Karl Marx
Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail

Chapter Four


Since in the atom matter, as pure relationship to itself, is exempted from all relativity and changeability, it follows immediately that time has to be excluded from the concept of the atom, the world of essence. For matter is eternal and independent only insofar as in it abstraction is made of the time moment. On this Democritus and Epicurus agree. But they differ in regard to the manner in which time, removed from the world of atoms, is now determined, whither it is transferred.

For Democritus time has neither significance nor necessity for the system. He explains time in order to negate it [aufzuheben]. It is determined as eternal, in order that — as Aristotle(1) and Simplicius(2) state — the emergence and passing away, hence the temporal, is removed from the atoms. Time itself offers proof that not everything need have an origin, a moment of beginning.

There is something more profound to be recognised in this notion. The imagining intellect that does not grasp the independence of substance inquires into its becoming in time. It fails to grasp that by making substance temporal it also makes time substantial and thus negates its concept, because time made absolute is no longer temporal.

But this solution is unsatisfactory from another point of view. Time excluded from the world of essence is transferred into the self-consciousness of the philosophising subject but does not make any contact with the world itself.

Quite otherwise with Epicurus. Time, excluded from the world of essence, becomes for him the absolute form of appearance. That is to say, time is determined as accidens of the accidens. The accidens is the change of substance in general. The accidens of the accidens is the change as reflecting in itself, the change as change. This pure form of the world of appearance is time.(3)

Composition is the merely passive form of concrete nature, time its active form. If I consider composition in terms of its being, then the atom exists beyond it, in the void, in the imagination. If I consider the atom in terms of its concept, then composition either does not exist at all or exists only in the subjective imagination. For composition is a relationship in which the atoms, independent, self-enclosed, as it were uninterested in one another, have likewise no relationship to one another. Time, in contrast, the change of the finite to the extent that change is posited as change, is just as much the real form which separates appearance from essence, and posits it as appearance, while leading it back into essence. Composition expresses merely the materiality of the atoms as well as of nature emerging from them. Time, in contrast, is in the world of appearance what the concept of the atom is in the world of essence, namely, the abstraction, destruction and reduction of all determined being into being-for-itself.

The following consequences can be drawn from these observations. First, Epicurus makes the contradiction between matter and form the characteristic of the nature of appearance, which thus becomes the counter-image of the nature of essence, the atom. This is done by time being opposed to space, the active form of appearance to the passive form. Second, Epicurus was the first to grasp appearance as appearance, that is, as alienation of the essence, activating itself in its reality as such an alienation. On the other hand, for Democritus, who considers composition as the only form of the nature of appearance, appearance does not by itself show that it is appearance, something different from essence. Thus when appearance is considered in terms of its existence, essence becomes totally blended [konfundiert] with it; when considered in terms of its concept, essence is totally separated from existence, so that it descends to the level of subjective semblance. The composition behaves indifferently and materially towards its essential foundations. Time, on the other hand, is the fire of essence, eternally consuming appearance, and stamping it with dependence and non-essence. Finally, since according to Epicurus time is change as change, the reflection of appearance in itself, the nature of appearance is justly posited as objective, sensation is justly made the real criterion of concrete nature, although the atom, its foundation, is only perceived through reason.

Indeed, time being the abstract form of sensation, according to the atomism of Epicurean consciousness the necessity arises for it to be fixed as a nature having a separate existence within nature. The changeability of the sensuous world, its change as change, this reflection of appearance in itself which constitutes the concept of time, has its separate existence in conscious sensuousness. Human sensuousness is therefore embodied time, the existing reflection of the sensuous world in itself.

Just as this follows immediately from the definition of the concept of time in Epicurus, so it can also be quite definitely demonstrated in detail. In the letter from Epicurus to Herodotus (4) time is so defined that it emerges when the accidentals of bodies, perceived by the senses, are thought of as accidentals. Sensuous perception reflected in itself is thus here the source of time and time itself. Hence time cannot be defined by analogy nor can anything else be said about it, but it is necessary to keep firmly to the Enargie itself; for sensuous perception reflected in itself is time itself, and there is no going beyond it.

On the other hand, in Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus and Stobaeus, (5) the accidens of the accidens, change reflected in itself, is defined as time. The reflection of the accidentals in sensuous perception and their reflection in themselves are hence posited as one and the same.

Because of this interconnection between time and sensuousness, the eidola [images], equally found in Democritus, also acquire a more consistent status.

The eidola are the forms of natural bodies which, as surfaces, as it were detach themselves like skins and transfer these bodies into appearance. (6) These forms of the things stream constantly forth from them and penetrate into the senses and in precisely this-way allow the objects to appear. Thus in hearing nature hears itself, in smelling it smells itself, in seeing it sees itself. (7) Human sensuousness is therefore the medium in which natural processes are reflected as in a focus and ignited into the light of appearance.

In Democritus this is an inconsistency, since appearance is only subjective; in Epicurus it is a necessary consequence, since sensuousness is the reflection of the world of appearance in itself, its embodied time.

Finally, the interconnection between sensuousness and time is revealed in such a way that the temporal character of things and their appearance to the senses are posited as intrinsically One. For it is precisely because bodies appear to the senses that they pass away. (8) Indeed, the eidola, by constantly separating themselves from the bodies and flowing into the senses, by having their sensuous existence outside themselves as another nature, by not returning into themselves, that is, out of the diremption, dissolve and pass away.

Therefore: just as the atom is nothing hut the natural form of abstract, individual self-consciousness, so sensuous nature is only the objectified, empirical, individual self-consciousness, and this is the sensuous. Hence the senses are the only criteria in concrete nature, just as abstract reason is the only criterion in the world of the atoms.


Part II: Chapter 5 The Meteors


(1) Aristotle, Physics, VIII, 1 [25l, 15-17]. ...in fact, it is just this that enables Democritus to show that all things cannot have had a becoming; for time, he says, is uncreated.

(2) Simplicius, 1.c., p. 426. Democritus was so strongly convinced that time is eternal, that, in order to show that not all things have an origin, he considered it evident that time has no origin.

(3) Lucretius, I, 459, 462-463. Similarly, time by itself does not exist.... It must not be claimed that anyone can sense time by itself apart from the movement of things or their restful immobility.

Ibid., 1, 479-482. So you may see that events cannot be said to be by themselves like matter or in the same sense as space. Rather, you should describe them as accidents of matter, or of the place in which things happen.

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, p. 420. Here Epicurus calls time accident of accidents (syrnptoma symptomaton).

Stobaeus, Physical Selections, 1, 8. Epicurus [calls time] an accident, i.e., something that accompanies motions.

(4) Diogenes Laertius,. X, 72. There is another thing which we must consider carefully. We must not investigate time as we do the other accidents which we investigate in a subject, namely, by referring them to the preconceptions envisaged in our minds; but we must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which we speak of time as long or short, linking to it in intimate connection this attribute of duration. We need not adopt any fresh terms as preferable, but should employ the usual expression about it. Nor need we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the same essence as is contained in the proper meaning of the word "time" (for this also is done by some). We must chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and by which we measure it. 73. No further proof is required: we have only to reflect that we attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and likewise to feelings of pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, conceiving a peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by the word "time". He [i.e., Epicurus] says this both in the second book On Nature and in the Larger Epitome.

(5) Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 1.c.

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, p. 420 [X, 238, 240, 241, '2441. ... accident of accidents.... For this reason Epicurus compels us to think that an existing body consists of non-existing bodies, since he says that we have to think of the body as a composition of size and shape, resistance and weight.... Hence there must be accidents for time to exist, but for accidents to be present themselves there must be an underlying circumstance. However, if no underlying circumstance exists, then there can be no time.... When this therefore is time, and Epicurus says that accidents are the nature [of time], then time, according to Epicurus, must be its own accident. Comp. Stobaeus, 1.c.

(6) Diogenes Laertius, X, 46. Again, there are outlines or films, which are of the same shape as solid bodies, but of a thinness far exceeding that of any object that we see.... To these films we give the name of "images" or "idols 48. ... the production of the images is as quick as thought ... though no diminution of the bodies is observed, because other particles take their place. And those given off retain the position and arrangement which their atoms had when they formed part of the solid bodies....

Lucretius, IV, 30-32... images" of things, a sort of outer skin perpetually peeled off the surface of objects and flying about this way and that through the air.

Ibid., IV, 51-52. ... because each particular floating image wears the aspect and form of the object from whose body it has emanated.

(7) Diogenes Laertius, X, 49. We must also consider that it is by the entrance of something coming from external objects that we see their shapes and think of them. For external things would not stamp on us their own nature ... so well as by the entrance into our eyes or minds, to whichever their size is suitable, of certain films coming from the things themselves, these films or outlines being of the same colour and shape as the external things themselves.... 50. and this again explains why they present the appearance of a single continuous object and retain the mutual interconnection which they had with the object.... 52. Again, hearing takes place when a current passes from the object, whether person or thing, which emits voice or sound or noise, or produces the sensation of hearing in any way whatever. This current is broken up into homogeneous particles, which at the same time preserve a certain mutual connection.... 53. ... Again, we must believe that smelling, like hearing, would produce no sensation, were there not particles conveyed from the object which are of the proper sort for exciting the organ of smelling.

(8) Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II, 1145-1146. It is natural, therefore, that everything should perish when it is thinned out...