History of Materialism, Historical Development of MaterialismJune 28, 2021
The source of materialism is based on the ancient Greek philosophy of the 6th century BC.
The best interpretations of materialism were put forward by Leucippos and Democritus in the 5th century. These philosophers claimed that the universe consists of matter and vacuum. All matter is made up of countless atomic parts. The differences in the appearance of various objects are explained as the combination of atoms in different numbers and sizes and in different combinations.
The Atomic Theory of Leucippus and Democritus was completely rejected by the great Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Later, this theory was revived for a while by the Roman philosopher Lucretius (1st century BC). Lucretius explained the atomic structure of the world in his book “On the Nature of Things”.
The consolidation of Christianity as Europe’s dominant religion put materialism in the background during these centuries. The acceptance of the denial of the soul as reality, the fundamental thesis of materialism, was condemned by the church. But it was revived in the 17th century by scientist Pierre Gassendi and political philosopher Thomas Hobbes . According to Hobbes, space was composed of Ether, an invisible and intangible matter.
During the 18th century, materialists focused on human nature. Accordingly, the mind and spirit depended on the physical properties of matter in order to perform their functions. D’Holbach, the most important materialist writer of this period, claimed in his book “System of Nature” (1770) that all reality depends on the movement and distribution of matter.
From the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, materialism received support from the branches of chemistry, physics and mechanics. The discovery of molecules revived the Atomic Theory, and Charles Darwin’s evolution studies put forward the possibility that living things could be explained on a material basis without the need for creation or for some supernatural purpose. Invented after the mid-20th century, the computer supported materialists’ notion that mind itself could be explained in terms of matter and through electrical connections within brain tissue.
According to the claim of Auguste Comte, who lived two centuries ago, science would provide “positive” knowledge to replace religion, which was described as “primitive” and “metaphysical attempts”. The knowledge that Comte characterized as positive was systematic knowledge based on experimentation and observation. There was no room for speculations that were not based on observation and could not be proven by material experiments. The positivists went further and presented their philosophy as a religion, even the Church of the Religion of Humanity was established in Europe. Although the mistakes of this philosophy were demonstrated with the help of advances in science that could be considered revolutionary at the beginning of the 20th century, however, materialism, the dominant ideology of the time, closed its eyes to all criticism and did not exist in the scientific world until the second half of this century (otherwise, the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics would not have been given the right to life). He was able to maintain his dominance in almost every aspect of social life.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Ömer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes of the century. 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