Julia Alsop continues her exploration of early metaphysical philosophers
Little is known about Leucippus, although it is deemed likely that he was from Miletus, like first metaphysical thinker Thales. More is known about Democritus, from Abdera in Greece, who had written around seventy books, although none survive today – but were written about by Epicurus later, he died at a very old age.
Now, Leucippus and Democritus made huge steps into ideas which are very similar to our knowledge today – they theorized that everything was made up of tiny, indivisible particles, which they referred to as atomos, the greek for “atoms” – sound familiar?
Anyway, they further claimed that empty spaces separated out these atoms and they moved freely. While free, they collided and formed new arrangements of atoms and allowed objects to appear to change around us. They believed that there were an infinite number of atoms, however the number of combinations of alignment is only finite, and hence there is only apparently a certain amount of substances in existence. This logic suggested that when we died, for example, atoms of bodies moved away, dispersed and were reformed elsewhere.
This theory, known as atomism, was considered outlandishly bold, but offered the first full, atheist, mechanistic explanation of the universe, and many crucial parts of our knowledge of matter has been developed around this, and revolutionized our knowledge of metaphysical possibilities.
See other articles in the series: