Democritus (c. 460 – 370 BC) was from Thrace in Northern Greece and he created the term Atom.

Building upon the both belief that nature formed from the Four Basic Elements and the work of Anaxagoras, Democritus divided the elements into what he called atoms.

Reportedly from a wealthy family he is said to have travelled to Persia, Babylon (modern-day Iraq), Asia, Ethopia, and Egypt.

On returning to Greece with a wealth of knowledge from his travels, Democritus began his own studies into the Problem of Change and along with another philosopher, Leucippus, he founded the School of Atomism.


According to Atomism all of nature is a combination of blocks all of which eternal and immutable. The word Atom comes from the Greek ‘atomos’, meaning ‘uncuttable’. Atoms were the smallest building blocks in nature and could be not divided any further.

Of course modern day science has split the atom into elemental particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. These again may be divided further sometime in the future, but present-day science agrees there has to be a point where the smallest element can’t be broken down any further.

Therefore, Democritus agreed with Parmenides and the Eleatics that the elements of nature were eternal and nothing can come from nothing.

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”


Atoms also had to be different, like the Four Natural Elements, otherwise there would be no variety in nature. Democritus believed that nature consisted of an unlimited number and variety of atoms. Some were round and smooth, others were irregular and jagged.

According to Democritus precisely because they were so different they could join together into all kinds of different bodies. But however infinite they might be in number and shape, they were all eternal, immutable, and indivisible.

Democritus did not believe in any ‘force’ or ‘soul’ that could intervene in natural processes. The only things that existed, he believed, were atoms and the infinite way they could be arranged, which he called the Void.


Since Democritus believed in nothing but material things, he can be called a Materialist. According to Democritus, there is no conscious ‘design’ in the movement of atoms. In nature, everything happens quite mechanically according to the laws of nature.

Interestingly, Democritus believed that the soul was made up of special round, smooth ‘soul atoms.’ When a human being died, the soul atoms flew in all directions, and could then become part of a new soul formation in another living being or creature.

This means, according to Democritus that human beings had no immortal soul.

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