Chapter

Atomism

Wallace Matson

in Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199812691
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919420 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812691.003.0012
Atomism

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Atomism was worked out less than two hundred years after the beginning of science. It was not a lucky guess but a consequence of previous investigations. Democritus realized that the basic stuff need not-indeed, could not–have objectively color, heat, cold, wetness, dryness, taste, and smell, for these are not properties but events that happen when an object and a perceiver interact. The atoms have only the properties conserved through change: shape, size, and weight; and they are in motion from eternity. They can join to make large, visible objects. Their motions are the determinate consequences of the collisions that they have undergone. Epicurus adopted atomism to justify rejection of superstition, modifying the Democritean principles to allow for a “swerve” of atoms, which transformed the science into one which (so he wrongly thought) by allowing some wiggle room for atoms made possible Free Will–a major philosophical problem that here became explicit.

Keywords: Democritus; Epicurus; swerve; atom; free will; Lucretius; determinism; event

Chapter.  2355 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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