Quotes about Democritus
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Life or death, weal or woe, the sun stays not his course. Oh: over battlefield and bower; over tower, and town, he speeds, — peers in at births, and death-beds; lights up cathedral, mosque, and pagan shrine; — laughing over all; — a very Democritus in the sky; and in one brief day sees more than any pilgrim in a century's round.
At that moment Marx puts himself in a position where he becomes the necessary target of all who have a special interest in maintaining the old-similar to Democritus before him, whose work was burned by Plato and his disciples, the ideologues of Athenian slave aristocracy. Beginning with the revolutionary Marx, a political group with concrete ideas establishes itself. Basing itself on the giants, Marx and Engels, and developing through successive steps with personalities like Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and the new Soviet and Chinese rulers, it establishes a body of doctrine and, let us say, examples to follow.
You tell us that Democritus says that there are a countless number of worlds, and that there are some which are not only so like one another, but so completely and absolutely equal in every point, that there is no difference whatever between them, and that they are quite innumerable; and so also are men.
Thales thought that water was the primordial substance of all things. Heraclitus of Ephesus... thought that it was fire. Democritus and his follower Epicurus thought that it was the atoms, termed by our writers "bodies that cannot be cut up" or, by some "indivisibles." The school of the Pythagoreans added air and the earthy to the water and fire. Hence, although Democritus did not in a strict sense name them, but spoke only of indivisible bodies, yet he seems to have meant these same elements, because when taken by themselves they cannot be harmed, nor are they susceptible of dissolution, nor can they be cut up into parts, but throughout time eternal they forever retain an infinite solidity.
My philosophical views approach somewhat closely those of the late Countess of Conway, and hold a middle position between Plato and Democritus, because I hold that all things take place mechanically as Democritus and Descartes contend against the views of Henry More and his followers, and hold too, nevertheless, that everything takes place according to a living principle and according to final causes — all things are full of life and consciousness, contrary to the views of the Atomists.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Democritus, propounded an hypothesis of the constitution of matter, and gave the name of atoms to the ultimate unalterable parts of which he imagined all bodies to be constructed. In the 17th century, Gassendi revived this hypothesis, and attempted to develope it, while Newton used it with marked success in his reasonings on physical phenomena; but the first who formed a body of doctrine which would embrace all known facts in the constitution of matter, was Roger Joseph Boscovich. [...] This is one of the most profound contributions ever made to science.
Both Democritus and Anaxagoras suggested that explanations could be found in the nature of the matter out of which things are made. These explanations would theoretically be available, if we were in a position to calculate exactly what the structure of the material is really like. But neither thought that the explanation could be completed in practice. The limit of comprehension is due not just to their lack of electron microscopes or other instruments for detecting very small particles; for even if we saw to a level below that visible to the naked eye, the need for explanation would not come to an end.
It was first surmised by the ancient philosopher, Democritus, that the faintly white zone which spans the sky under the name of the Milky Way, might be only a dense collection of stars too remote to be distinguished. This conjecture has been verified by the instruments of modern astronomers.
Both Democritus and Anaxagoras try to explain the puzzling behaviour of ordinary reality by appeal to a microscopic replica of reality, in which another set of tiny bodies or minute scraps of stuff move around and cause things to happen. As a way to overcome the difficulty of explaining changes in the world, this ultimately emerges as unsatisfying: if there were problems with explaining chemical and physical events as they appear to us, there will be the same problems with explaining the reactions between smaller and yet smaller bodies.
Oblivious of Democritus, the unwilling materialists of our day have generally been awkwardly intellectual and quite incapable of laughter. If they have felt anything, they have felt melancholy. Their allegiance and affection were still fixed on those mythical sentimental worlds which they saw to be illusory. The mechanical world they believed in could not please them, in spite of its extent and fertility. Giving rhetorical vent to their spleen and prejudice, they exaggerated nature's meagreness and mathematical dryness. When their imagination was chilled they spoke of nature, most unwarrantably, as dead, and when their judgment was heated they took the next step and called it unreal.
The volume of the cone was discovered by Democritus... He did not prove it, he guessed it... not a blind guess, rather it was reasoned conjecture. As Archimedes has remarked, great credit is due to Democritus for his conjecture since this made proof much easier. Eudoxes... a pupil of Plato, subsequently gave a rigorous proof. Surely the labor or writing limited his manuscript to a few copies; none has survived. In those days editions did not run to thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies as modern books—especially, bad books—do. However, the substance of what he wrote is nevertheless available to us.... Euclid's great achievement was the systematization of the works of his predecessors. The Elements preserve several of Eudoxes' proofs.
The trisection of an angle was effected by means of a curve discovered by Hippias of Elis, the sophist, a contemporary of Hippocrates as well as of Democritus and Socrates. The curve was called the quadratrix because it also served (in the hands, as we are told, of Dinostratus, brother of Menæchmus, and of Nicomedes) for squaring the circle. It was theoretically constructed as the locus of the point of intersection of two straight lines moving at uniform speeds and in the same time, one motion being angular and the other rectilinear.
'By convention there is color, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness, but in reality there are atoms and the void,' announced Democritus. The universe consists only of atoms and the void; all else is opinion and illusion. If the soul exists, it also consists of atoms.
Boyle entertains the hypothesis of a universal matter, the concept of atoms of different shapes and sizes, and the possibility of existence of substances that might properly be called elements... The atomic theory as originally conceived by Democritus and Epicurus, developed by Lucretius, and resurrected by Gassendi from about 1647 on, was doubtless the source from which Boyle derived his ideas,...as he cites both Epicurus and Gassendi. Boyle, however... avoids any dogmatic assertion of these hypotheses. It is plain, however, that these atoms or "corpuscles" as he calls them are a constant element of his thought.