Atomism is the final development of a school of thought called pluralism, which is an attempt to explain a very fundamental question, “What is the nature of the universe?” Monism, the opposing view of pluralism, asserts that only one being, or type of being, exists, and that the variety in our everyday experience is caused by the different states of this single all encompassing substance. Pluralism rejects this idea, and claims that the material that makes up our universe is many in nature. However, Pluralism has some problems, and Atomism does it best to avoid the mistakes that the early Pluralist made. The culmination of all the materialist’s theories since its origins comes to fruition in Atomism. Retaining the idea of plurality of the basic elements and the doctrines of a Parmindean indestructibility (nothing is created or destroyed), Atomism claims that reality is comprised of only two things; atoms and empty space. Surprisingly, there are only 4 known Atomists that history knows of; Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius. Almost nothing is known of Leucippus, and from what is known it is impossible to distinguish his ideas from those of his predecessors. For Democritus, almost all of his work is fragmented cited from another person, though it is clear that his ideas differed from Epicurus and Lucretius. Lucretius, on the other hand, was not even a Greek, but a Roman poet who was so enthralled by the ideas of Epicurus that he wrote a poem about them, and to this day it is the most complete single work of an atomist. And even though he himself did not contribute a single original idea to the evolution of the theory, his translation of the theory into Latin was nevertheless instrumental in our comprehensive understanding of the discipline. From the time that Leucippus (middle of fifth century BC) to the times of Lucretius (first century BC) the atomist concepts with regards to their ideas on the physical world go relatively unchanged. This is not the case when looking at the atomist’ ethical doctrines however, which turn out to be their greatest obstacle they never seem to quite solve. The first pluralists used the idea of the many to account for change. But was this a plurality of mere numbers, or is there a qualitative diversity among the many? The most natural assumption is that the objects we see everyday are different looking and feel different and have different smells because there is a qualitative diversity in the variety of the world. It’s the assumption the first pluralist (Empedocles) made when he presupposed a plurality of qualitatively diverse “roots”, and is the basic idea of Anaxagoras’ “seeds”. And even though Empedocles spoke of a finite qualitative diversity and Anaxagoras of a infinite qualitative diversity, it’s the idea of Qualitative many turns out to be there biggest mistake. The many conceived by the early pluralists was a many of different “kinds.” These kinds helped Atomists make the stance that particles are qualitatively identical, and that the variety and differences we experience in nature are only differences of particle size, shape, and there relative position to one another. Atomism asserts the existence of a plurality of entities that differ only in shape and size and that are therefore qualitatively indistinguishable.
Another problem caused by the pluralist Anaxagoras, was the idea of infinite divisibility. As Parmenides had said, what is can not be destroyed, implying that an object can be cut over and over without loosing its identity and slipping into nothingness. “Cutting” reality can’t destroy it; for example, if I were to cut a sandwich over and over, my sandwich would just exist as smaller pieces of that sandwich, and eventually bite size, and eventually crumbs, but could never cease to exist or be destroyed by the mere act of a “cut.” Ironically, Parmenides also proved that reality could not be...
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