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Grand Theories and Everyday BeliefsScience, Philosophy, and their Histories$
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Wallace Matson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199812691

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812691.001.0001

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(p.99) Chapter 12 Atomism
Grand Theories and Everyday Beliefs

Wallace Matson

Oxford University Press

Atomism was worked out less than two hundred years after the beginning of science. It was not a lucky guess but a consequence of previous investigations. Democritus realized that the basic stuff need not-indeed, could not–have objectively color, heat, cold, wetness, dryness, taste, and smell, for these are not properties but events that happen when an object and a perceiver interact. The atoms have only the properties conserved through change: shape, size, and weight; and they are in motion from eternity. They can join to make large, visible objects. Their motions are the determinate consequences of the collisions that they have undergone. Epicurus adopted atomism to justify rejection of superstition, modifying the Democritean principles to allow for a “swerve” of atoms, which transformed the science into one which (so he wrongly thought) by allowing some wiggle room for atoms made possible Free Will–a major philosophical problem that here became explicit.

Keywords:   Democritus, Epicurus, swerve, atom, free will, Lucretius, determinism, event

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