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The materialism of ancient Greece. Democritus

The materialism of ancient Greece received its classic expression in the philosophical system of Democritus. Democritus, an eminent materialist of antiquity, created his own system of views at a different time than the Milesian philosophers, Heraclitus and the Eleatic.

V century BC – This is the century of further strengthening and flourishing of the ancient slave-owning democracy. In most Greek city-states, such as Athens, Agrigent, Miletus, Ephesus, economically and politically new layers of slave owners intensified, connected with the development of crafts, commerce and struggling against the power of the old slave-owning and agricultural nobility. It was the era of the heyday of the Greek states. Not only political, but also scientific life was keyed in the Greek cities – the states (policies). By this time the greatest writers of antiquity had already appeared – Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. At the same time, the creators of classical Greek sculpture appear – Phidias and Policlet.

The growing influence of new cities, the continued revival of public life in the Greek states brought with them the further flourishing of ancient science and materialistic philosophy.

Biographical information

All biographical data on Democritus vary greatly. According to Diogenes Laertius, he was born in 460-457. BC. According to Thrasyl, in the year 470. Also, the terms of his life also vary – some say that 90 years, some 85, some 104, others 109. Democritus was born in the city of Abdera. According to some sources: he was the son of Gegestrat; according to others, Athenocritus. According to the researchers, he chose a smaller part of his father’s inheritance (mainly consisting of money) and went on a trip.

Democritus traveled a lot and for a long time. In his own words: “… I traveled more: than any of the people I see today, I examined it in more detail than I saw more than all the others, husbands and lands, and talked with the largest number of learned people. And no one blamed me for making mistakes when folding lines, accompanied by evidence … I spent about 8 years in a foreign land. ” Democritus was in Egypt, Persia, Babylon, India.

In addition to the countries of the east, Democritus traveled to Athens, while he tried to remain unrecognized. Valery Maxim writes: “In Athens, he spent many years, using every minute to learn wisdom and practice it.” After a long journey, Democritus returned to Abdera. The travels of Democritus and his personal connections with philosophers and outstanding scientists of several countries to a certain extent contributed to the emergence of such a perfect for that time materialistic system, which was the teaching of Democritus.

There was a law in Abderah, according to which, every citizen had to increase the property inherited by him, and if a citizen violated this law, then such a citizen was expelled. Democritus, while traveling, spent his entire inheritance and was thus subject to expulsion. According to Antisfen, Democritus, in order to avoid punishment, reads his most significant work, the Great Myrostroy, in court. It was valued at the same amount as the legacy of Democritus, and according to some sources, and five times greater – 500 talents. Democritus was honored with copper statues, for his activity in the future, he was given the honorary nickname “Wisdom” for useful advice to the city. It is not known exactly at what time, but perhaps when the homeland was in danger, he was made archon, and for his merits he received the nickname “Patriot”. Democritus was buried in his hometown at public expense.

About respect for Democritus of his fellow citizens, testifies the ancient Abder coin with the emblem of the city and the inscription “Under Democritus”. Democritus was known in antiquity as a great connoisseur of the political history of Greece. He said that “politics is the greatest art. It is beneficial to study it and devote yourself to political activities that give a person greatness and brilliance ”. Democritus believed that a person has three results from the highest wisdom: he should and can think well, he should speak well, and he should do well. To do well, from the point of view of Democritus, it means adhering to the “golden mean”: not to go to extremes neither in the accumulation of wealth, nor in political views.

Democritus teacher

With great attention and a rare concentration for a young man, Democritus studied Hellenic philosophy. If it is natural – the scientific views were formed under the influence of the Ionians, then the very first work in the list of his “moral” works is called “Pythagoras”. However, the philosopher Leucippus had a decisive influence on the formation of the views of Democritus. Democritus became his loyal student, took from him and further developed the atomistic system.

The personality of Leucippus is mysterious and controversial – there is very little evidence of him, and Epicurus, a direct successor of atomistics, stated, according to Diogenes Laertius, that the philosopher Leucippus did not exist. On this occasion, at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, a controversy broke out among classical philologists and historians of philosophy. In the “Leucippus Question,” scientists were divided into opponents and supporters of the fact of Leucippus.

At present, most researchers have fully recognized its reality. As you know, the most serious source on the history of Greek philosophy are the works of Aristotle. He and his closest student Theophrastus were the authors of the books about Democritus, which, unfortunately, were not preserved. Aristotle writes about the teachings of Leucippus – Democritus as a single doctrine, but this does not relate to the beginning of the philosophical path of Leucippus and not to specific areas of science, where Leucippus continued and was ahead of the pupil who eclipsed his teacher’s glory.

First listeners

Protagoras and Diagors

A number of authors report that Protagor was the companion of youth and the first listener of Democritus. In his youth, Protagoras did not study, but he worked as a carrier of baskets and firewood, which, according to Helium, led to an acquaintance with Democritus: Democritus came closer to him, considered the arrangement and the joining of the logs, made skillfully and with an experienced hand, and asked … for Protagoras to dissolve the bundle and fold it again in this way. ” This request has been completed. Democritus admired the dexterity and wit of this uneducated person. Democritus immediately led Protagoras, took him to himself, assigned him content and taught him philosophy, and made him what he was afterwards. ” Most likely, this is a legend. First, because Protagor was 10-11 years older than Democritus. Secondly, Protagoras could not be “uneducated.”

And yet it is not entirely fiction. Many sources point to Protagoras as a disciple and listener of Democritus, and the fact that he eventually turned to paid teaching speaks about his poverty; By this he laid the foundation for the activity of the sophists, the professional teachers of Greece. The fact that Protagoras borrowed a lot from Democritus is beyond doubt. In the future, the paths of Protagoras and Democritus diverged. At a time when Democritus traveled the East, accumulating all new knowledge, Protagoras had already taught.

In the stories about Democritus and his listeners, one repeating detail attracts attention, which cannot be accidental: Democritus respected physical labor with respect. He considered it entirely acceptable that a poor man or a former slave could become an outstanding philosopher, and even actively contributed to this. This is evidenced not only by the legend of the meeting with Protagoras, but also by other sources. So, for Democritus are characteristic: respect for work, sympathy for the oppressed, evaluation of people by their abilities, and not by origin and position.

One fact attracts attention: listeners of Democritus are atheists or they become them. Protagoras for skepticism towards the gods were sentenced to death and died while fleeing the sentence. As the most decisive atheist, the reputation in Greece and Diago. The Athenians in absentia condemned Diago to death for mocking the cult and divulging the mysteries, and even announced a reward for its head. If Democritus was the teacher of Diagora, their views coincided. The materialistic teaching of Democritus, as well as a little earlier, the teaching of Anaxagoras of Clazomen in Ionia, was atheistic.

Democritus in Athens

There is no exact data on when exactly Democritus visited Athens. Most likely, it was either at the beginning or on the eve of the Peloponessian War. According to some sources, he stayed in Athens for a long time. All the stories about this journey of Democritus emphasize his modesty and desire to learn from others, “using every minute to learn wisdom and practice it”. Diogen Laertius also conveys different versions of ancient historians about whether Democritus was in Athens or not. In all these testimonies, Democritus’s neglect of fame is emphasized.

There is evidence that Democritus “knew Socrates, but Socrates did not know him.” It was at this time that the “Small Peace Building” was written, one of the main works of Democritus, in which he wrote about human society, in particular, about the emergence of the state. According to various reports, Democritus’s relationship with the venerable old man, Anaxagoras, was cold. But in a number of issues the opinions of these two great materialists of antiquity coincided. In particular, their views were common, for which Anaxagoras was convicted by the Athenian court as a blasphemer and could barely escape punishment. Perhaps that is why Democritus tried to be inconspicuous in Athens. And yet it was in Athens that Democritus found hot followers in the younger generation. The younger sophist Antifont, “the ancient anarchist,” as one of the researchers called him, overthrew many of the slave-owning polis in his works.

When Democritus returned to his homeland, his views and found many followers here. A whole galaxy of “democritovtsev”, direct or distant followers of the great philosopher and scientist is mentioned in various sources. These are philosophers from Abder – Anaksarh, Hekatey Abder, Bion and from other cities – Nessa and Metrodor from Chios, Appolodor Kizikensky, Diotim Tirsky and Navsifan Teossky, teacher of Epicurus. The listed followers of Democritus usually developed only certain aspects of his teachings, but on the whole, as a rule, their views did not coincide with the teachings of Democritus.

Old age and death

Democritus, according to a number of sources, was a long-liver and lived for more than a hundred years, without stopping scientific studies. Among the legends about him, stories about old age and the death of Democritus occupy a special place.

By the end of his life, Democritus lost his sight. Various rumors circulated around this fact. Many said that Democritus himself, deliberately deprived himself of sight, even described how: he concentrated a ray of sun in a concave copper mirror (shield) and, having directed it to his eyes, burned them out. He did it ostensibly with the intention that the light, sensually perceived by the eye, would not overshadow the acuteness of his mind. Some researchers believe that if this is fiction, it is very plausible, as it emphasizes the internal contradiction inherent in Democritus and distinguishing it from Epicurus: Democritus, desperate in knowledge; deprives itself of sight.

This, of course, fiction. The way of blinding here is fantastic, Plutarch called this story a lie, The whole story is based, apparently, on the theory of Demokrit about clear and dark knowledge, as well as on his teaching about incendiary mirrors. However, the legend is characteristic. It is not surprising to lose sight in 90 or more years, especially since the color theory of Democritus makes you think about some kind of anomaly in his eyes. “An empirical naturalist” who used experience and observation, vision was necessary.

But, blinded, Democritus courageously believed that now he, on the other hand, would be able to fully delve into the study of intelligible truth. This truth, he believed deeply hidden and often contrary to sensory perception. This concerned moral truths. According to Cicero, “Democritus, having lost his sight, could not distinguish white from black, but good and bad, fair and unjust, noble and shameful, useful and harmful, great and small, he could distinguish; unable to distinguish colors, he could live happily, and without a proper assessment of things he could not. ” In the later sources, the motivations of Democritus’s seeming self-blinding change. The most amazing version (quite worthy of a Christian ascetic) was expressed by Tertullian: “Democritus blinded himself because he could not look at women without lust …”. Is it in old age ?!

Truly hostility towards the “godless” and the materialist is blinding without incendiary glasses. Democritus, engaged in science, did not pay attention to women. He even believed that a philosopher and a sage should not have their children. But he did not preach asceticism, and among the subjects of his scientific research were issues of embryology.

When Democritus felt that he was already completely weak, he, like Anaxagora, voluntarily passed away.

Legacy of Democritus

According to the testimony of the ancients, Democritus wrote two major works: “The Great Mirostroi” (Megas diakosmos) and “The Small Myrostroi” (Micros diakosmos), as well as over 50 treatises compiled by Thrasillus and 9 books of “Causes” (Aitiai). Some researchers attributed the authorship of the “Big Peace” to Leucippus. But nothing prevents us from admitting that Democritus had the same work, which develops and complements the views of Leucippus: the same titles are often found among ancient philosophers. The rest of the works of the democritic “corpus” (set of essays) encyclopedically encompass all areas of philosophical and scientific knowledge known in antiquity. These are moral, “physical” (natural-science), mathematical, geographical, compositions about music and, finally, “technical” (in medicine, agriculture and military science).

However, “for no great philosopher of antiquity, the fate of his writings did not turn out to be such a stepmother as for Democritus” – his works died. From the great literary heritage of the philosopher there are fragments quoted by ancient authors, evidence from ancient historians and philosophers, remained sayings stored in various collections, and finally, there is information about some of the views and content of the works of Democritus from the writings of those authors who argued with him, sometimes at the same time beyond recognition distorting his point of view. However, this concerned not only Democritus, but also the majority of ancient Greek philosophers close to the line of materialism.

Opinions of ancient thinkers have not disappeared. They are found and restored. They are alive, because questions are still alive, about which the ancients perplexed and which they solved in their own way. Let us follow the thought of Democritus from Abder.


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