Who is Leucippus?June 25, 2021
Leucippus is one of the thinkers who claimed to have been born in Miletus and who argued for the first time that matter consists of components too small to be seen with the naked eye, namely atoms.
There is not much that is known about him or what he has written has survived to the present day. It is even said that Epicurus said that there was no such philosopher and that Leucippus was the pseudonym of Democritus. But Aristotle and Theophrastus, who are more convincing, state that he is the founder of “atomic theory”. Some, such as Diogenes, refer to him as an Eleatic. Others show him as belonging to Abdera or Melos (an island near the Peloponnesian coast) because he was with Democritus. According to Simplicios, he is from Miletus. It is said that he was a friend and disciple of Zeno. He is also contemporary with Heraclitus and Anaxagoras. He is thought to have founded the school in Abdera around 420. Theophrastus openly states that he was a member of Parmenides’ school, and his words indicate that Parmenides was the head of the school at the time.
Aristotle wrote the following about Leucippus in his work “Metaphysics”:
“Leucippus and his friend Democritus, claiming that the elements are fullness and emptiness, called the one “being” and (‘what is’), the other “non-existence” and (‘non-existence’). What is full or solid is being, whereas what is empty and sparse is Accordingly, non-existent exists as well as what is, because void also exists like matter, and they declare that they are the material causes of things.
And they say that these are the material causes of things. And just as those who make the underlying substance a unity, create all other things through its variations, and take rarity and density as the first principles of these changes, these thinkers hold that ‘distinctions’ are the causes of everything else. These distinctions, they say, are three: Shape, Arrangement, and Position. Because they argue that the existing is separate only in contour, inner-contact, and inclination. Of these, contour means shape, inter-contact arrangement, and inclination position. Thus, AN differs from N in shape, AN from NA in arrangement, and Z from N in position. As for movement, where and how it arises in things, they have ignored this point, just as other thinkers have done.
Vacuum and Plenum
Leucippus’ Atomic Theory arose from the Eleatic Parmenides’ denial of the void. He also admitted that there could be no motion without emptiness, but he thought it unnecessary to identify Void with Being. While the Pythagorean emptiness was more or less identified with ‘air’, Leucippus’ emptiness was emptiness in the absolute sense.
1) Atoms are mathematically indivisible (like Pythagoras’ Monads) because there is no space inside them.
2) They do not have to be the same size;
3) Weight depends on the size of the atoms (but weight is not a primary property of bodies). For the first time Epikyrus put weight on atoms.
Dialogue of the Atom
Since atoms are material, they can in principle be perceived sensorially. But a little reflection on the Concept shows that sensuousness is left behind altogether, that it is impossible for the Atom to be conceived, imagined, or sensibly determined in any other way. The atom, like the point, is exactly the unity of opposites, like the temporal moment: it must be indivisible, but it must also exist materially. The atom is not a sensation or a design, but essentially conceptual. Conceptualizing the Atom is not making it a ghost. But the fact that physical existence is contradictory on this ultimate basis, based on infinite smallness, is not something that natural consciousness, pictorial-representational thought can confirm. For this, the dialectic must be grasped as purely speculative thought, the affirmation of two opposite sides at one and the same time.
The atom is undoubtedly a material atom. But its indivisibility eliminates it as a definite entity. But this fictional reality is the possibility and reality of the Atom. The atom exists as a unity of opposites.
Theofrastus writes the following about Leucippus in the first book of his “Conjectures”:
“Leucippus, either of Elean or Miletus (for both cities are named after him), was with Parmenides in philosophy. But he did not follow the same path as Parmenides and Xenophanes in his explanation of things, and followed the opposite, apparently. They made everything one, motionless, uncreated, and finite. They did it, and gradually they did not even allow us to investigate the non-existent. He, however, accepted the existence of innumerable elements, that is, atoms, which are in constant motion. He took their forms as infinite in number because there was no reason for them to be of this type rather than that, and because in things there is an endless becoming. Moreover, he argued that the existent is not more real than the non-existent, and that both are the cause of things that come into existence alike, because, recognizing that the substance of atoms is tight and full, he called them being, and meanwhile he called non-existence but as much as being. He thought they were moving through the void he had confirmed to be real.”
Modernist physicism “split the atom”