn fiery-red. The larger the configurations, the redder the object—the flames, for instance, and coals of green wood are redder than those of dry wood; and when heated in a fire iron and so on are redder than other similar substances. The brightest objects, however, are those which contain the most fire and the finest fire, while objects are more red if they contain coarser fire and less of it. That is why redder objects are less hot, because only something fine is hot.

Green is a mixture of solidity and void, with the various shades of green dependent upon the position and arrangement of the atoms.

So much for the configurations of the simple colours. The less there are other colours blended in with it, the purer the colour is. The other colours are formed by the mixing of these simple colours. [Theophrastus then goes on to explain how, according to Democritus, a range of other colours are formed by mixing two or more of the simple colours.] (Theophrastus, On the Senses 50, 55–7, 60–7, 73–6 Stratton)

T14 (DK 67A9; KRS 562; T 42a) Democritus and Leucippus thought that the truth lay in appearance, but since they appreciated that appearances are contradictory and infinite, they made the shapes of the atoms infinite. The upshot of this is that, on their view, it is as a result of changes in the compound that the same thing has contradictory appearances to different people. (Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption 315b9–12 Joachim)

T15 (DK 68A60; KRS 573; T 48a) Now, Democritus does say that each of the indivisibles is heavier the larger it is … (Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption 326a9–10 Joachim)

T16 (DK 68A47; KRS 576; T 60a) Democritus said that the atoms had two properties, size and shape, while Epicurus added weight as a third. (Aëtius, Opinions 1.3.18 Diels)

T17 (DK 67A16; KRS 577; T 53) Hence Leucippus and Democritus, who claim that the primary bodies are in constant motion in the infinite void, should state what kind of motion they mean, and what kind of motion is natural to these primary bodies. (Aristotle,On the Heavens 300b8–11 Allan)

T18 (DK 67A10; T 78) Leucippus was a companion of Zeno, but did not hold the same views as Zeno. He says that things are infinite in number and always in motion, and that generation and change are continually happening. He says that the elements are the full and the void. He explains the generation of worlds as follows: when many bodies congregate and rush together from the surrounding region into a large void, they collide and those with similar shapes and formations get entangled with one another; as a result of their entanglements the heavenly bodies are generated, and they wax and wane by necessity—but he fails to explain what this necessity might be. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 1.12.1–2 Marcovich)

T19 (DK 67A1; KRS 563; T 77a) Worlds are created as follows. A number of atoms with all kinds of shapes move ‘by being cut off from the infinite’ into a large void area, where they gather together and produce a single whirl. In this whirl they collide with one another and, as they move around in all kinds of ways, they begin to separate from one another, with atoms moving towards those to which they are similar. When there are too many of them for them any longer to rotate in equilibrium, the light atoms move out into the void, as if from a sieve, while the rest of them stay together and, as they become entangled, race along together with one another, and so create a first spherical composite body. This spherical body billows out like a membrane and encloses within itself all kinds of atoms. As these varied atoms whirl around with pressure provided by the centre of the system, the surrounding membrane becomes thinner, because atoms, connected by contact with the whirl, are constantly streaming together. So the earth was created, once those atoms that had moved down to the centre stayed together. Then again, the surrounding membrane (so to call it) grows by the influx of atoms from outside, because as it is moved around by the whirl, it incorporates any atoms with which it comes into contact. Some of these incorporated atoms become entangled and form a composite body which at first is damp and muddy, but they dry out as they revolve along with the whirl of the whole system, and then ignite and form the heavenly bodies. (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 9.31.3–32.11 Long)

T20 (DK 68A69; KRS 568; T 71a) Then there are others who even attribute this world of ours and all the worlds to spontaneity. They say that the rotation is a spontaneous event—that the motion which separated things out and established the orderly nature of the world began spontaneously. (Aristotle, Physics 196a24–8 Ross)

T21 (DK 67A24; T 79a) The world with its arched shape was formed as follows: atoms are moving continually and extremely fast with random and haphazard movements, and when a large number of bodies gather in the same place, they acquire a variety of shapes and sizes. Once they have gathered in one place, some (those which are larger and heavier) just settle down, while those which are small, round, light, and smooth are squeezed out by the convergence of the atoms and move up into the higher regions. When, as a result of this upward movement, the ability of the atoms to collide waned and their collisions were no longer driving atoms towards the upper regions, since these upper atoms were prevented from moving downwards, they were forced towards the regions that could receive them—that is, the surrounding periphery—and in addition the majority of the atoms took on an arched formation.* By becoming entangled with one another at this vault, they generated the heavens. Various kinds of atoms with the same basic nature, as I have said, formed the heavenly bodies once they were pushed out towards the upper regions. The majority of the bodies that rose up like vapour collided with the air and squeezed it out. Once the air was formed into wind by this movement and surrounded the heavenly bodies, it began to drive them around and to keep their present rotation up in the heavens. Next the earth was generated out of the atoms that were settling down, and the sky, fire, and air from those that were rising up. There was a great deal of matter contained within the earth and as this was thickened by the winds which buffeted it and by the slipstreams from the heavenly bodies, every tiny formation was squeezed out of the earth and generated moisture. Since it was in the nature of this moisture to be fluid, it was carried down into the hollows, and into those places that were able to contain and support it, or alternatively the water itself, just by standing there, hollowed out the places where it became established. This is how the principal parts of the world were generated. (Aëtius, Opinions 1.4.1–4 Diels)

F5 (DK 68B164; KRS 570; T D6) Democritus, however, bases his argument [for the attraction of similars] on animate as well as inanimate things. ‘Even animals’, he says, ‘flock together with animals of the same kind—doves with doves, cranes with cranes, and so on for all other species of irrational animal. And the same goes for inanimate objects, as one can see in the case of seeds that are being sieved or pebbles on a beach. In the first instance, seeds are separated out by the whirling of the sieve—lentils fall with lentils, barley with barley, wheat with wheat; in the second instance, thanks to the motion of the waves, oblong pebbles are thrust into the same part of the beach as other oblong pebbles, and round ones end up with other round ones, as though the similarity in things possessed the ability to draw things together.’ (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 7.117–18 Bury)

T22 (DK 68A40; KRS 565; T 78) Democritus’ views on the elements, the full and the void, are the same as those of Leucippus. He calls the full ‘what-is’ and the void ‘what-is-not’. He spoke as if things were perpetually in motion in the void, and said that there was an infinite number of worlds of various sizes. Some of them do not have a sun or a moon, while others have a sun and a moon that are larger than ours, and others have more suns and moons than we do. He said that the intervals between worlds are unequal, so that in one part there are a larger number of worlds, while elsewhere there are fewer;* that some worlds are growing, while others are at their peak and others are decreasing in size; and that in some places worlds are arising, while elsewhere they are departing. Worlds are destroyed by colliding with one another. Some worlds are uninhabited by living creatures and have no plants or moisture. As for our world, the earth was formed before the heavenly bodies, and the moon is lowest, then the sun, and then the fixed stars. The planets too are not all at the same level. A world is at its peak until it is no longer capable of gaining material from outside. Democritus used to laugh at everything, since he regarded all human affairs as ridiculous. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 1.13.2–4 Marcovich)

T23 (DK 67A21) Leucippus and Democritus said that there were numerically infinite worlds in the infinite void and that they were composed of numerically infinite atoms. (Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s ‘On the Heavens’, CAG VII, 202.16–18 Heiberg)

T24 (DK 67A28; T 106a) Some say that the soul is above all and primarily that which causes movement, and because they believe that something which does not itself move is incapable of moving anything else, they suppose that soul is one of the things that move. Hence Democritus says that it is a kind of fire and is warm. Among all the infinite variety of shapes and atoms he says that the spherical ones are fire and soul (and that they resemble the so-called motes in the air, which are visible in the sunbeams that come through windows). Like Leucippus, he says that the ‘seed-aggregate’ of atoms contains the elements of every kind of thing, but that the spherical ones are soul, because of the particular ability of such ‘structures’ to permeate everything and to move everything else by their own movement (for they suppose that soul is what imparts movement to living creatures). This also explains why they say that breathing is the mark of life. The surrounding atmosphere constricts bodies and squeezes out those atoms whose shape allows them, because they are never at rest themselves, to impart movement to living creatures; and then help comes from outside when other similar atoms enter the body in the act of breathing. These atoms stop the atoms which are inside living creatures from being removed from the body by supporting the effort to resist the forces of constriction and compression. And so, they say, a creature will remain alive as long as it is capable of doing this. (Aristotle, On the Soul 403b28–404a16 Ross)

T25 (DK 68A108; T 110f)

In this context you could never affirm the following doctrine,

Originating with the revered mind of great Democritus:

That the principles of body and soul are arranged alternately,

One matching one, and so knit the body together.

(Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe 3.370–3 Bailey)

T26 (DK 68A74; T 172c) Indeed, it seems to me that even Democritus, as great a man as ever lived, from whose springs Epicurus watered his own little gardens, faltered over the nature of the gods. At one point he holds that there are images endowed with divinity inherent in the world; at another he says that the elements of the mind, which are in this same world, are gods; at another that they are living images which may either help us or harm us; at another that they are certain enormous images, large enough to embrace the whole world from outside. All these ideas are more worthy of Democritus’ homeland than of Democritus himself.* I mean, who can understand what he means by these ‘images’? Who can revere them? Who can judge them worthy of worship or devotion? (Cicero,On the Nature of the Gods 1.43 Plasberg)

T27 (DK 68B166; T 175b) Democritus says that there are certain images that are encountered by people, some of which are beneficent, others harmful. (That is why he prayed that he would meet propitious images.) These images, he said, are unusually large, and virtually, but not completely, indestructible; and they communicate the future to people when they are seen and by the sounds they make. When men in the old days, then, received an impression of these images, they took them to be a god, but the god, with his indestructibility, was in fact no more than these images. (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 9.19 Bury)

T28 (DK 68A75; T 173a) There are those who believe that our conception of the gods is due to the awesome things that happen in the world. Democritus seems to have been of this opinion, since he says that in ancient times men were frightened of celestial phenomena such as thunder, lightning, thunderbolts, conjunctions of heavenly bodies, and solar and lunar eclipses, and imagined that the gods were responsible for these things. (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 9.24 Bury)

T29 (DK 68A77; T 133a) But on this occasion Favorinus has taken down an ancient argument of Democritus, blackened with smoke, so to speak, and set about cleaning it and polishing it up. The basis of his argument was the familiar view of Democritus that images penetrate into our bodies through our bodily channels and, when they rise up, cause the visions we see when asleep. These images come to us from all over the place, since they are given off even by furniture and clothes and plants, but especially by living creatures, because of their constant restlessness and their warmth. They not only retain in outline the likenesses of the solid bodies which have been impressed upon them … but they also enlist and take along with them the reflections of a person’s mental impulses and desires, and of his qualities and emotions. When the images strike with this baggage they speak as if they were living creatures, and tell those who receive them the opinions, thoughts, and desires of those whose emissions they are, provided that when they make contact the structure of the images has been preserved and not become jumbled up. (Plutarch, Table Talk 734f7–735b6 Minar)

F6 (DK 68B155; T 164) Consider also how Chrysippus* responded to Democritus’ scientific and vividly expressed puzzle. The puzzle goes: If a cone is cut by a plain parallel to the base, how should one conceive of the surfaces of the segments? Are they equal or unequal? If they are unequal they will make the cone uneven, since it will gain many step-like notches and protuberances. If they are equal, the segments will be equal and the cone will turn out to have the qualities of a cylinder, since it will be composed of equal rather than unequal circles. But this is absurd. (Plutarch, On Common Conceptions 1079e1–10 Cherniss)

T30 (DK 68A139; T 154b) Democritus of Abdera, however, thought that human beings were generated out of water and mud. (Censorinus, On Birthdays 4.9.1–2 Jahn)

T31 (DK 68A143; T 138a) Democritus of Abdera agrees that differentiation into female or male happens in the womb, but denies that it depends on the warmth or coolness of the womb [as Empedocles supposed], claiming instead that it depends on the dominance of one or the other parent’s semen, coming as it does from that part by which male and female differ from one another.* (Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals 764a6–11 Bekker)

T32 (DK 68A151; T 145) Democritus remarks that pigs and dogs produce more than one offspring and he explains this by saying that they have a plurality of wombs and places which are receptive of semen. The semen does not fill all these wombs with a single ejaculation, but these creatures mate two or three times, so that the places that are receptive of semen might be filled by the continuity of the emission. He says that mules do not bear offspring because their wombs are unlike those of other animals, being oddly shaped and quite incapable of receiving semen. The reason for this, he says, is that the mule is not a natural creation, but a product of human inventiveness and experimentation, so that you might describe it as an adulterous device or as a counterfeit. ‘It seems to me’, he says,* ‘that an ass once happened to rape a horse, and men learnt from this act of violence and then went on to accustom them to this act of procreation.’ (Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 12.16.1–15 Hercher)

T33 (DK 68A162) Democritus attributes the shorter life-span and earlier sprouting of straight trees compared with gnarled ones to the same constraints. He says that in straight trees the food, which nourishes the sprouting and the fruit, is quickly distributed, whereas in gnarled trees it is distributed slowly because the part of the tree that is above ground is not open-channelled, and instead the roots themselves consume the food, because gnarled trees have roots that are long and thick … He says that the roots of straight trees are weak, and that for both reasons they perish more quickly, since because of the straightness of the channels both cold and heat pass rapidly from the upper part of the tree to the roots, and the roots are too weak to endure this. In general, he says, most straight trees begin to age from their lower parts upwards, because of the weakness of their roots. Moreover, because the parts of the tree above the ground are delicate, they are bent by the wind and disturb the roots, and when this happens the roots get broken and mutilated, and then death spreads from the roots to the whole tree. (Theophrastus, On the Causes of Plants 2.11.7.8–8.12 Einarson/Link)

T34 (T 153) All the same, we acknowledge the theory enunciated and written down by Democritus and his followers that it is the influx of alien atoms from the infinity of space, following the destruction of worlds out there, that causes plagues and unusual diseases to arise and assail us.* (Plutarch, Table Talk 733d6–11 Minar)

T35 (DK 68A167, B170, B171; T 189) Democritus and Plato both locate happiness in the mind. Democritus wrote: ‘Happiness and misery are properties of the mind’ and ‘Happiness does not dwell in cattle or in gold: the mind is the dwelling-place of the guardian spirit.’* He calls happiness ‘contentment’, ‘well-being’, and ‘harmony’, and also ‘concord’ and ‘composure’. He thinks that happiness consists in the determination and separation of pleasures, and that this is what is both finest and most beneficial for people. (John of Stobi, Anthology 2.7.3 Wachsmuth/Hense)

T36 (DK 68A169; T 188b) We are told (and we have no intention of asking whether or not the story is true) that Democritus blinded himself; at any rate, it is certain that so as to enable his mind to be distracted as little as possible from its contemplation, he neglected his ancestral estate and left his farm uncultivated, because he was searching for—what else?—happiness. Even if he located happiness in knowledge, still he wanted it to be a consequence of his enquiries that he should be of good cheer. After all, he calls the chief good ‘contentment’ and often ‘equanimity’, which is to say, a mind freed of fear. (Cicero, On the Goals of Life 5.87.13–21 Mueller)

F7 (DK 68B3; KRS 593; T D27) Contentment comes from not doing too much, in either one’s private or public life, and from keeping, in whatever one does, within one’s own capabilities and nature. A man must be on guard, so that even if good fortune comes his way and leads him on to more, he can make a decision to lay it aside and not to take on more than he is capable of. A balanced load is safer than a heavy load. (John of Stobi, Anthology 4.39.25 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F8 (DK 68B191; KRS 594; T D55) Contentment comes to men from a moderate amount of enjoyment and a life of concord. Deficiencies and excesses have a habit of changing places and causing serious disruption in the mind, and minds which are being disturbed by large swings are neither well balanced nor content. So one should restrict one’s intentions to what is within one’s power and be satisfied with what is to hand, paying little heed to those who are objects of envy and admiration and certainly not dwelling on them in one’s mind. Instead you should consider the lives of those who are badly off, and bear in mind their terrible sufferings, to help you appreciate the importance and desirability of what you have available and to hand, and to ease the mental torment that desiring more brings. The point is that anyone who admires people with possessions and the acclaim of the rest of the world, and who spends his whole time dwelling on them in his mind, is bound to be constantly devising novelties for himself and to be throwing himself, as a result of his desire, into doing something illegal—and then it will be too late to take it back. Hence one should not go in search of such innovations, but should be content with what is to hand. It is important to compare one’s own life with the life of those who are worse off, and to count one’s blessings by bearing in mind their sufferings and appreciating how much better than them one is doing and faring. By sticking to this intention you will live with a greater degree of contentment and you will keep at bay quite a few things that can ruin a life—things such as envy, jealousy, and ill-will. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.1.210 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F9 (DK 68B174; T D39) A man who is content, and undertakes actions which are just and legal, is happy asleep or awake, healthy, and carefree. But a man who ignores justice and fails to act as he ought is distressed by the memory of his actions, frightened, and self-reproachful. (John of Stobi, Anthology 2.9.3 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F10 (DK 68B234; T D98) In their prayers men ask the gods for health, but they fail to realize that this is within their own power. When their lack of self-control leads them to act in ways that run contrary to health, they themselves betray their health to their desires. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.18.30 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F11 (DK 68B219; T D83) Unless a point of satiety is reached, the desire for money is far more cruel than the utmost poverty, because the greater the desire the greater the need. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.10.43 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F12 (DK 68B188; T D26) The guides to what is good and bad for people are pleasure and pain. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.1.46 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F13 (DK 68B211; T D75) Moderation increases pleasure and exaggerates enjoyment. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.5.27 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F14 (DK 68B214; T D78) It takes courage not only to overcome an enemy, but also to overcome pleasure. Some men are masters of cities, but are slaves to women. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.7.25 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F15 (DK 68B31; T D30) Medicine cures ailments of the body, wisdom removes negative emotions from the mind. (Clement, The Pedagogue 1.6.2.1–3 Marrou/Harl)

F16 (DK 68B251; T D115) Poverty in a democracy is as preferable to what is called prosperity under autocracy as freedom is to slavery. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.40.42 Wachsmuth/Hense)

F17 (DK 68B187; T D52) It is fitting for people to regard the soul as more important than the body, because whereas perfection of soul corrects physical worthlessness, physical strength in the absence of reasoning does nothing to improve the soul. (John of Stobi,Anthology 3.1.27 Wachsmuth/Hense)

T37 (DK 68B159; T D34) Democritus says that if the body were to take the soul to court for all the pain and trouble it had endured throughout its life, and he were to judge the validity of the accusation, he would not hesitate to find the soul guilty, first, of having ruined the body by neglect and weakened it by drinking, and, second, of having spoiled and wrecked it by pursuing pleasures, just as he would hold someone who made careless use of a tool or implement responsible for its poor condition. (Ps.-Plutarch, On Whether Desire and Grief are Mental or Physical Phenomena 2.4–11 Sandbach)

F18 (DK 68B235; T D99) All those who derive their pleasures from their guts, by eating or drinking or having sex to an excessive and inordinate degree, find that their pleasures are brief and short-lived, in that they last for only as long as they are actually eating or drinking, while their pains are many. For the desire for more of the same is constant, and when they get what they desire, the pleasure passes rapidly. They get nothing good out of the situation except a fleeting pleasure—and then the need for more of the same recurs. (John of Stobi, Anthology 3.18.35 Wachsmuth/Hense)

C. Bailey, The Greek Atomists and Epicurus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928).

R. W. Baldes, ‘Democritus on Visual Perception: Two Theories or One?’, Phronesis, 20 (1975), 93–105.

—— ‘Democritus on the Nature and Perception of Black and White’, Phronesis, 23 (1978), 87–100.

—— ‘“Divisibility” and “Division” in Democritus’, Apeiron, 12.1 (1978), 1–12.

—— ‘Democritus on Empirical Knowledge: Reflections on DK 68B25 and on Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.5’, Ancient World, 4 (1981), 17–34.

P. J. Bicknell, ‘The Seat of the Mind in Democritus’, Eranos, 66 (1968), 10–23.

—— ‘Democritus’ Theory of Precognition’, Revue des études grecques, 82 (1969), 318–26.

I. M. Bodnár, ‘Atomic Independence and Indivisibility’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 16 (1998), 35–61.

W. Burkert, ‘Air-imprints or Eidola: Democritus’ Aetiology of Vision’, Illinois Classical Studies, 2 (1977), 97–109.

K. von Fritz, ‘Democritus’ Theory of Vision’, in E. Ashworth Underwood (ed.), Science, Medicine, and History: Essays on the Evolution of Scientific Thought and Medical Practice, vol. i (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), 83–99.

D. J. Furley, Two Studies in the Greek Atomists (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967).

—— ‘Aristotle and the Atomists on Infinity’, in [25], 103–14 (first pub. in I. During (ed.), Naturphilosophie bei Aristoteles und Theophrast (Heidelberg: Stiehm, 1969)).

—— ‘Aristotle and the Atomists on Motion in a Void’, in [25], 77–90 (first pub. in P. K. Machamer and R. J. Turnbull (eds.), Motion and Time, Space and Matter (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1976)).

P. S. Hasper, ‘The Foundations of Presocratic Atomism’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 17 (1999), 1–14.

C. H. Kahn, ‘Democritus and the Origins of Moral Psychology’, American Journal of Philology, 106 (1985), 1–31.

S. Makin, ‘The Indivisibility of the Atom’, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, 71 (1989), 125–49.

D. McGibbon, ‘The Religious Thought of Democritus’, Hermes, 93 (1965), 385–97.

D. O’Brien, Theories of Weight in the Ancient World, vol. i: Democritus: Weight and Size (Leiden: Brill, 1981).

J. F. Procopé, ‘Democritus on Politics and Care of the Soul’, Classical Quarterly, 39 (1989), 307–31.

D. Sedley, ‘Two Conceptions of Vacuum’, Phronesis, 27 (1982), 175–93.

C. C. W. Taylor, ‘Pleasure, Knowledge, and Sensation in Democritus’, Phronesis, 12 (1967), 6–27.

—— The Atomists: Leucippus and Democritus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999).

G. Vlastos, ‘Ethics and Physics in Democritus’, in [26], ii. 381–408, and in [33], 328–50 (first pub. Philosophical Review, 54 (1945) and 55 (1946)).

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