Person: Leucippus Of Miletus
Leucippus was a Greek philosopher who originated the atomic theory of indivisibles developed later by Democritus.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The philosopher Protagoras was born in Abdera and he was a contemporary of Leucippus but Protagoras, the first of the Sophists, spent most of his life in Athens and may have left Abdera before Leucippus arrived there.
- Although now there seems little doubt that Leucippus existed, it is worth remarking that Epicurus, at the end of the fourth century BC, actually believed that Leucippus had never existed since so little was known of him.
- However we now know enough in the way of independent evidence to be sure that Leucippus did exist.
- Aristotle refers to Leucippus as a philosopher with rather different views to those of Parmenides.
- Unfortunately Aristotle is not entirely consistent in his references to Leucippus.
- Some quotes suggest that atomism began with Leucippus, other quotes such as the one above bracket Leucippus and Democritus, while in a few places Aristotle seems to imply that Democritus alone invented atomism.
- Certainly it seems that Leucippus was much influenced in his thinking by Zeno of Elea and by Parmenides, but it seems relatively unlikely that there is any truth in the later claim that he was a pupil of Zeno of Elea.
- More likely here is that later writers realised that Leucippus followed Zeno's ideas and 'pupil' was intended in this sense.
- It is thought that Democritus was a pupil of Leucippus, where this time 'pupil' really does have its standard meaning.
- The reason that some early writers did not believe in the existence of Leucippus seems to be because his views and those of Democritus became completely entwined.
- It seems likely that Democritus as a pupil of Leucippus, developed the ideas of his teacher but it is quite beyond us to disentangle the contributions of each to this important doctrine.
- Two works, almost certainly written by Leucippus, are The Great World System and On the Mind.
- The first of these is attributed to Leucippus by Theophrastus.
- He was in a position to be able to distinguish the works of Leucippus from those of Democritus and we shall describe his views on this matter.
- According to Diogenes Laertius, the cosmology put forward by Leucippus in The Great World System is a creation of worlds by agglomerations of atoms by chance collisions.
- From the treatise On the Mind we have the only quotation of the words of Leucippus which have survived.
- Leucippus also contributed to the method of exhaustion.
Born about 480 BC, (possibly) Miletus, Asia Minor. Died about 420 BC.
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Tags relevant for this person:
Analysis, Ancient Greek, Origin Turkey
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive