Biography of Democritus

Democritus was born in Abdera around 460 B.C., and died in 370 B.C., he was a philosopher of the pre-Socratic period.

He made many journeys, visiting Egypt, India, Ethiopia, Athens, and Babylon, where he was taught by wise men, priests, and magicians.

Democritus was a disciple of Leucippus of Abdera, and with his master, developed the atomistic theory.

Several works are attributed to him, but it is not known if all of them were really his. He wrote on several topics: ethics, politics, education, problems related to human knowledge, etc.


According to Democritus of Abdera, all reality is made up of atoms and of emptiness. All phenomena are formed by the combination and separation of these infinite and imperceptible atoms.

Democritus agreed with Parmenides that being should be fully one, unchanging and indivisible, but he did not accept Parmenides’ thesis that denied motion and change. Change and motion were not illusory realities of meaning, they were facts. Motion proved the existence of non-being, that is, of emptiness.

Democritus held that all things were made up of invisible particles, totally imperceptible to the senses; only the “eye of intellect” could see them.

To these particles he gave the name atom, which in Greek means “non-divisible. Parmenides defended the absolute unity of being, and Democritus, in a similar way, defended that the atom was totally one, indivisible and eternal.

Atoms have no intrinsic qualities (taste, smell, cold, hot); they differ only in quantity. The qualities are generated when the atoms strike the sense organs; the way they strike will determine the quality. This doctrine became known as philosophical mechanism, because it explains all things by referring to the nature of atoms (matter) and their movements.

Atoms are homogeneous, having the same nature, form and being. But they are infinite in quantity by their configuration and figure.

Atoms are in continuous motion, bumping into each other casually. In the process, they either clump together or separate. Once united, the atoms give rise to bodies, with a determined quality and nature.

The Emptiness

Another important concept in Democritus’ atomistic philosophy is the concept of emptiness. The concepts of atom and void form the basic structure of atomistic dualism.

For him, all reality is composed of emptiness. Emptiness is the absence of being, that is, non-being, which Parmenides denied. Emptiness is like an infinite space that makes the movement of atoms possible, and without it, atoms could not move.


Democritus interpreted the existence of the soul according to his atomistic doctrine.

For him, the soul is a being composed of atoms, and its atoms are like fire.

The soul is generated by the union of subtle and light atoms.

Birth and death, in fact, do not exist. Everything is but the union or dissociation of atoms. At death, nothing goes to nothing. That is why he stated: “nothing is born from nothing, nothing returns to nothing.

Sensation and perception

Like Leucippus, Democritus believes that sensations are generated by the changes undergone by the soul when it is struck by external atoms.

Sweetness and bitterness, for example, are not in the atoms. They are the result of the different shapes and sizes of the atoms. The “sweet” quality, for example, would be caused by round and not so small atoms. The color white would be caused by flat, smooth atoms, and the color black would be caused by irregular atoms.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, December 04). Democritus. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from

Vieira, Sadoque. “Democritus.” Filosofia do Início, December 4, 2021.

Vieira, Sadoque. “Democritus.” Filosofia do Início, 4 Dec. 2021,


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