Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
182. Perception 184. The "Bankruptcy of Science"

From Chapter IX., Leukippos of Miletos

183. Importance of Leucippus
We have seen incidentally that there is a wide divergence of opinion among recent writers as to the place of Atomism in Greek thought. The question at issue is really whether Leukippos reached his theory on what are called "metaphysical grounds," that is, from a consideration of the Eleatic theory of reality, or whether, on the contrary, it was a pure development of Ionian science. The foregoing exposition will suggest the true answer. So far as his general theory of the physical constitution of the world is concerned, it has been shown, I think, that it was derived entirely from Eleatic and Pythagorean sources, while the detailed cosmology was in the main a more or less successful attempt to make the older Ionian beliefs fit into this new physical theory. In any case, his greatness consisted in his having been the first to see how body must be regarded if we take it to be ultimate reality. The old Milesian theory had found its most adequate expression in the system of Anaximenes (§ 31), but of course rarefaction and condensation cannot be clearly represented except on the hypothesis of molecules or atoms coming closer together or going farther apart in space. Parmenides had seen that very clearly (fr. 2), and it was the Eleatic criticism which forced Leukippos to formulate his system as he did. Even Anaxagoras took account of Zeno's arguments about divisibility (§ 128), but his system of qualitatively different "seeds," though in some respects it goes deeper, lacks that simplicity which had always been the chief attraction of atomism.

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