Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D
Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India
The Ionian physicists were interested in the substantial nature of things, the Pythagoreans in quantitative relations, order, harmony, number. The next problem to attract attention was the problem of change or becoming.
The early philosophers spoke of the process of change, transformation, origin and decay, in a naive objective way; it was not a problem for them at all. They did not only speculate about the notion of change, but made use of it, in their explanations, without reflection. They showed how every- thing emerged from their assumed primal unity and how every- thing returned to it, how, for example, air became clouds, clouds water, water earth, and how all these substances could be trans- formed back again into the original substratum. Implicit in all these theories of the transformation of substance was the thought that nothing could absolutely originate or be lost: it is the same principle that appears now as water, now as cloud, and now as earth. It was only natural that some thinker should emphasize the phenomenon of change, growth, origin and decay, and move it into the center of his system.
This is what Heraclitus did. He is deeply impressed with the fact of change in the world, and concludes that change constitutes the very life of the universe, that nothing is really permanent, that permanence is an illusion, that though things may appear to remain stable, they are actually in an endless process of becoming, in a constant state of flux .On the contrary the Eleatics take the opposite view and deny the very possibility of change or becoming. To them it is unthinkable that reality should change, that a thing should really and truly become something else. And so they declared that change is illusory, mere sense-appearance, and that being is permanent and eternal.
Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 – 475 B.C.) was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Ephesus, on the Ionian coast of modern-day Turkey. He is sometimes mentioned in connection the Ephesian School of philosophy. He was perhaps the first Western philosopher to go beyond physical theory in search of metaphysical foundations and moral applications, and some consider him, along with Parmenides, the most significant of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. His idea of a universe in constant change but with an underlying order or reason (which he called Logos) forms the essential foundation of the European worldview.He was a forceful writer, full of wise and original sayings, and given to oracular utterances, which he made no attempt to support by proof.
The fundamental thought in the teaching of Heraclitus is, that the universe is in a state of ceaseless change ; ‘ you could not step twice into the same rivers, for other and yet other waters are ever flowing on.” It is to bring out this notion of incessant activity that he chooses as his first principle the most mobile substance he knows, something that never seems to come to rest, the ever-living fire (sometimes called by him vapor or breath), which is regarded by him as the vital principle in the organism and the essence of the soul. To some interpreters the fire-principle is merely a concrete physical expression for ceaseless activity, or process, not a substance, but the denial of substance, pure activity. Heraclitus, however, most likely, did not reason the thing out to so fine a point ; it sufficed him to have a principle that changes incessantly, undergoes continual qualitative transformation; and fire satisfied these demands.
Fire changes into water and then into earth, and the earth changes back again into water and fire, ” for the way upward and the way downward are one.” ” All things are exchanged for fire, and fire for all things ; as wares are exchanged for gold and gold for wares. ‘ ‘ Things seem to be permanent because we do not perceive the incessant movements in them, and because what they lose in one way they gain in another: the sun is new every day, kindled at its rising and quenched at its setting.
The primal unity is in constant motion and change, it never stands still. Its creation is destruction, its destruction creation. That is, as it passes into something else, from fire into water, the fire is lost in a new form of existence. Everything is thus changed into its opposite; everything, therefore, is a union of opposite qualities; nothing can persist in its qualities, there is no thing that has permanent qualities. In this sense, everything both is and is not; whatever can be predicated of its opposite may at the same time be predicated of it. And such opposition alone makes a world possible. Harmony in music, for example, results from the combination of high notes and low notes, i.e.,from a union of opposites.
In other words, the world is ruled by strife: ” war is the father of all and the king of all.” If it were not for strife or opposition, the world would pass away, stagnate and die. ” Even a potion dissolves into its ingredients when it is not stirred.” The oppositions and contradictions are united, and harmony is the result ; indeed, there could be no such order without contradiction, opposition, movement, or change. Ultimately, they will all be reconciled in the universal principle ; the world will return to the original state of fire, which is also reason, and the process will begin anew. In this sense, good and bad are the same; ” life and death, waking and sleeping, and youth and old age, are the same; for the latter change and are the former, and the former change back to the latter.” For God all things are fair and good and just, for God orders things as they ought to be, perfects all things in the harmony of the whole, but men suppose some are unjust and others just.
The cosmic process, therefore, is not haphazard or arbitrary, but in accordance with ” fixed measure “; or, as we should say to-day, governed by law. ” This one order of things neither any one of the gods nor of men has made, but it always was, is, and ever shall be, an ever-living fire, kindling according to fixed measure and extinguished according to fixed measure.” Heraclitus sometimes speaks of it as the work of Fate or Justice, expressing in this way the idea of necessity. In the midst of all change and contradiction, the only thing that persists or remains the same, is this law that underlies all movement and change and opposition ; it is the reason in things, the logos. The first principle is, therefore, a rational principle; it is alive and endowed with reason. ” This alone is wise,” says our philosopher, ” to understand the intelligence by which all things are steered through all things.” Whether he conceived it as conscious intelligence, we cannot say with absolute certainty, but it is fair to presume that he did.
On this theory of the universe, Heraclitus bases his psychology and ethics. Man’s soul is a part of the universal fire and nourished by it. We breathe it, and receive it through our senses. The driest and warmest soul is the best soul, most like the cosmic fire-soul. Sense-knowledge is inferior to reason; the eyes and ears are bad witnesses. That is, perception without reflection does not reveal to us the hidden truth, which can be found only by reason.
The controlling element in man is the soul, which is akin to divine reason. He must subordinate himself to the universal reason, to the law that pervades all things. ” It is necessary for those who speak with intelligence to hold fast to the universal element in all things, as a city holds fast to the law, and much more strongly. For all human laws are nourished by one which is divine.” To be ethical is to live a rational life, to obey the dictates of reason, which is the same for us all, the same for the whole world. Yet, ” though reason is common, most people live as though they had an understanding peculiar to themselves.” Morality means respect for law, self-discipline, control of passions ; it is to govern oneself by rational principles. ” The people ought to fight for their law as for a wall.” ” Character is a man’s guardian divinity. ” ” Wantonness must be quenched more than a conflagration.” t( It is hard to contend with passion; for whatever it desires to get it buys
at the cost of the soul.” ” To me one man is ten thousand if he be the best.”
Heraclitus is impressed with the phenomenon of change and motion; the Eleatics insist that change and motion are un- thinkable, that the principle of things must be permanent, unmoved, and never-changing. The school takes its name from the town of Elea, in Southern Italy, the home of its real founder Parmenides. We distinguish three phases in this philosophy:
(1) Xenophanes, who may be regarded as the originator, presents its fundamental thought in theological form.
(2) Parmenides develops it as an ontology and completes the system.
(3) Zeno and Melissus are the defenders of the doctrine: they are the dialecticians of the school.
The former attempts to prove the Eleatic theses by showing the absurdity of their opposites, while the latter offers positive proofs in support of the theories.
Xenophanes ( c.570–c.480 B.C)., pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of Colophon. was a Pythagorean, but not very mystical.. He believed Earth to be the fundamental element of the universe. He also deduced by noting that seashells are sometimes found on mountain tops, that the physical arrangement of the Earth changes with time. To him is attributed the quote “The gods did not reveal from the beginning All things to us; but in the course of time through seeking, men find that which is better. But as for certain truth, no man has known it. Nor will he know it.”
Xenophanes opposed the anthropomorphic representation of the gods common to the Greeks since Homer and Hesiod. Instead he asserted there is only one god, eternal and immutable but intimately connected with the world. Although interpretations of his thought vary, it was probably a form of pantheism. He was a singer of elegies, a poet, and a satirist who exhorted his hearers to virtue.
He is a speculative theologian rather than a philosopher. Like Pythagoras, he came under the influence of the popular religious movement of the sixth century. He attacks the prevailing polytheism with its anthropomorphism, and proclaims the unity and unchangeableness of God. ” But mortals think that the gods are born as they are, and have perceptions like theirs, and voice and form.” ” Yes, and if oxen or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses and oxen like oxen. Each would represent them with bodies accord- ing to the form of each.” ” So the Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians give theirs red hair and blue eyes. ‘ ‘ God is one, unlike mortals in body or in mind ; without toil he governs all things by the thought of his mind.
He abides in one place and does not move at all; he sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over, that is, in all his parts. God is one; he is without beginning, or eternal. He is unlimited in the sense that there is nothing beside him, but limited in the sense that he is not a formless infinite, but a sphere, a perfect form. He is immovable as a whole, for motion is inconsistent with the unity of being, but there is motion or change in his parts.
Xenophanes is a pantheist, conceiving God as the eternal principle of the universe in which everything is, as the One and All God, in other words, is the world ; he is not a pure spirit, but the whole of animated nature, as the early Greeks always conceived nature (hylozoism). If he believed in the gods of polytheism at all, he regarded them as parts of the world, as natural phenomena.
Xenophanes also offered natural-scientific theories. From the evidence of shells and imprints of sea-products in stones, he infers that we ourselves, and all things that come into being and grow, arose from earth and water. Once the earth was mingled with the sea, but it became freed from moisture in the course of time. It will sink back again into the sea and become mud, and the race will begin anew from the beginning. The sun and the stars he regards as fiery clouds, which are extinguished and rekindled daily.
The world-view suggested by Xenophanes was developed and completed by Parmenides, the metaphysician of the school, who was born about 515 B.C., the son of a wealthy Elean family. He was acquainted with the teachings of Heraclitus, and had probably been a Pythagorean. His didactic poem On Nature, fragments of which have been pre- served, is divided into two parts: concerning truth and concerning opinions.
Heraclitus taught that everything changes, that fire becomes water, and water earth, and earth fire, that things are and then are not. But how is this possible? asks Parmenides; how can a thing both be and not bet How can any one think such a contradiction; how can a thing change its qualities, how can one quality become another quality ? To say that it can, is to say that something is and something is not, that something can come from nothing, and that some- thing can become nothing. Or, to employ another line of argument : If being has become, it must either have come from not-being or from being. If from not-being, it has come from nothing, which is impossible ; if from being, then it has come from itself, which is equivalent to saying that it is identical with itself or always was.
It is evident, then, that from being, only being can come, that nothing can become anything else, that whatever is always has been and always will be, or remains what it is. Hence, there can be only one eternal, underived, unchangeable being. Since it is all alike and there cannot be anything in it but being, it must be continuous. Further, it must be immovable, for being cannot come into being or pass away, and there is no non- being (space) for it to move in. Again, being and thought are one, for what cannot be thought, cannot be; and what cannot be, or non-being, cannot be thought. That is, thought and being are identical: whatever is thought, has being. Being and thought are also one in the sense that reality is endowed with mind.
Being or reality is a homogeneous, continuous, indeterminate mass, which the aesthetic imagination of our philosopher pictures as a sphere, endowed with reason, eternal and immutable. All change is inconceivable, and, therefore, the world of sense is an illusion. To regard as true what we perceive by the senses, is to identify being with non-being. Parmenides shows a firm belief in reason: what is contradictory to thought cannot be real.
Besides the doctrine called the truth, Parmenides offers a theory, based on sense-perception, according to which there are both being and non-being, and hence motion and change. The world is the result of the mingling of two principles, the warm and light element and the cold and dark element. Organic beings arose from slime. The thought of man depends on the mixture of the elements in his body, the warm element perceiving the warmth and light in the world; the other, its opposite.
Parmenides shows us in his ” true ” teaching that logical thought compels us to conceive the world as a unity, as un- changeable and immovable. Sense-perception, on the other hand, reveals to us a world of plurality and change : this is the world of appearance and opinion. How it is possible for such a world to exist, or how it is possible to perceive such a world, he does not tell us.
Zeno (about 490-430), a statesman of Elea and a pupil of Parmenides, attempts to prove the Eleatic doctrine by pointing out the absurdity of its opposite. Zeno was one of the first thinkers to rely consistently on the argument of Reductio ad absurdum. This is the process of arguing that a statement is false by asserting that an absurd result would follow the acceptance of that idea. Zeno and Parmenides relied entirely on rational thought and argumentation to arrive at conclusions, as they believed very strongly that information from our senses was inaccurate and misleading.
Zeno makes the argument that motion is impossible. He does this through a rather simple, eloquent, but still confounding series of arguments. Essentially, Zeno contends that before an object can reach its target, it must first achieve the halfway mark. After that, the object is obliged to traverse to the median of the remaining distance. Continuing on, it must then reach the next halfway mark again and again and again, Ad infinitum.
His idea is that, if we assume plurality and motion, we involve ourselves in contradictions. Such notions are self- contradictory, hence it is impossible to accept them. Thus, if there are many things, these must be both infinitely small and infinitely great; infinitely small, because we can divide them into infinitely small parts, which will never give us magnitude ; infinitely great, because we can add an infinite number of parts to every part. It is absurd to say that multiplicity is both infinitely small and infinitely great, hence we must reject it. Motion and space are impossible for similar reasons. If we say that all being is in space, we must assume that this space is in a space, and so on ad infinitum. Similarly, let us assume that a body is moving through space. In order to pass through a certain space, it must first have moved through half of that space; in order to have passed through this half, it must first have gone through half of this half, and so on adinfinitum. In short, the body can really never get anywhere; and motion is impossible.
This is probably a good position to take, because all of Zeno’s paradoxes could presumably be disproved through simple observations. After all, you could start waving your hands around and then consider this idea disproved.
Melissus of Samos (fl. 5th c. BC), after Parmenides and Zeno, is the third important thinker of the Eleatic movement. Except of a philosopher, he was a naval commander, famous for his victories especially against the Athenians in 441 BC. Melissus was a follower of Parmenides’ thought but not in all its details. On the one hand, Melissus agrees with Parmenides’ main arguments on the indestructibility, immobility, indivisibility, oneness, completeness, changelessness and perfection of Being. On the other, he adopts a different viewpoint on the Parmenidean timelessness and finitude of Being. Melissus understood non-being in terms of spatial emptiness. Since non-being is impossible as an enclosing limit, then Being is limitless. Thus, while Parmenides’ Being is timeless in finitude, Melissus’ Being is everlasting in infinitum.
Melissus refutes the reliability of sense-perception. Since our senses record constant change and change is impossible then the sensible observations and data are untrustworthy or even illusionary. More extremely Melissus denies the existence of body. Space is full, homogenous and without parts. Since there is no space to differentiate a distinct unity then the body cannot have a distinct character. So body cannot have a distinct existence within unlimited extension.
EXPLANATION OF CHANGE
The old nature-philosophers had all implicitly assumed that nothing can arise or disappear, that absolute creation or destruction is impossible. The Eleatic thinkers become fully conscious of the axiom; they do not merely tacitly presuppose it in their reasonings, but deliberately assert it as an absolute principle of thought and rigorously apply it. Nothing can arise or disappear, and nothing can change into anything else; no quality can become another quality, for that would mean the disappearance of a quality on the one hand, and the creation of a quality on the other. Reality is permanent and unchangeable, change a fiction of the senses.
Absolute change, they say, is impossible. It is impossible for a thing to come from nothing, to become nothing, and to change absolutely. And yet we have the right to speak of origin and decay, growth and change, in a relative sense. There are beings or particles of reality that are permanent, original, imperishable, underived, and these cannot change into anything else: they are what they are and must remain. ‘ These beings, or particles of reality, however, can be combined and separated, that is, form bodies that can again be resolved into their elements. The original bits of reality cannot be created or destroyed or change their nature, but they can change their relations in respect to each other. In other words, absolute change is impossible, but relative change is possible. Origin means combination, decay separation of elements : change is a change in their relations.
Empedocles, the Atomists, and Anaxagoras give the same general answer to the problem proposed by Heraclitus and Parmenides. They agree that absolute change is impossible, but that there is relative change. They differ, however, in their answers to the following questions:
(1) What is the nature of the particles of reality of which the world is composed?
(2) What causes these particles to combine and separate?
According to Empedocles and Anaxagoras, the elements have definite qualities; according to the Atomists, they are without quality. According to Empedocles, there are four qualitative elements : earth, air, fire, water ; according to Anaxagoras, there are count- less numbers of such elements. According to Empedocles, two mythical beings, Love and Hate, cause the elements to unite and divide; according to Anaxagoras, it is a mind outside of the elements that initiates motion.
There is neither origin nor decay in the strict sense, but only mingling and separation. ” For it cannot be that aught can arise from what in no way is, and it is impossible and unheard of that what is should perish ; for it always will be, wherever one may keep putting it.”* There are four elements, or ” roots of things,” each having its specific nature, earth, air, fire, water ; they are underived, unchangeable, and indestructible, and fill the all. Bodies are formed by the coming together of these elements, and destroyed by their disunion. The influence of one body on another is explained as the passing of effusions from the one into the pores of the other, into which they fit.
But what causes the elements to unite and divide? Empedocles explains this by assuming two mythical beings, Love and Strife, or Hate. These two forces, attraction and repulsion, we should call them, always act together, causing bodies to be formed and bodies to be destroyed. However, all the elements were mingled together in the form of a sphere, a blessed god, in whom Love reigned supreme. But gradually Strife gained the upper hand, and the elements were scattered, each existing for itself alone, there being no bodies of any kind. Then Love entered the chaos and produced a whirling motion, causing particles to unite, like with like. In consequence, air or ether first separated off, forming the arch of the heavens; fire came next, forming the sphere of stars beneath; water was pressed from the earth by rotating motion, and seas were formed; and the evaporation of the water by the fire of heaven produced the lower atmosphere. This process of union will continue until all the elements shall be combined again into a blessed sphere, by the action of Love, and then the process of disintegration will begin anew, and so on, in periodic change.
Organic life arose from the earth; first plants, then different parts of animals, arms and eyes and heads. These parts were combined, haphazard, producing all kinds of shapeless lumps and monsters, creatures with double faces, offspring of oxen . The elements, being animated, also seem to have the power to move themselves. There is a tendency of like to like. with human faces, children of men with oxen’s heads, which separated again, until, after many trials, such forms were produced as were fit to live; and these are perpetuated by generation.
Man is composed of the four elements, which accounts for his ability to know each of them: like is known by like; it is by earth that we see earth; and by water, water; and by air, glorious air; and so on. Sense-perception is explained as the result of the action of bodies on the sense-organs. Thus, in vision, particles (of fire and water) pass from the object seen to the eye, where they are met by similar particles passing through the pores of the eye, through the attraction of the particles from without. By the contact of these bodies, near the surface of the eye, images are produced. Only such particles, however, affect the eye as fit into the pores of the eye. In hearing, air rushes into the ear and there produces sound; in taste and smell, particles enter the nose and mouth. The heart is the seat of intelligence.
Anaxagoras (500-428 B.C.), of Clazomense, in Asia Minor, took up his abode at Athens .The problem for Anaxagoras, as for Empedocles, was to explain the phenomenon of change or becoming. He accepted the Eleatic notion that absolute change is impossible, that no quality can become another quality, that reality must be permanent and unchangeable in its fundamental essence : ‘ Nothing comes into being or passes away. ‘ ‘ But he did not deny the fact of change: there is relative change; things do come into existence and pass away, in the sense, namely, of mixture and separation of elements. The elements, however, must be more than four; a world so rich and full of qualities as ours cannot be explained by so few. Besides, earth, air, fire, and water are not elements at all; they are mixtures of other substances. Anaxagoras, therefore, assumed, as his ultimate, an infinite number of substances of specific quality, ” having all sorts of forms and colors and tastes, ‘ ‘ particles of flesh, hair, blood, bone, silver, gold, and so on. Such infinitely small, but not indivisible, corpuscles are uncaused and changeless, for ” how could flesh come from that which is not flesh? ” Their quantity as well as their quality is constant, nothing can be added or taken away. He was led to this view by reflections of this sort: The body is made up of skin, bones, blood, flesh, etc., differing in lightness and darkness, in heat and cold, softness and hardness, and so on. The body is nourished by food, hence food must contain portions of such substances as build up the body. But since food draws its ingredients from earth, water, air, and the sun, the latter must furnish the substances composing food. Hence, the so-called simple elements of Empedocles are in reality the most complex things of all ; they are veritable reservoirs of in- finitely small particles of matter of all kinds : they must contain all the substances to be found in the organic body, otherwise how could we account for the presence of skin, bone, and blood in the body ?
Originally, before the formation of worlds, infinitely small particles of matter, which our philosopher called germs or seeds (spermata)), were all mingled together in a confused mass, filling the entire universe, and not separated from one another by empty spaces. The original mass is a mixture of an infinite number of infinitely small seeds. The world, as it exists now, is the result of the mingling and separation of the particles composing this mass. But, we inquire, how were the seeds separated from the chaos in which they lay scattered, and united into a cosmos or world-order ? By mechanical means, or motion, by change of place. What, however, caused them to move ? They are not endowed with life, as the hylozoists hold, nor are they moved by Love and Hate. Anaxagoras finds the clue to his answer in the rotation of the heavenly bodies observed by us. A rapid and forcible whirling motion was produced at a certain point in the mass, and separated the germs; this motion extended farther and farther, bringing like particles together, and will continue to extend until the original chaotic mixture is completely disentangled. The first rotation caused the separation of the dense from the rare, the warm from the cold, the bright from the dark, the dry from the moist. ” The dense, the moist, the cold, the dark, collected where the earth now is ; the rare, the warm, the dry, the bright, departed toward the farther part of the ether.” The process of separation continued and led to the formation of the heavenly bodies, which are solid masses hurled from the earth by the force of the rotation, and to the formation of different bodies on the earth. The heat of the sun gradually dried up the moist earth; and from the seeds filling the air, and deposited in the earth-slime by the falling rain, organic bodies arose, which Anaxagoras endowed with souls in order to explain their movements.
We see, the entire complex world-process, as it now appears, is the result of a long series of movements, which followed necessarily from the original rotation. And what caused that? To account for the initial motion, Anaxagoras has recourse to an intelligent principle, a mind or nous , a world-ordering spirit, which he conceives as an absolutely simple and homogeneous substance, not mixed with other elements or seeds, but absolutely separate and distinct from them, that has power over matter. It is a spontaneous active being, the free source of all movement and life in the world: it knows all things, past, present, and future, it arranges all things and is the cause of all things ; it rules over all that has life, both greater and less.
Anaxagoras meant by his mind pure spirit or an exceedingly fine matter, or something not entirely material and not entirely immaterial. We may describe his standpoint as a vague dualism, as a dualism not yet sharply defined. Mind initiated the world-process, but it also seems to be present in the world, in organic forms, even in minerals, wherever it is needed to account for movements not otherwise explainable. It is in the surrounding mass, in the things that were separated, and in things that are being separated. That is, to use modern terms, it is both transcendent and immanent; theism and pantheism are not sharply separated in the system.
Empedocles and Anaxagoras paved the way for the natural- scientific view of the universe which, under the name of the atomic theory, has remained the most influential Atomists theory in science to this day. Their teachings, however, needed revision in several important respects, and this they received at the hands of the Atomists. The Atomists agree with their predecessors in the acceptance of original and change- less particles of reality, but they deny to them the qualities ascribed to them either by Empedocles or Anaxagoras, and reject the view that they are moved from without by gods or a mind. Earth, air, fire, and water are not the ” roots of all things,” nor are there numberless ” seeds ” of different qualities. Such things are not real elements, but are themselves composed of simpler units, invisible, impenetrable, indivisible spatial entities (atoms), differing only in form, weight, and size; and these units or atoms have an inherent motion of their own.
The founders of the School of Atomists Democritus. (460 B.C.). The Atomists agree with the Eleatics that absolute change is impossible ; reality is, in its essence, permanent, indestructible, unchangeable. At the same time, it cannot be denied that change is going on, that things are in constant motion. Now, motion and change would be unthinkable without empty space, or the void, without what Parmenides had called non-being. Hence, the Atomists insist, non-being, or empty space, exists; space is not real in the sense of being corporeal, but it exists: what is (bodies), is no more real than what is not (space). A thing can be real without being a body. Being, or the full, and non- being, or the void, both exist. That is, the real is not one continuous, undivided, immovable being, as the Eleatics held, but a plurality of beings, an infinite number of beings, separated from one another by empty spaces.
Each of these beings is indivisible impenetrable, and simple, an atom. The atom is not a mathematical point, or a center of force, as some moderns conceive it, but has extension; it is not mathematically indivisible, but physically indivisible, i.e., it has no empty spaces in it. All atoms are alike in quality ; they are neither earth, air, fire, or water, nor are they germs of specific kinds. They are simply very small, compact, physical units, differing in shape, size, and weight, arrangement and position. They are indestructible, unchangeable. What they are, they have always been and ever shall be. In other words, atoms are the one indivisible Being of Parmenides broken up into small bits that cannot be further divided, and separated from each other by empty spaces.
Out of these atoms, as building stones of reality, and empty spaces, the different objects are formed, as comedies and tragedies are composed of the same letters of the alphabet. All bodies are combinations of atoms and spaces; origin means union; destruction, separation. Bodies differ because the atoms constituting them differ in the ways already mentioned. They act on one another by direct contact only, through pressure and impact, or hy means of emanations moving from one body and striking the other, action in the distance being impossible. What causes atoms to unite and separate is the motion inherent in them. ” Nothing happens without a ground, but everything for a reason and necessarily. ‘ ‘ The motion is uncaused, like the atoms themselves ; they have never been at rest, but have been in motion from the very beginning. Owing to the many different shapes of atoms, some having hooks, others eyes, or grooves, or humps, or depressions, they interlace and hook together.
The evolution of worlds is explained as follows. Atoms are heavy and fall downward, but the larger ones fall faster, thus forcing the lighter upward. This action causes a whirling motion, which extends farther and farther, in consequence of which atoms of the same size and weight collect, the heavier ones at the center, forming air, then water, then solid earth ; the lighter ones at the periphery, forming the heavenly fires and the ether. Multitudes of worlds are produced in this way, each system having a center and forming a sphere ; some having neither sun nor moon, some with larger planets or a greater number of them. The earth is one of the bodies thus created. From the moist earth, or slime, life arose. Fiery atoms are distributed over the entire organism, which accounts for the heat of these bodies. They are especially abundant in the human soul. The soul is composed of the finest, roundest, most nimble, and fiery atoms, which are scattered over the entire body, there being always one soul atom between two other atoms, and which produce the movements of the body. Certain organs of the body are the seat of particular mental functions: the brain, of thought; the heart, of anger; the liver, of desire. The resistance of every object, whether alive or not, to the pressure of surrounding forces is explained by the presence in it of such a soul. We inhale and exhale soul-atoms; and life exists so long as this process continues. At death, the soul-atoms are scattered; when the vessel of the soul is shattered, the soul spills out. We have here the crude beginnings of a physiological psychology on a materialistic basis.
Sense-perception is explained as a change produced in the soul by the action of emanations, or images, or idols , resembling the perceived body. These images fly off from the body and give their shape to the intervening air; that is, they modify the arrangement of the particles next to the object, which gives rise to a modification in those immediately adjoining it, and so on, until emanations coming from the sense-organs are reached. The like perceives the like, that is, perception is possible only when the images passing from a body are like those emanating from the sense-organ. This theory of perception resembles, in principle, the undulatory and ether theories of modern science.
By means of such images, which pass from objects everywhere, Democritus explains dreams, prophetic visions, and the belief in gods. Gods exist, but they are mortal like men, though longer-lived. There is a world-soul, which is composed of finer atoms than the souls of men.
The sensible qualities (color, sound, taste, smell, etc.) which we attribute to the different bodies are not in the things themselves, but merely effects of combinations of atoms on our sense-organs. Atoms, as such, have no qualities other than those we have already mentioned, impenetrability, shape, and size. Hence, sense-perception does not yield us a true knowledge of things; it tells us merely how these affect us. We cannot see atoms as they are; we can, however, think them. Sense-perception is obscure knowledge; thought, which transcends our sense-perceptions and appearances, and reaches the atom, is the only genuine knowledge.Democritus is a rationalist, as, indeed, all the early Greek philosophers are.
FRANK THILLY – HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY-HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY – NEW YORK , 1914,