In this paper I will analyze Democritus’ Theory of Atomism. This theory was developed by a famous Greek philosopher, who lived between 460-370 BC. He was born in Abdera, a city in North Coast of Aegean sea, which was the main city in Greece. He did not believe in any creator. Therefore, he appealed to no god when judging human conduct. He argued that believing in supernatural being is primitive as it is caused by misunderstanding of astronomical and meteorological phenomena (Barnes & Jonathan 143). Democritus propagated the atomic theory. This theory states that the universe is made of two building blocks: the void and atoms. Democritus claimed that atoms are unlimited in number. They are invisible because of their small size. Atoms are free to move due to the existence of an empty space - void. Once they merge, they produce detectible objects. Whenever atoms are separated, objects formed are destroyed. According to Democritus, atoms are irreducibly minute amount of matter. Inside the atom, there is no unoccupied space or other physical parts. All atoms are similar, but differ in shape, because their contours can be of infinite varieties which can be adjusted in different ways. Therefore, they can be arranged in various orders making them fit in unlimited combinations. In their concrete nature atoms cannot move around while they are free to move in empty space. In general, the atomic theory has two elements: penetrable space and impenetrable atoms. Democritus argued that atoms are unlimited in number, and space is immeasurable in amount.
Naturally, atoms are capable of moving without any outside force needed to initiate the movement. Atoms are not made at any particular time in the past and can not collapse in future. It implies that the whole amount of matter remains constant in the universe. This principle maintains that the overall matter in the universe is naturally conserved and can neither disappear nor decrease. In Democritus’ atomic universe “time was uncreated”. Therefore, it was spatially boundless and temporarily everlasting. This means that it had no beginning and no end in respect to time and space (Cole & Thomas 87).
Democritus criticized Parmenides’ reasoning and principles due to the convention. Parmenides argued that atoms were objects, which could be made, divided, moved, and destroyed. He continued to say that they were incomplete and, therefore, could be transported internally or externally. Both Parmenides and Democritus believed that this was not final reality, depending on characteristics they assigned to Being and Atoms respectively. If this was the case, then questions such as “from what was the first object created?” could not be answered. Fundamental reality of atoms and beings would be uncreated, indivisible, in-destructive, complete, and motionless. However, this went against their experience. Perhaps, this is why Parmenides encouraged his followers to rely on reasons, while Democritus viewed the principle of motion and change according to his experience.
Democritus believed that every object in the universe is a product of atoms merged together. There exists a single type of atoms, and variations in objects are caused by grouping of atoms. The universe is purely made of mechanical properties. That is, everything ranging from minerals to water is a product of atoms stacked together. In addition, atoms are solid and indivisible. They are small and, therefore, incompressible.
However, if the world was completely made of atoms, then how come there is space between objects? If the universe did not have space, it would be a lump of massive solid. To solve this puzzle, Democritus developed a relationship between atoms and void. This led to the discovery of another constituent of the atomic theory, which was space (Cole &Thomas 121). Balancing the notion of atom, Democritus used the element of Being claiming that void is the space, which is an extension still depending on atoms.
Democritus characterized atoms after his observations and experiences. Atoms are naturally invisible and cannot be seen with a naked eye. This is because of their minute nature. They are indivisible as they cannot be split apart. Atoms are, therefore, eternal, meaning they have neither beginning nor end. They are always in constant motion in empty space. Their motion is propelled by void. They move naturally without any external force.
Atoms have different shapes, positions, and sixes. There are other qualities, which Democritus suggested were apparent. Color, hardness, and temperature are caused by different movement of atoms and their configurations. He claimed that atoms have different textures. Some are smooth while others are tough. This explains why atoms can form solids, liquids, and gasses. It is simpler to cut a tomato using a knife, than cutting a rock. This is because of the smoothness of atoms stuck together in these objects, which is generally known as density (Barnes & Jonathan 98).
Democritus considered the soul to be composed of similar types of atoms, particularly fire atoms. This is more because he associated soul with heat and spherical fire, which had mobile atoms. He argued that the soul causes physical motion in human life. He asserted that living bodies release atoms which interact with other organs of perception causing sensation of different objects. Similarly, atoms of thoughts are a result of interaction with those of the soul.
Democritus established a clear relationship between atomic configuration and sensible qualities which result from them. The movement of atoms generates collision, which in turn leads to adhesion or reflection. When barbed and hooked atoms collide, they stick to each other and form compound bodies (Patricia 123). The difference in taste, color, temperature, and texture is a consequence of the number of atoms present, their arrangement and shape in an object. Weight basically varies due to the number of atoms and the quantity of void contained in the object. Generally, all transformations results from atomic dissociations and combinations.
Democritus atomic theory was well detailed and gave account of atomic motion and their entities. This helps us understand how atoms move randomly colliding with each other to form different objects. Atomistic theory had a weakness in its explanations, and this is what made Aristotle to reject it (Barnes & Jonathan 98).
In this paper, I have given account of Democritus theory of atomism. I have explained his reaction against Parmenides and explained the relationship between atoms and the void. Characteristics of atoms were also clearly presented. The concept of the soul and reasons why atoms remain together were also outlined. Strengths and weaknesses of the theory come as conclusion.