Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chapter 9: The Atomists

*this blogpost is my reading summary series of History of Western Philosophy. For chapter 8, you can read here

Book 1: Ancient Philosophy
Part 1: The Pre-Socratics
Chapter 9: The Atomists

I have a confession to make. I've been reading chapter 9 for days, but I still can't quite understand it. Either I'm not focused on what I've been reading or this chapter is simply beyond my understanding on philosophy. Or both. :O Because of that, I feel lazy to summarize chapter 9. And the procastinator side inside of me is trying to take control. Well, we all know once we give in to procrastination, it's difficult for us to get back on track. :P So, I pushed myself really hard to sit down, turned on my laptop, and started to write this. 

All this time I thought Democritus was the only atomist. That was largely because I read somewhere that he said everything was made from atom. Sort of. Soon after reading the first paragraph of this chapter I found out that there was another founder of atomism. He was Leucippus. The works of the two were difficult to disentangle. 

picture was taken from Wikipedia

Leucippus came from Miletus and Democritus was from Abdera, Thrace. We don't know much about Leucippus. Epicurus even denied his existence. While Democritus was much more definite figure. He was flourished in 420 B.C. He travelled in southern and eastern lands in search of knowledge. He went to Egypt and spent considerable time there and he visited Persia.

picture was taken from Wikipedia

Leucippus or Democritus was led to atomism in attempt to mediate between monism and pluralism. 

They believed that everything is composed of atoms, which are physically, but not geometrically, indivisible; that between the atom there is empty space; that atoms are indestructible; that they always have been, and always will be, in motion; that there are an infinite number of atoms, and even of kinds of atoms, the differences being as regards shape and size. (p. 70)

The atoms were always in motion. Zeller held that the atoms were always falling and that the heavier ones will fall faster. Epicurus believed that atoms caught up the lighter ones, there were impacts, and the atoms were deflected like billiard balls. The original thought of atom from Leucippus and Democritus was atoms were originally moving at random, as in the modern kinetic theory of gases. 

Democritus said there was neither up nor down in the infinite void, and compared the movement of atoms in the soul to that motes in a sunbeam when there is no wind. (p. 73)

There was common to reproach the atomists with attributing everything to chance. Democritus denied everything happen by chance. 

It is true that he (Leucippus) gave no reason why the world should originally have been as it was; this, perhaps, might have been attributed to chance. But when once the world existed, its further development was unalterably fixed by mechanical principles. ... Causation must start from something, and wherever it starts no cause can be assigned for the initial datum. The world may be attributed to a Creator, but even then the Creator Himself is unaccounted for. (p. 73)

There are two questions concerning event. First we may ask "What purpose did this event serve?" and second "What earlier circumstances caused this event?". The answer for the first question is teleological explanation or final cause explanation and the answer for the latter is mechanical explanation. In explaining the world, the atomists excluding the notion of purpose or final cause. The atomists asked mechanistic question and gave a mechanistic answer. 

When we discuss about atom, it will lead to matter and space. Let us leave the discussion rest in peace. I totally have no clue about it. :r

Let's continue, shall we? Well, Democritus said each atom was impenetrable and indivisible because it contained no void. 

When you use a knife to cut an apple, the knife has to find empty places where it can penetrate; if the apple contained no void, it would be infinitely hard and therefore physically indivisible. ... Each atom is internally unchanging ... The only things that atoms do are to move and hit each other, and sometimes to combine when they happen to have shapes that are capable of interlocking. They are of all sorts of shapes; fire is composed of small spherical atoms, and so is the soul. Atoms, by collision, produce vortices, which generate bodies and ultimately worlds. There are many worlds, some growing, some decaying; some may have no sun or moon, some several. Every world has a beginning and an end. A world may be destroyed by collision with a larger world. (p. 77)

FYI, I read paragraph above over and over again before finally I can get the meaning. xP

Russell wrote about Democritus as follows:

Democritus was a thorough-going materialist; for him, as we have seen, the soul was composed of atoms, and thought was a physical process. There was no purpose in the universe; there were only atoms governed by mechanical laws. He disbelieved in popular religion, and he argued against the nous of Anaxagoras. In ethics he considered cheerfulness the goal of life, and regarded moderation and culture as the best means to it. He disliked everything violent and passionate; he disapproved of sex, because, he said, it involved the overwhelming of consciousness by pleasure. He valued friendship, but thought ill of women, and did not desire children, because their education interferes with philosophy. (p. 78)

So, that's all from Chapter 9: The Atomists. Next on chapter 10, we'll meet Protagoras. Stay tuned! \m/


  1. Sepertinya kepalamu sudah mulai berasap, ya.... :lol:

    Tetap semangattt! Perempuan yg senang belajar adalah perempuan yg sekseh :p


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