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Aristotle supported some of the ideas of the atomists, but considered that they are not completely true, favoring his theory of the four elements for the material world.

Plato was more against the atomists. Democritus is a “materialist”, only nothing “ouden” and something “den” exists in the form of atoms. Small objects in different forms and sizes that collide (apopallesthai) and touch (apispasis) together forming all possible forms and objects.
Why was this idea not developed further? It seems that one reason is that the answers of Democritus seems not complete and satisfactory enough. The question is who created these atoms? For Democritus the answer could not be God as everything was material the immediate question would be: and who created God? Democritus, Leucippus and Epicurus opinion was that there are infinite atoms in a infinite Universe. Aristotle found that an infinite Universe is logical not possible. Atoms were supposed to be of different shape and size for each element that contradicted Aristotle's opinion that a transformation between his four elements is possible.

Aristotle considers further paradoxes inherent in atomic theory like why there are only small atoms and movement. Another considered another Paradox in Metaphysics that is produced by the atomic theory is in the belief of both what is, atoms, and what is not, void. That which is or is not must have come from the other and must therefore at the same time be two contraries.

Democritus assumes different shapes for atoms, a hooked shape for an object with a bitter taste, or round shape and small size for atoms of fire. Aristotle says that this is in contradiction to the claim that atoms are not divisible units:

[Leucippus and Democritus] claim that since the bodies differ by shapes, and the shapes are unlimited, the simple bodies are also unlimited. But of what kind of shapes they are and what the shapes of each of the elements are, they have not explained anything further about, except that they assigned the sphere to fire... Further, not even on their own assumption the elements would seem to become unlimited, if indeed the bodies differ by shapes, and the shapes are all composed from pyramids, the rectilinear shapes from rectilinear pyramids and the sphere from eight parts. For there must be some principles of the shapes, so that, whether there is one principle, two, or more, the simple bodies too will be as many in number.

According to Aristoxenus Plato wanted to burn all the books of Democritus, but could not do so because the books were already in wide circulation. In "The Laws" Plato says that in the Ideal State all books should be destroyed that deny the traditional religion. Are the stories true that fanatic Christians destroyed many copies of Democritus books?

See also

Democritus discovery of atoms, Epicurus and Aristotle's questions if time and space are “continuous”

The Many Worlds and existence of extraterrestrial life theory of Democritus, Epicurus and others


Alejandro Rivero, Democritus as Taoist, arXiv:physics/0309104 v1 25 Sep 2003




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