The Renaissance’s ‘Laughing Philosopher’; our own age’s ‘Prophet of Quark’: throughout the modern philosophical tradition, Democritus has been a man little known beyond his labels.
Yet if the image of the cheerful ironist understates his true seriousness, that of father of modern nuclear physics – though by no means entirely unfounded – loses sign of the man in the hyperbole. Flattering as it is, it fails to do justice either to the full range of Democritus’ interests or to the astonishing originality of his ideas.
For Democritus’ remarkable investigations took him far beyond the realms of physics and chemistry to explore the science of existence as a whole. Perception, selfhood and society; ethic, politics and the law: as Paul Cartledge’s enthralling introduction makes clear, Democritus has much to teach us, in all these fields and more.