start typing and results will show

or press esc

By convention there is colour, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness, but in reality there are atoms and space.

Democritus, fragment 125

Democritus was a Greek philosopher, known as the co-originator of the atomic theory, and as the ‘laughing philosopher’ for his emphasis on cheerfulness. Believed to have written on ethics, physics, mathematics, music, and more, none of Democritus’ works survive complete, so what is known about him comes from fragments (often moral maxims) and the writings of others. It seems that his ethical ideals bore much in common with those of Epicurus, including an emphasis on good cheer (euthymiē), the pursuit of pleasure but with moderation, and not allowing a fear of death to destroy the enjoyment of life.

For many humanists throughout history and today, this practical, earthly philosophy, and attempts to understand the very stuff of the universe, make Democritus a key part of the tradition of humanist thought stretching back to the ancient world. His portrayal in this 17th century painting, capturing the mirth of this ‘laughing philosopher’, reminds us of the rediscovery of ancient philosophy during the Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe, which helped to give renewed strength to a rich philosophical tradition – albeit one that was then still dangerous to align with openly. 

This painting of Democritus is by Dutch artist Hendrick ter Brugghen, and is held today in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Read more

Made by Heritage Creative