A philosophical doctrine at least as old as Democritus, and plausibly viewed as an attempt to combine an a priori conviction of the unchangeable and immutable nature of the world with the variety and change of things as we know them. This is the conviction that to understand complexity and change at one level it is necessary to find underlying unity at another level. In early Greek atomism quantitative change arises from the shifting configurations and quantities of atoms, which are themselves eternal, impenetrable, identical in nature, and unchanging. After Aristotle, atoms were allowed to be subject to change: what is unchanging was not necessarily corpuscular in nature.
The revival of atomism in the 17th century owed more to the rise of empirical science. Descartes produced the first serious departure from Democritus and Aristotle, identifying matter and extension, but differentiating corpuscles only in terms subject to mechanical and mathematical treatment (velocity, mass). Leibniz was the most persistent critic of 17th-century atomism. Atoms offend against the principle of sufficient reason, for there could be no reason why a particular atom occupies a particular position rather than any other. But on more physical grounds Leibniz held that they involve discontinuities in nature (density changes discontinuously at their boundaries); that their own cohesion would require a perpetual miracle; and that no theory of their inelastic collisions is tenable. His arguments were revived and turned into a positive field theory by Boscovich in the following century. Leibniz also held that whatever had extension was divisible, so that true atoms, the indivisible foundation stones, become quasi-mental things, with some of the qualities of the soul.
Further developments of atomism were hindered by the absence of a chemistry that could deliver a workable criterion of the difference between elements and compounds, and this was first delivered by the chemists Lavoisier (1743–94) and Dalton (1766–1844). The complexity of atoms in the chemical sense is now attested by the proliferation of sub-atomic particles. What remains of philosophical and methodological interest is the extent to which each level of complexity is to be understood by postulating some identical and unchanging constituents at a lower level, as Democritus originally supposed.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

Игры ⚽ Нужна курсовая?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Atomism — (from ancient Greek atomos, meaning uncuttable ) is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that the natural world consists of two fundamental parts: indivisible atoms and empty void. According to …   Wikipedia

  • Atomism — • The system of those who hold that all bodies are composed of minute, indivisible particles of matter called atoms Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Atomism     Atomism      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • ATOMISM — ATOMISM, theory that physical bodies consist ultimately of minute, irreducible, and homogeneous particles called atoms (Greek atomos/atomon = indivisible). In medieval Arabic and Hebrew works atomism derives from Greek (Democritus, Epicurus) and… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • atomism — ATOMÍSM s.n. 1. Concepţie materialist mecanicistă care considera că materia este formată din atomi indivizibili. 2. Teoria ştiinţifică modernă a structurii şi proprietăţilor atomilor. 3. Cercetare ştiinţifică sau concepţie care reduce un ansamblu …   Dicționar Român

  • Atomism — At om*ism, n. [Cf. F. atomisme.] The doctrine of atoms. See {Atomic philosophy}, under {Atomic}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • atomism — [at′əm iz΄əm] n. [ ATOM + ISM] Philos. a theory that the universe is made up of tiny, simple, indivisible particles that cannot be destroyed atomist n., adj …   English World dictionary

  • atomism — atomist, n. atomistic, atomistical, adj. atomistically, adv. /at euh miz euhm/, n. 1. Also called atomic theory. Philos. the theory that minute, discrete, finite, and indivisible elements are the ultimate constituents of all matter. 2. Psychol. a …   Universalium

  • Atomism — the theory that all the objects in the universe are composed of very small, indestructible elements. (This is the case for the Western [i.e., Greek] theories of atomism. Buddhists also have well developed theories of atomism, and which involve… …   Mini philosophy glossary

  • atomism — A philosophical position which views the world as composed of discrete atomistic elements, and reduces knowledge to observation of the smallest indivisible elements, such as human beings but not social structures and social institutions. In… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • atomism —   n. theory of atoms.    ♦ atomize, v.t. reduce to atoms or a fine spray; treat as individual units rather than as a whole.    ♦ atomizer, n. pump like instrument producing fine spray.    ♦ atomistic, a. of atoms or atomism; divided into units …   Dictionary of difficult words

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”