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Democritus, whose name means “chosen of the people,” was an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher who is known for his formulation on the atomic theory of the universe. “The Laughing Philosopher,” Democritus is viewed by many as the “father of modern science.”
See the fact file below for more information on the Democritus or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Democritus worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- According to Apollodorus of Athens, Democritus was born in the 80th Olympiad (460 – 547 B.C.) in the city of Abdera in Thrace, an Ionian colony of Teos. Thrasyllus, on the other hand, placed his birth in 470 B.C.
- Records show that his father came from a noble family and that he received Xerxes on his march through Abdera.
- Democritus spent the inheritance his father left him on travels to nearby countries, to satisfy his curiosities.
- He reached Asia, and was even said to have traveled to India and Ethiopia.
- He wrote on Babylon and Meroe, and visited Egypt where he lived for five years, according to Diodorus Siculus.
- Democritus declared that among his contemporaries, none had more journeys, visited more countries, nor met more scholars than himself.
- Diogenes Laertius mentions Democritus’ bond with the Chaldean magi. “Ostanes,” among the magi accompanying Xerxes, who was also said to have mentored him.
- Upon returning to Greece, Democritus occupied himself with natural philosophy. He wandered throughout his native land to get a better knowledge of its cultures. He named many Greek philosophers in his writings, and his wealth gave him the advantage to buy their writings.
- Leucippus, the proponent of atomism, was the greatest influence upon him.
- He also praised Anaxagoras, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher born during the Clazomenae era, when Asia Minor was under the power of the Persian Empire.
- He was cheerful, and was always looking forward to the comical and humorous side of life, which later historians and writers took to mean that he always made fun of the foolishness of people.
- Democritus died at the age of 90, around 370 B.C., but some researchers believed he lived until 104, or even 109 years old.
- Famously known for being the “laughing philosopher,” the terms Abderitan laughter, which translates to scoffing, incessant laughter, and Abderite, which means a scoffer, both originated from Democritus.
- To most people, Democritus was also known as “The Mocker.”
PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE
- A number of sources say that Democritus followed in the tradition of Leucippus and that they included scientific rationalist philosophy associated with Miletus.
- Some Greek researchers consider Democritus to have formed aesthetics as a subject of investigation and study, as he had related works on poetry and fine arts, before authors such as Aristotle.
- Atomic hypothesis. The theory of Democritus states that everything is made up of “atoms,” which are physically indivisible; that there lies an empty space in between atoms; that atoms are indestructible, and have always been and will always be moving; that there is an indefinite number of atoms and kinds of atoms, which vary in shape and size.
- “The more any indivisible exceeds, the heavier it is.”
Democritus on the mass of atoms
- Together with Leucippus and Epicurus, they formulated the earliest views on the shapes and connectivity of atoms. They explained that the solidness of the material depended on the shape of the atoms involved. They assumed that iron atoms are solid and strong with hooks that lock them into a solid; water atoms are smooth and slippery; salt atoms are sharp and pointed; and air atoms are light and constantly whirling.
- According to Democritus, knowing the truth is challenging since the perception through the senses is not objective. As from the same senses derive a number of impressions for each person, thus, no one can judge the truth based on sensual impressions.
- He proposed the two kinds of knowing, the one he calls “legitimate” and the other “bastard.” The latter is a knowledge associated with the perception through the senses; thus, is insufficient and subjective. The former is a type of knowledge which can be attained through the intellect.
- The ethics and politics of Democritus are depicted through maxims. As such, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy mentions that “despite the large number of ethical sayings, it is difficult to construct a coherent account of Democritus’ ethical views,” suggesting that there is a “difficulty of deciding which fragments are genuinely Democritean.”
- Democritus mentions “equality is everywhere noble,” but fails to include women or slaves in his statement.
- He also said that “the wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world.”
- “…take it upon themselves to lend to the poor and to aid them and to favor them, then is there pity and no isolation but companionship and mutual defense and concord among the citizens and other good things too many to catalogue.”
- Democritus wrote for those who are in power.
- He believed that making money is not useless, but doing so as a result of a wrongdoing is the “worst of all things.”
- He never liked violence but was also not a pacifist: he encouraged cities to be prepared for war, and suggested that a society should have the right to execute a criminal or enemy as long as this does not violate any law, treaty, or oath.
- Democritus also believed in goodness, and that this originated from practice and discipline rather than from innate human nature. He agreed that an individual should distance oneself from evil, stating that such association fuels disposition to vice.
- He also thought of happiness as a property of the soul. He pushed an advocacy of having a life filled with contentment and a little grief if possible.
- He also approved of extravagance on special occasions, suggesting that feasts and celebrations are needed for joy and relaxation.
- Lastly, he thought of education to be the noblest of pursuits, but warned that learning without sense results to error.
- He was also a proponent of mathematics, specifically geometry.
- Most of his literary works did not survive the Middle Ages. We only know a few of his works through citations, titled On Numbers, On Geometrics, On Tangencies, On Mapping, and On Irrationals.
- He was also one of those who initially observed that a cone and pyramid with equal base area and height have one-third the volume of a cylinder or prism.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Democritus across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Democritus worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Democritus, whose name means “chosen of the people,” who was an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher who is known for his formulation on the atomic theory of the universe. “The Laughing Philosopher,” Democritus is viewed by many as the “father of modern science.”
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Democritus Facts
- Fact Checkpoint
- Which Area?
- Atomic Hypothesis
- All About Atoms
- Modern Atomic Models
- Other Atomists
- Your Favorite Democritus Quote
- Letters to Democritus
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Use With Any Curriculum
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