Democritus and the Causal Theory of Knowledge
Keywords: perception, effluence, qualities, effect
According to several epistemologists, the history of epistemology begins with Parmenides’s differentiation between the way of seeming and the way of truth, and with Zeno’s arguments in favour of Parmenides. However, one of the historically oldest and ideologically most basic approaches to the explanation of knowledge is the causal-mechanistic theory, the roots of which can be found in Democritus.
Democritus believed that knowledge could be explained by the effect of objects on our receptors (67 A 1). With some exceptions (touch), they do not affect us directly (they do not enter us alone). Instead, he assumed that they affect us via tiny material particles (effluences, images) which he assumed are released from the surfaces of things and enter our receptors. All perceivable proper ← 27 | 28 → ties of things are products of detaching (the “outflow” of images from perceived objects) and an affiliation of atoms – their connection with the atoms of receptors (68 A 49). The essence of the perceived phenomenon is not inherent to the thing or the receptor, but it is somewhere between them – in the nature of presenting the effluences of things (68 A 135). The structure of effluences – images – is materially (atomically) and formally dependent on the shape and surface of objects.
Democritus was a realist. He assumed that our perception (ἡ αἰσθήσις) is the cause of the effect of things, however, he also realised that what we perceive is not the thing itself but just...
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