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Published: Kem. Ind. 66 (5-6) (2017) 287–290
Paper reference number: KUI-42/2015
Paper type: Professional paper / Chemistry in Teaching
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Democritus in the Teaching of Chemistry

N. Raos


The Greek philosopher Democritus is well known as the founder of the first atomistic theory, but his philosophy has not always been interpreted correctly in chemistry textbooks; it is taken for granted, without historic argument, that his atomism stems from the thesis of the impossibility to divide matter ad infinitum. The truth is, however, that he invented atoms as an answer to the problem of paradoxical Eleatic being. The utmost value of Democritus’s philosophy for chemistry is in his teaching of primary and secondary qualities, the former belongs to atoms, the latter to things. That teaching provides a metaphysical basis for chemistry, the neglectance of which could lead to the misunderstanding of chemical processes. Therefore, the teacher needs to establish a strong relation between primary and secondary qualities, i.e. the properties of atoms/molecules, and the properties of substances.

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chemistry education, Greek philosophy, atomism, atomic orbitals