The fragments that remain of the moral treatises of Democritus are sufficient, perhaps, to convince us that the turn of Greek philosophy in the direction of conduct, which was actually due to Socrates, would have taken place without him, though in a less decided manner; but when we compare the Democritean ethics with the post-Socratic system to which it has most affinity, Epicureanism, we find that it exhibits a very rudimentary apprehension of the formal conditions which moral teaching must fulfil before it can lay claim to be treated as scientific.
For the Love and Hate of Empedocles and the Nous (Intelligence) of Anaxagoras, Democritus substituted fixed and necessary laws (not chance; that is a misrepresentation due chiefly to Cicero).
At the same time Democritus distinguished between obscure (UKOTG1j) cognition, resting on sensation alone, and genuine (yvrjoL), which is the result of inquiry by reason, and is concerned with atoms and void, the only real existences.
Between Leucippus and Democritus there is an interval of at least forty years; accordingly, while the beginnings of Atomism are closely connected with the doctrines of the Eleatics, the system as developed by Democritus is conditioned by the sophistical views of his time, especially those of Protagoras.
While agreeing with the Eleatics as to the eternal sameness of Being (nothing can arise out of nothing; nothing can be reduced to nothing), Democritus followed the physicists in denying its oneness and immobility.
In the theory of Atomism taught by Leucippus and Democritus we have the basis of the modern mechanical conceptions of cosmic evolution.
It appears to be traceable in its Greek dress in writings of the philosopher Democritus and the dramatist Menander; it was certainly known to the author of Tobit and perhaps to the author of Daniel; some would trace its influence in the New Testament, in the parable of the wicked servant and elsewhere; it was known to Mahomet and is referred to in the Koran; it has been included among the tales in the Arabian Nights; and it survives in a good many versions ancient and modern.
Thus, because Democritus announced that the Milky Way is composed of vast multitudes of stars, it has been maintained that he could only have been led to.
It will be sufficient here to deal with Anaxagoras, Diogenes of Apollonia, Archelaus and Hippo, leaving Empedocles, Leucippus and Democritus to special articles (q.v.).
The tract is unusually interesting, for in it he discusses at some length the limits of science, the origin of things and the nature of primitive matter, giving at the same time full notices of Democritus among the ancient philosophers and of Telesio among the modern.