Leucippus Analysis


Almost nothing is known with certainty about the life of Leucippus (lew-SIHP-uhs), who is believed to have proposed the atomic hypothesis between 440 and 430 b.c.e. He was probably born in Miletus and spent part of his life in Abdera, where he was the teacher of Democritus, who elaborated on Leucippus’s hypothesis. He also may have traveled to Elea, where he met the philosopher Zeno of Elea. The later Greek atomist Epicurus claimed that Leucippus never existed, possibly out of jealousy. Aristotle and Theophrastus both refer to him in their writings as the founder of atomism.


Leucippus’s own statement of the atomic hypothesis appeared in a work entitled The Great World System, which has not survived. He is also known to have written On the Mind, of which only a fragment remains. He is considered to be the originator of the terms and concepts of the atomic theory as expounded by Democritus. The atomic theory was incorporated by Epicurus and his disciples into the Epicurean philosophy, which saw no room for supernatural influences or an immortal soul in a world composed entirely of “atoms and the void.” Epicurean literature was suppressed by Catholic Church authorities but would reappear in the Renaissance.

Additional Resources

Bailey, Cyril. The Greek Atomists and Epicuris. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964.

McKirahan, Richard D., Jr. Philosophy Before Socrates. New York: Hackett, 1994.