Democritus (460-360 B.C.) Around 440 BC, Leucippus of Miletus originated the atom concept. He and his pupil, Democritus of Abdera, refined the concept. Almost all of the original writings of Leucippus and Democritus are lost. The only sources we have for their atomistic ideas are found in quotations of other writers. Democritus’ view was that everything, including thinking itself, was made of atoms and their motions.
Democritus is known as the “Laughing Philosopher” because of his joyous spirit. He was a big man (relatively speaking) and enjoyed life tremendously. He also was very widely traveled.
Democritus lived to be 100 years old and overlapped with the young Plato, the latter makes no mention of him in any of his work. Not only does Democritus’ name not appear anywhere, Plato makes no mention of the atomic theory. This is especially odd since Plato’s star pupil and philosophical successor, Aristotle, wrote knowingly about him. One possible clue comes from the ancient biographer Diogenes Laertius, who claimed that Plato so despised Democritus that he would have liked to see all his books burned.
What is known with some confidence is that Democritus was as prolific a writer as Plato. He had over fifty books to his credit, all of which were destroyed between the third and fifth centuries A.D.
“Good means not merely not to do wrong, but rather not to desire to do wrong.”
“Everywhere man blames nature and fate, yet his fate is mostly but the echo of his character and passions, his mistakes and weaknesses.”
“Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, the felling of happiness dwells in the soul.”
“Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.”
“Our sins are more easily remembered than our good deeds.”
“The pride of youth is in strength and beauty, the pride of old age is in discretion.”
“Tis hard to fight with anger, but the prudent man keeps it under control.”
“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.”
“One great difference between a wise man and a fool is, the former only wishes for what he may possibly obtain; the latter desires impossibilities.”
“Hope of ill gain is the beginning of loss.”
“If thou suffer injustice, console thyself; the true unhappiness is in doing it.”