Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
181. The Earth and the Heavenly Bodies 183. Importance of Leucippus

From Chapter IX., Leukippos of Miletos

182. Perception
Aetios expressly attributes to Leukippos the doctrine that the objects of sense-perception exist "by law" and not by nature.58 This must come from Theophrastos; for, as we have seen, all later writers quote Demokritos only. A further proof of the correctness of the statement is that we also find it attributed to Diogenes of Apollonia, who, as Theophrastos tells us, derived some of his views from Leukippos. There is nothing surprising in this. Parmenides had already declared the senses to be deceitful, and said that colour and the like were only "names,"59 and Empedokles had also spoken of coming into being and passing away as only a name.60 It is not likely that Leukippos went much further than this. It would probably be wrong to credit him with Demokritos's clear distinction between "true-born" and "bastard" knowledge, or that between the primary and secondary qualities of matter.61 These distinctions imply a definite theory of knowledge, and all we are entitled to say is that the germs of it were already to be found in the writings of Leukippos and his predecessors. Of course, these do not make Leukippos a sceptic any more than Empedokles or Anaxagoras, whose remark on this subject (fr. 21a) Demokritos is said to have quoted with approval.62

There appear to be sufficient grounds for ascribing the theory of perception by means of simulacra or εἴδωλα which played such a part in the systems of Demokritos and Epicurus, to Leukippos.63 It is a natural development of the Empedoklean theory of "effluences" (§ 118). It hardly seems likely, however, that he went into detail on the subject, and it is safer to credit Demokritos with the elaboration of the theory.

Burnet's Notes


58. Aet. iv. 9, 8, οἱ μὲν ἄλλοι φύσει τὰ αἰσθητά, Λεύκιππος δὲ Δημόκριτος καὶ Διογένης νόμῳ. See Zeller, Arch. v. p. 444

59. Chap. IV. p. 176. The remarkable parallel quoted by Gomperz (p. 321) from Galileo, to the effect that tastes, smells, and colours non sieno altro che puri nomi should, therefore, have been cited to illustrate Parmenides rather than Demokritos.

60. See p. 206, fr. 9.

61. For these see Sext. Math. vii. 135 (R. P. 204).

62. Sext. vii. 140, " "ὄψις γὰρ ἀδήλων τὰ φαινόμενα" ὥς φησιν Ἀναξαγόρας, ὃν ἐπὶ τούτῳ Δημόκριτος ἐπαινεῖ.

63. See Zeller, "Zu Leukippos" (Arch. xv. p. 138). The doctrine is attributed to him in Aet. iv. 13, 1 (Dox. p. 403); and Alexander, De sensu, pp. 24, 14 and 56, 10, also mentions his name in connexion with it. This must come from Theophrastos.

Created for Peithô's Web from Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, 3rd edition (1920). London: A & C Black Ltd. Burnet's footnotes have been converted to chapter endnotes. Greek unicode text entered with Peithô's Younicoder.
Web design by Larry Clark and RSBoyes (Agathon). Peithô's Web gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Anthony Beavers in the creation of this web edition of Burnet. Please send comments to:
agathon at classicpersuasion