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Who said: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, ... finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell ... whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Democritus of Abdera Quotes

Democritus of Abdera
(c. 470 B.C. - c. 380 B.C.)

Greek philosopher.

Science Quotes by Democritus of Abdera (8 quotes)

All things happen by virtue of necessity.
— Democritus of Abdera
Diogenes Laertius IX, 45. Trans. R. D. Hicks (1925), Vol. 2, 455.
Science quotes on:  |  Necessity (112)

By convention sweet is sweet, by convention bitter is bitter, by convention hot is hot, by convention cold is cold, by convention colour is colour. But in reality there are atoms and the void. That is, the objects of sense are supposed to be real and it is customary to regard them as such, but in truth they are not. Only the atoms and the void are real.
— Democritus of Abdera
Cited as from Sext. Emp. Math. VII. 135, in Charles Montague Bakewell, Source Book in Ancient Philosophy (1907), 60.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)  |  Bitter (8)  |  Cold (30)  |  Color (67)  |  Convention (9)  |  Hot (11)  |  Real (62)  |  Reality (98)  |  Sense (160)  |  Sweet (4)  |  Truth (645)  |  Void (14)

Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.
— Democritus of Abdera
Diogenes Laertius IX. This was taken by Jacques Monod as the title of his book. As given by Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1992, 1994), 71.
Science quotes on:  |  Chance (106)  |  Everything (64)  |  Existence (207)  |  Fruit (57)  |  Necessity (112)  |  Universe (433)

I am the most travelled of all my contemporaries; I have extended my field of enquiry wider than anybody else, I have seen more countries and climes, and have heard more speeches of learned men. No one has surpassed me in the composition of lines, according to demonstration, not even the Egyptian knotters of ropes, or geometers.
— Democritus of Abdera
In Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1992, 1994), 71.
Science quotes on:  |  Contemporary (13)  |  Country (85)  |  Demonstration (48)  |  Egypt (17)  |  Enquiry (74)  |  Extension (18)  |  Field (102)  |  Geometer (5)  |  Hearing (27)  |  Knot (3)  |  Learning (173)  |  Line (28)  |  Rope (2)  |  Seeing (48)  |  Speech (36)  |  Surpassing (7)  |  Traveler (13)

I would rather discover one scientific fact than become King of Persia.
— Democritus of Abdera
Dionysius cited by Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 14.27-4. Democritus fr 118. Diels--Kranz.
Science quotes on:  |  Fact (507)

In reality, nothing but atoms and the void.
— Democritus of Abdera
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)  |  Reality (98)  |  Void (14)

The first principles of the universe are atoms and empty space. Everything else is merely thought to exist. The worlds are unlimited. They come into being and perish. Nothing can come into being from that which is not nor pass away into that which is not. Further, the atoms are unlimited in size and number, and they are borne along in the whole universe in a vortex, and thereby generate all composite things—-fire, water, air, earth. For even these are conglomerations of given atoms. And it is because of their solidarity that these atoms are impassive and unalterable. The sun and the moon have been composed of such smooth and spherical masses [i.e. atoms], and so also the soul, which is identical with reason.
— Democritus of Abdera
Diogenes Laertius IX, 44. Trans. R. D. Hicks (1925), Vol. 2, 453-5. An alternate translation of the opening is "Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion."
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)  |  Fire (99)  |  Matter (221)  |  Moon (116)  |  Sun (173)  |  Universe (433)  |  Water (210)

These differences, they say, are three: shape, arrangement, and position; because they hold that what is differs only in contour, inter-contact, inclination.
— Democritus of Abdera
Quoted in Aristotle, Metaphysics A 4 985b 13-16. Trans. Hugh Tredennick (1933), Vol. 1, 31.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)

Quotes by others about Democritus of Abdera (7)

Anaximenes and Anaxagoras and Democritus say that its [the earth’s] flatness is responsible for it staying still: for it does not cut the air beneath but covers it like a lid, which flat bodies evidently do: for they are hard to move even for the winds, on account of their resistance.
Aristotle, On the Heavens, 294b, 13. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M.Schofield (eds), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), p. 153.
Science quotes on:  |  Anaxagoras (10)  |  Anaximenes (5)  |  Earth (395)

At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that everything can be subdivided into smaller parts. Nevertheless, for entirely speculative reasons the philosophers of Antiquity, especially the Stoics, concluded this concept to be quite unnecessary. The prodigious development of physics has now reached the same conclusion as those philosophers, Empedocles and Democritus in particular, who lived around 500 B.C. and for whom even ancient man had a lively admiration.
'Development of the Theory of Electrolytic Dissociation', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 45.
Science quotes on:  |  Empedocles (10)  |  Philosopher (110)  |  Physics (242)

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau!
Mock on, mock on: 'Tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.
The atoms of Democritus
And Newton's particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.
Notebook Drafts (c. 1804). In W. H. Stevenson (ed.), The Poems of William Blake (1971), 481.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)  |  Light (203)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (235)  |  Poetry (87)  |  Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire (18)

Democritus sometimes does away with what appears to the senses, and says that none of these appears according to truth but only according to opinion: the truth in real things is that there are atoms and void. 'By convention sweet', he says, 'by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention colour: but in reality atoms and void.'
Against the Professors, 7, 135. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), 410.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)

“By convention there is color, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness, but in reality there are atoms and the void,” announced Democritus. The universe consists only of atoms and the void; all else is opinion and illusion. If the soul exists, it also consists of atoms.
In Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos (1985), 55.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (220)  |  Universe (433)

Democritus said; “That truth did lie in profound pits, and when it was got it need much refining.”
In 'A Collection of Apophthegms, New and Old' (1625). As given in Essays, Moral, Economical, and Political: A New Edition, With the Latin Quotations Translated (1813), 'Contained in the original edition in octavo but omitted in later copies', No. 263, 353.
Science quotes on:  |  Pit (6)  |  Profound (36)  |  Refining (3)  |  Truth (645)

Thales thought that water was the primordial substance of all things. Heraclitus of Ephesus… thought that it was fire. Democritus and his follower Epicurus thought that it was the atoms, termed by our writers “bodies that cannot be cut up” or, by some “indivisibles.” The school of the Pythagoreans added air and the earthy to the water and fire. Hence, although Democritus did not in a strict sense name them, but spoke only of indivisible bodies, yet he seems to have meant these same elements, because when taken by themselves they cannot be harmed, nor are they susceptible of dissolution, nor can they be cut up into parts, but throughout time eternal they forever retain an infinite solidity.
In De Architectura, Book 2, Chap 2, Sec. 1. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 42.
Science quotes on:  |  Air (129)  |  Atom (220)  |  Cut (29)  |  Earth (395)  |  Element (108)  |  Epicurus (6)  |  Eternal (28)  |  Fire (99)  |  Heraclitus (13)  |  Indivisible (6)  |  Primordial (6)  |  Pythagoras (25)  |  Solid (30)  |  Substance (67)  |  Thales (5)  |  Water (210)

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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