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I am hesitant to update this page, but there are some grammatical issues that make reading it difficult, a source for the void thing would be awesome as I am currently in a course which looks at primary sources of astronomical thought. I will add a milky way quotation.. --[user:smkatz|Sam]

-- I agree that there are pretty severe grammar problems. I'd add that there is a lot of uncited material more related to the philosophy of science than specifically to Democritus. This article needs a lot of work. (talk) 23:56, 24 January 2011 (UTC)

--Would it just be a matter of translating the Dutch page, or is there an existing English document that just needs proofing? --[user:epsas|Epsas]

-- I've made a few changes in sentence structure (mostly dealing with tense or plurality) and I've made an approximation of Democritus's Greek spelling. If anyone can confirm or correct my estimation, I would appreciate it.Comrade42 04:02, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

I think I've found a source that confirms my approximation: So it seems that it isn't necessary to go out of the way to check up on my spelling. Comrade42 04:05, 8 April 2006 (UTC)

-- What is his "distant star theory?" —Preceding unsigned comment added by Populer208 (talkcontribs) 14:39, 25 October 2009 (UTC)

-- In the section called "Life", paragraph 3, the statement, to wit: "He may have been acquainted with Socrates, but Plato does not mention him..." directly contradicts the statement made in the introduction's second paragraph, to wit: "Largely ignored in ancient Athens, Democritus is said to have been disliked so much by Plato that the latter wished all of his books burned.[6]". So, which is it? I'm not expert enough to correct the contradiction, but know one when I see one. (talk) 19:37, 21 April 2019 (UTC)

Good catch! I checked the original sources on that. Diogenes Laertius is clear: "Demetrius goes on : "It would seem that he also went to Athens and was not anxious to be recognized, because he despised fame, and that while he knew of Socrates, he was not known to Socrates, his words being, `I came to Athens and no one knew me.'" Cicero is less clear: “I came to Athens,” saith Democritus, “and there was no one there that knew me:” I'll make the change. Teishin (talk) 12:44, 22 April 2019 (UTC)
I tracked down p. 349 n. 2 of W. K. C. Guthrie (1965), A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 2, Cambridge. It doesn't say anything at all like what is claimed it says. Teishin (talk) 12:49, 22 April 2019 (UTC)


An anon removed mention of Osthanes from this article. The only references I could find in a quick search to a relationship between the two is in the works of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, who (though fascinating) is not exactly an encyclopedic source. Does anyone have anything else on this relationship? --jpgordon∇∆∇∆ 14:45, 30 July 2005 (UTC)

Last Paragraph Appropriate?[edit]

"Democritus is said to have had a happy disposition, and is sometimes referred to as the "laughing philosopher," as opposed to Heraclitus, who is known as the "weeping philosopher." In the Divine Comedy Dante sees the shade of Heraclitus in Limbo with those of other classical philosophers."

Is it relevant to an article on Democritus that Heraclitus is in Limbo in Dante's Divine Comedy? I shamefully must admit that I have not read Dante's Divine Comedy. Is Democritus mentioned there as well? If he is, I propose we amend the text to state that he sees the shade of Democritus. If not, I propose that this last bit be moved to Heraclitus' article if it is not present there already.

I agree that the last sentence of that paragraph is unnecessary, but we need to keep the first sentence. Jxn 21:26, 2 November 2005 (UTC)
No, Democritus is not seen in Limbo, although it is logical that he be there. Perhaps he was napping at the time.

Democritus is seen in Dante's Limbo. He is the first philosopher mentioned after Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates (Aristotle is referred to indirectly as "the Master of those who know"). (talk) 19:15, 22 April 2013 (UTC)

Leucippus and Democritus[edit]

on the Leucippus page it says that the only surviving writing is "Nothing occurs at random, but everything occurs for a reason and by necessity." On this page it says that Democritus said this.

Huh. That can't be right. Best check the citations. I'm more inclined to believe that Leucippus said it, although it's possible that Democritus took the saying from his teacher and used it himself. T. S. Rice 01:14, 9 June 2006 (UTC)


? Democritus ?[edit]

Does anyone know Democritus's first name? (or can even give a guess?) In all the sources I have looked in, I have not found any refrence to him even having a first name. -- 02:27, 16 November 2006 (UTC)

Democritus IS his first name. All the ancient philosophers are called by their first name.

Ancient Greeks in general had only a single name. Cities were not nearly as large as today (hardly ever having more than 10,000 or 20,000 inhabitants), and apparently there were enough names in use that "X from Y" was enough to identify every person unambiguously. Even if not, philosophers were not that numerous, so it would not be expected that there was more than a single philosopher named Democritus in Abdera, so confusion is statistically unlikely. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 06:20, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

Hooked atoms[edit]

Hi! I'm helping in history of the molecule and have added some references to Democritus fragmenta about atoms connecting through their hooks. But I'm using a French edition and have no official English translation. Does anyone have an English edition and can give the translation of fragments DK 68 A 80, DK 68 A 37 and DK 68 A 43? Thanks, Benio76 15:11, 7 February 2007 (UTC)

First Section on the Contents[edit]

The first section of the article seems to be just a statement put in there randomly. Is there any source (or sources) to back up the first "section" (which I deem to be a statement, rather than a section. --TrekCaptainUSA (talk) 14:21, 15 October 2008 (UTC)


I started an article for Pseudo-Demikristo (Bolos of Mendes). Does any of this stuff belong there? J8079s (talk) 17:04, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

It belongs in this article, here is a book link


I have some sources to improve this article. The citations needed on the argument between Aristotle and Democritus regarding the Earth, Sun, and Stars is present in Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, for instance. Also, I have a textbook on pre-socratic philosophy which contains some good information as well as references to back up current text. CABlankenship (talk) 14:56, 18 January 2009 (UTC)

You should be able to edit with the semi-block on. But in any case, I've removed the semi-block all together. Now get to work :) Kingturtle (talk) 15:35, 18 January 2009 (UTC)
I rewrote much of the article. I'll clean up and expand the article tomorrow. CABlankenship (talk) 03:58, 19 January 2009 (UTC)
Nice work so far. Cheers, Kingturtle (talk) 14:13, 19 January 2009 (UTC)
Thanks. That's my contribution, and I'm sure lots of people can improve and add to it with their own sources. CABlankenship (talk) 20:08, 22 January 2009 (UTC)

It's surprising what a high level of vandalism this article attracts. CABlankenship (talk) 06:04, 27 February 2009 (UTC)

Conclusion is Bias[edit]

The "Conclusion" section of this article is bias. I assume it came mostly from the pages of Bertrand Russell? It reads like science and good-thinking was murdered by Aristotle only to be reborn after the Middle Ages. This, of course, is a mistaken (but common) over-simplification of the history of science, a history in which the Medieval Church was actually quite important and supportive (see the book "Science and Religion" by Edward Grant).

I am particularly troubled by language like "which led to a decay of vigor and a resurgence of popular superstition" and "It would not be until the Renaissance that philosophy would regain the vitality and independence...." Again, this reads like Bertrand Russell himself. But Bertrand Russell, who was quite bias about science, religion, and philosophy, is probably not the best source for this article on this matter. I would be more inclined to include a historian like Edward Grant on the history of science than an aggressive agnostic philosopher like Bertrand Russell.

Many many many people would argue on much much solid evidence that accepting some things Aristotle says does not at all lead to "a decay of vigor and a resurgence of popular superstition." The sentiment is so hostile and bias for Wikipedia that I almost could not believe what I was reading. This is not at all the kind of statement that belongs in an encyclopedia (at least not without lots of qualification and the opposite view being expressed).

This section expresses what I assume is the conclusion of Bertrand Russell, but, again, his is not the only voice on the matter (and is it even reliable?) and should be balanced by others. Thoughts? Jwhosler (talk) 23:53, 8 May 2009 (UTC)

Do you dispute that the dark ages were an example of "decay in vigor and a resurgence of popular superstition", or merely that Aristotle's teleological approach was partially to blame? And do you dispute that the Renaissance lead to renewed "vitality and independence"? Let's see your sources. CABlankenship (talk) 01:01, 9 May 2009 (UTC)
Parts of nearly everything intellectual that happened during the Middle Ages can be blamed on the widespread acceptance of Aristotle's philosophy, so my problem is with the assertion that those years were overwhelmed by 'decay' and 'dark'ness. I do not even mean to argue the point here, but simply with to suggest that such a sentiment in an article like this is not called for. There is a time and place for that debate, but the article on Democritus is it. And that is the point: It IS still a debate. Many scholars would contend on solid evidence and reasoning that the Middle Ages were not at all a period of stagnation and darkness (see the book by Grant that I referenced above). The matter is far from settled; thus a Wikipedia article should not come down on one side or the other, but statements in the "Conclusion" section do just that in a rather biased manner. Jwhosler (talk) 05:03, 10 May 2009 (UTC)

You're probably right. I rewrote this article because it was in a severely neglected state, and I possessed a few sources that I believed were interesting. My sources could be out-dated or insufficient, and I'm sure that (as an amateur in philosophy) I have made many mistakes. Hopefully a professional philosopher will take an interest in this article and improve upon my modest work. CABlankenship (talk) 05:23, 10 May 2009 (UTC)

The extensive use of Betrand Russels great but very personal history of philosophy as a source is probably to blame. The article should have a section with criticism of Democritus, and the whole idealist vs. materialist discussion could be outlined here. An encyclopaedia article do not need an conclusion. Instead of a lot of assumptions of the superiority of mechanistic thinking, there could be a section with influences (all materialists - Hobbes, Marx... John Dalton for the atom - and maybe (it seems) Russel) Jakosa (talk) 20:53, 10 May 2009 (UTC)
I agree. CABlankenship, the things you added are good and useful, but in the right context. I like the idea of adding a "Criticism" section, in which much of your "Conclusion" section would do quite well (with the other side expressed, of course :-)). You have indeed done a great job on the article and it is much appreciated. Maybe we could make it even better by deleting the "Conclusion" section and adding a "Criticism" section? Therein we could outline the various conclusions reached by various authors about Democritus (with adequate mention of the eminent Mr. Russell, of course :-)). —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jwhosler (talkcontribs) 01:06, 11 May 2009 (UTC)
I am afraid that I cannot agree with a criticism section, as I have opposed them on every page on which I work. Wiki considers criticism sections to be a sign of a poorly written article, and conclusion sections are very common in encyclopedias. Criticisms of Democritus should be woven into the relevant sections. I have already included some in each section. If you have sources with which to expand the conclusion section, that would be great, but I will strongly oppose a section devoted simply to criticism. CABlankenship (talk) 01:31, 11 May 2009 (UTC)
Sounds good to me. I feel rather unqualified to write a balanced conclusion on Democritus, however. I suppose this was a case of noting a problem without being able to fix it :-). Any scholars out there? P.S. I notice the conclusion section has in fact been deleted. Is it to be added back in when it is more even? Maybe I can give it some time now that it is the glorious summer session. Jwhosler (talk) 12:31, 29 May 2009 (UTC)

Mechanist explanation in the Democritus article[edit]

This Wikipedia article on Democritus, which is buttressed by frequent citations from B. Russellis, is highly biased in favor of modern scientific positivism and what its author calls "mechanistic" explanation. The author is confident of the authority of this point of view, presumably because it is popular among the public and contemporary empirical scientists. Whether it deserves such authority, however, is questionable. Take the following remark from the Democritus article:

"The history of modern science has shown that mechanistic questions lead to scientific knowledge, while the teleological question does not."

In considering the truth of this remark, first note that teleological questions are certainly far more useful than mechanistic questions as an avenue to biological knowledge, which is the aim of the zoological sciences, such as botany, ornithology, molecular biology, genetics, and so on: in short, of all the sciences of life-forms. Teleological explanations are also more useful in the applied or practical branches of zoological science, including all the branches of medicine. Since it seems quite possible that the cumulative expense and effort devoted to such sciences hugely outweighs that devoted to all other scientific endeavor collectively, the sentence in question, which summarizes the attitude of the Democritus article as a whole, seems manifestly false.

Moreover, it is not clear that "mechanistic" questions are a superior avenue to truth even in the sciences of non-living substances, such as physics or astronomy. Is it not correct to explain the flow of electrons in an electric current toward the positive pole as a "tendency" or "drive," a "seeking," in other words, of that pole? Each and every natural substance, in fact, is inhabited by a "force," or by more than one force, that constitutes its "nature," which in Aristotelian terminology is also its "form." It is in accordance with its nature or form that an electron seeks the positive pole, and this seeking is teleological.

Strictly perhaps we should consider the elements rather than sub-atomic particles as substances, and even the elements are surpassed in substantiality by life-forms, which are Aristotle's favorite example of substances. The very possession of determinate attributes by an elements constitues a nature that endows it with a tendency -- that is, a "drive," or "force" --in virtue of which it is inclined to engage in various determinate actions. In isolation, both pure oxygen and pure hydrogen, for example, have a tendency to explode, given an ignition source. When the Challenger spacecraft exploded, for example, investigators noted that an oxygen tank seemed to be leaking; in view of the tendency of pure oxygen to explode, this was deemed a likely candidate for investigation as the cause of the explosion. Moreover, hydrogen and oxygen tend to unite to form water molecules. Such combinations of elements, such as water, also have a "nature" or "tendency": water tends to flow flow downward, to freeze and boil at particular temperatures, and so forth. All material substances have a tendency to approach one another, varying proportionately to their combine mass and inversely proportionately to their distance from one another; this tendency is called "gravity." It is difficult to imagine how we could explain the nature of these substances without reference to such tendencies; any such reference is a "teleological" explanation.

It ought to be evident, then, that what the author of the Democritus article calls "mechanistic questions" -- the "efficient cause," in Aristotelian parlance -- are by no means the sole, nor perhaps even our primary, avenue to scientific knowledge. A grasp of one or more of the other three causes -- material, formal and final (that is, the "tendential" or "teological") -- is often just as enlightening.

Retrieved from ""

Interesting argument, but it doesn't seem to be a very widely held view. Just to take one of many academic papers on this subject: Quote: "Between the 16th and the 17th Century, that is, teleological explanation is for the first time banished from the precincts of science. And from then on, it has been banished from every science, except insofar as that science concerns itself with human artifacts...Newton, however, explicitly excluded all consideration of teleology from his explanation of the structure of the cosmos...Newton declares that, as natural philosophy, a theory is superior to the degree that it excludes teleological explanation, confining itself instead to descriptive and physical explanation."
To be honest, I find many of your arguments to be somewhat non-coherent, with perhaps a semantically confused notion of what is typically called "teleology". In biology, for instance, my experience is that teleology-like language is used in a purely metaphorical sense. I'm open to being proven wrong, but your case seems hugely exaggerated to me. I'm still confident that Russell's position represents the mainstream view in science. CABlankenship (talk) 05:39, 23 June 2009 (UTC)

Comments on teleology[edit]

comments on teleology It is probably true that most modern scientists, if asked whether teleological explanation is useful, would probably answer that it is not; and would then continue to use it profusely in discussion of the biological sciences especially, as well as in the sciences of non-living things. Remember that "modern scientists" are for the most part students of the various empirical natural sciences, not students of the philosophy of science itself. As for the account of teleology offered in the contribution entitled "comments on teleology in the Democritus article," it does not of course purport to represent the understanding of teleology common among such modern empirical scientists, precisely because that understanding is in error. It represents Aristotle's understanding of what is called the "final cause," which almost no modern empirical scientists knows, because they don't read Aristotle, whose texts are frequently difficult and which all lack the rhetorical flourishes to which modern readers are accustomed. Properly understood in its fullness, Aristotle's account of the final cause really places it in the nature of every substance insofar as it possesses what we call "forces" endowing it with a proclivity to behave in a determinate way with respect to other substances or even with itself as it develops through time. Hence even subatomic particles have a "tendency" to "strive" in one way or another with respect to other subatomic particles; the example of the electron "striving" to join a proton was offered. When explaining the proclivity of atoms to join with other atoms in forming molecules, it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid mention of this urge or striving. Again, however, why not examine a particular account of a living being, noticing how often it offers the "reason" the lifeform behaves in a particular way; and try to imagine such an account without such explanations of the "why" of animal behavior. Beyond this point, the reader is urged to seek enlightenment in Aristotle's *Physics* and *Metaphysics,* though it will be a long task, for Aristotle's discussions are of a type that moderns are accustomed to call "philosophy," and a comparatively difficult philosophy at that. Gharnett (talk) 20:47, 28 June 2009 (UTC)

Retrieved from "" —Preceding unsigned comment added by Gharnett (talkcontribs) 20:49, 28 June 2009 (UTC)

Round Earth[edit]

Can "round" in the article be explained further ? "Democritus held that the Earth was round...". Was he referring to a flat circular disc, or a sphere? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:46, 5 February 2011 (UTC)


I would like to suggest a alternate translation of his name:

Demo-critus as the one who can or does discern "demons"
  • "Demo-" here taken from "Demon" rather than from "demos" = People
  • "-critus" like critique, but rather in the sense of separating — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:33, 5 June 2011 (UTC)
You are clearly clueless about Ancient Greek. See Wiktionary for the etymology of the word demon. In the Greek language at Democritus' time, αι (ai) and η (ē) were two entirely different sounds. Please do not attempt etymology as a complete layman. It is a real, serious science when done properly, where hypotheses have implications that confirm or disprove explanations, and languages change in regular enough ways that an "anything goes" approach or attitude is severely mistaken. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 06:36, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

Void hypothesis[edit]

I think this text could be improved in two ways:

1. Of course it's useful to know the context of this hypothesis, namely in dialogue with Parmenides/Zeno, but as it is currently explained it seems a little unclear to me due to having to derive it from how it differs with Parmenides/Zeno's theory. At the moment Parmenides/Zeno's theory is the main focus here, while it should be the atomists theory.

2. In the second paragraph, after giving a short pointer on the atomists theory, it continues with its relevance to modern science. Although I agree there is certainly some relevance, I do question the suggestion that the atomists concept of 'void' would match the modern day concept of 'space'.

In the preceding text, the void hypothesis is already mentioned along with some of the reserves of my second point, so perhaps a clearer division should be made on the subject. Reorganising the current text should solve it nicely. (talk) 22:57, 23 December 2011 (UTC)

File:Demokritmuenze.jpg Nominated for Deletion[edit]

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Puzzled about Plato[edit]

"Plato is said to have disliked him so much that he wished all his books burned.[7]"

"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."

So... which is it. Did Plato know him or didn't he? You can't have it both ways. (talk) 22:53, 11 January 2014 (UTC)

Many - Father of Modern Science?[edit]

This is an exaggeration. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:40, 23 September 2014 (UTC)

I agree, but more detail should be provided. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:56, 14 September 2017 (UTC)
For instance, everyone has some knowledge of light and gravity. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:09, 14 September 2017 (UTC)
Metaphors should be avoided, anyway. Science has no father. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:15, 14 September 2017 (UTC)

Shape of the Earth[edit]

I am extremely sceptical of the claim made in the article that "Democritus held that the Earth was round (spherical)," since it flatly contradicts what Aristotle says in Book II of On the Heavens:

"Anaximenes and Anaxagoras and Democritus give the flatness of the earth as the cause of its staying still."

I have been unable to find any passage in the two references cited, The Presocratic Philosophers and Early Greek Philosophy, both by Jonathan Barnes, or in any other authoritative source, which supports the claim. In fact, on p.26 of the latter book, Barnes quotes the above-cited passage from On the Heavens, having 2 pages earlier attributed the idea that "The earth is flat and rides on air" to Anaximenes. I strongly suspect that the claim in the article is based on a misunderstanding of some passage which discusses Democritus's ideas on the shape of the world—meaning the universe—, or of the oikumene—that is, the inhabited lands known to the ancient Greeks. Either of these could be held to be "round", meaning "roughly circular" in the latter case, without implying a belief in the sphericity of the Earth.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 15:11, 18 February 2016 (UTC)

Yes, David, a good catch. Aristotle isn't that specific, it is usually assumed Democritus followed and expanded upon Leucippus' tambourine-like description, with the earth shaped as a disk with a hollow middle. There is argument as to whether he thought the surface was convex, concave, or whether it tilted down to the South -- but he almost certainly didn't think the Earth was spherical.
cf. Panchenko, Dmitri. "The shape of the Earth in Archelaus, Democritus and Leucippus"
There is more to add -- I've read elsewhere that Democritus thought the oikumene was oval-shaped -- but for now I think we should remove the spherical claim. --Hillbillyholiday talk 19:06, 18 February 2016 (UTC)
On your last point, one passage I did find in Barnes's Early Greek philosophy (on p.126) was the following quotation from Agathemerus's Sketch of Geography:
"The old thinkers drew the inhabited world as round, placing Greece in its centre and Delphi in the centre of Greece (for Delphi holds the navel of the earth). Democritus, a man of wide experience, was the first to appreciate that the earth is elongated, its length being one and a half times its breadth."
The Greek word here translated as "inhabited world" is "οἰκουμένην" (oikouménē), and the one translated as "earth" is "γῆ" (or its inflected form, "γῆς", in the first instance). This translation of the second occurrence seems to me to be a rather poor one, since it seems pretty obvious that "γῆ" is there being used as a synonym for "οἰκουμένη γῆ", with the "οἰκουμένη" being tacitly understood.
David Wilson (talk · cont) 22:56, 18 February 2016 (UTC)

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Is Democritus's Atomic Theory True??[edit]

I HAVE NO IDEA!!!!! I CAME HERE[WIKIPEDIA] FOR THE ANSWER, BUT I CAN'T FIND IT ANYWHERE!!! CAN ANYONE HELP ME????????? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:04, 11 April 2018 (UTC)

The main article for Democritus and others philosopher's ideas on the topic is Atomism. Dimadick (talk) 07:08, 11 April 2018 (UTC)