Leucippus' Atomic Theory & Model

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  • 0:00 Who Is Leucippus?
  • 0:53 Historical &…
  • 1:52 Atomism
  • 2:32 Creation of the Universe
  • 3:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erica Cummings

Erica teaches college Humanities, Literature, and Writing classes and has a Master's degree in Humanities.

Centuries before scientists confirmed that all matter is composed of atoms, the ancient Greek philosopher Leucippus hypothesized that the physical universe is composed of atom-like particles. After watching the video, try your hand at the quiz questions.

Who Is Leucippus?

The Pre-Socratic ancient Greek philosopher Leucippus is considered the originator of the theory of atomism. In philosophy, atomism refers to the theory that indivisible particles combine in different arrangements to compose everything in the physical world. As a Pre-Socratic philosopher, Leucippus was among the first thinkers to look to science and reason instead of mythology in order to explain the universe. In doing so, Leucippus developed the theory of atomism. Almost nothing is known of Leucippus's life and, in fact, some even doubt that he ever existed. However, some ancient writers, like Aristotle, affirm his existence and reveal some important features of Leucippus' theory of atomism, which we will examine in this lesson.

Historical & Philosophical Context

Leucippus likely lived in the 5th century BCE in the ancient Greek world. He was likely the teacher of Democritus, the ancient Greek philosopher who became the more famous proponent of atomism. Leucippus probably wrote a couple books, none of which have survived, including The Great World System and On Mind.

Leucippus's theory of atomism is probably best understood in contrast with another Pre-Socratic philosophy, called the Eleatic school. The Eleatic school argued that motion was impossible and that everything in existence was actually one, unified being. Leucippus is likely the student of the famous Eleatic philosopher, Zeno. However, Leucippus revolted against Zeno and the Eleatics' views. Instead, Leucippus argued that our experience suggests that motion does exist and that there are actually numerous different objects in the world.

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