Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 8 >> Democratic Party to Or Kurland Courland >> Democritus


atoms, nature, knowledge, eternal, leucippus and sense

DEMOCRITUS, Greek philosopher of the new Eleatic school: b. Abdera between 470 and 460 s.c.; d. 370 RC. Some Magi and Chal deans, whom Xerxes left on his return from his Grecian expedition, are said to have excited in Democritus the first inclination for philos ophy. After the death of his father he trav eled to Egypt, where he studied geometry, and probably visited other countries, to extend his knowledge of nature. Among the Greek philos ophers he enjoyed the instruction of Leucippus. He afterward returned to his native city, where he was placed at the head of public affairs. Indignant at the follies of the Abderites, he resigned his office and retired to solitude, to devote himself exclusively to philosophical studies. Of his numerous philosophical works mentioned by Diogenes Laertius (q.v.) only the titles and a few doubtful fragments are pre served.

In his system he developed still further the mechanical or atomical theory of his master Leucippus. Thus he explained the origin of the world by the eternal motion of an infinite num ber of invisible and indivisible bodies, atoms, which differ from one another in form, posi tion and arrangement and are alternately sep arated and combined by their motions in infinite space. In this way the universe was formed, fortuitously, without the interposition of a First Cause. Although denying the presence of design in nature, he admitted that of law. He called the common notion of chance a cover of human ignorance, the refuge of those who are too idle to think. The eternal existence of atoms (of matter in general) he inferred from the consideration that time could be conceived only as eternal and without beginning. In the atoms he distinguished figure, size, gravity and impenetrability. Fire consists, according to him, of active globules, and spreads, like a light envelope, round the earth. The soul consists, in as far as it is a moving power, of the finest fire-atoms; but since it is acquainted with the other elements, and anything can be known only by its equal, it must be composed in part also from the other elements. Knowledge by sense

is due to contact with atoms emanating from the sensed objects, through the mediation of the organs of sense. Direct contact and mediated by the organs of sense, gives rise to

DEMOGEOT, Jacques Claude, French historian and poet : b. Paris, 5 July 1808; d. there, 9 Jan. 1894. He taught in the colleges at Beauvais, Rennes, Lyons, and in 1843 became professor of rhetoric at the Lycke Saint-Louis, which he left to take a chair in the faculty of letters at the Sorbonne. He wrote 'Etude sur Pline le Jenne) (1845-50) ; 'Les lettres et les hommes de lettres au XIX (1856) • 'Tableau de la litterature francaise au XVII eme siecle) (1859) ; 'Histoire de la litterature francaise depuis ses origines jusqus (1851). His poetical writings are a drama, 'Romeo et Juliet) (1852) ; 'Contes et causeries en vers' (1862) ; 'Francesca da Rimini' (1882).