Democritus’ Understanding of Change

Democritus’ Understanding of Change

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

According to him, even though atoms never disappear, just like the existence of Parmenides, they combine and disperse with each other in a quantitative sense, creating a change.

Thus, any change takes place on a quantitative basis in a sense. All change consists in the displacement or increase in number of atoms. For example, if an object is growing, it gains new atoms, and if it gets smaller, it decreases. That is, atoms combine and separate. In this case, the identity of the object is not broken. The object still remains the same object. In that case, the thing that decreases and multiplies is not the being itself. Existence is eternal.

Change can also be in the form of objects changing their attributes. The tree is green and turns yellow after a while. These qualitative changes do not make the object lose its identity. Then the source of qualitative change is again quantitative. As long as the quantitative changes are limited to a certain extent, the identity of the object will continue. Quantitative change can lead to a visible change in the quality of the object. The change of quality occurs only when we observe it. The qualitative change of the object can be understood from the effect it creates on my perception, and it is due to this effect.

Objects can also change substantively. This kind of change is when an object loses its property of being that object anymore. According to Democritus, in this case the object does not disappear. That is, the atoms that make up the object do not disappear. Only the atoms that make up that object dissolve and transform into another state. Essential change is the dissociation of atoms to other object groups or the displacement of the most basic of atoms.

When all these changes are taken into consideration, it is seen that all of them are basically quantitative changes. The difference Democritus brings here is this: In this painting, all events are physical processes. In other words, there is no effect of any mind or will on the events of the universe. All events in the universe consist of action and reaction relations between atoms. Then it can be said that this opens the way to a mechanical universe design. It is seen that this idea was an important innovation for the Ancient Greek world. Because such a clear mechanism does not stand out in previous considerations. In the last instance, it can be said that Democritus had a mechanical and materialistic mentality.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook