Democritus

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Democritus (Greek: Δημόκριτος, Dēmokritos, "chosen of the people") (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece.[1] He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos.[2]

His exact contributions are difficult to disentangle from his mentor Leucippus, as they are often mentioned together in texts. Their speculation on atoms, taken from Leucippus, bears a passing and partial resemblance to the nineteenth-century understanding of atomic structure that has led some to regard Democritus as more of a scientist than other Greek philosophers; nevertheless their ideas rested on very different bases.[3] Largely ignored in Athens, Democritus was nevertheless well-known to his fellow northern-born philosopher Aristotle. Plato is said to have disliked him so much that he wished all his books burned.[1] Many consider Democritus to be the "father of modern science".[4]

Contents

Life

Democritus was born in the city of Abdera in Thrace, an Ionian colony of Teos,[5] although some called him a Milesian.[6] He was born in the 80th Olympiad (460–457 BC) according to Apollodorus,[7] and although Thrasyllus placed his birth in 470 BC,[7] the later date is probably more likely.[8] John Burnet has argued that the date of 460 is "too early", since according to Diogenes Laërtius ix.41, Democritus said that he was a "young man (neos)" during Anaxagoras' old age (circa 440–428).[9] It was said that Democritus' father was so wealthy that he received Xerxes on his march through Abdera. Democritus spent the inheritance which his father left him on travels into distant countries, to satisfy his thirst for knowledge. He travelled to Asia, and was even said to have reached India and Ethiopia.[10] We know that he wrote on Babylon and Meroe; he must also have visited Egypt, and Diodorus Siculus states that he lived there for five years.[11] He himself declared[12] that among his contemporaries none had made greater journeys, seen more countries, and met more scholars than himself. He particularly mentions the Egyptian mathematicians, whose knowledge he praises. Theophrastus, too, spoke of him as a man who had seen many countries.[13] During his travels, according to Diogenes Laërtius, he became acquainted with the Chaldean magi. A certain "Ostanes", one of the magi accompanying Xerxes was also said to have taught him.[14]

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