What is it about?

In De Anima, Aristotle reports that both the Pythagoreans and Democritus held that the psychē was a set of minimal corpuscles, that behaved as dust particles visible in sun rays. We investigate the similarities in the testimony of Aristotle’s De Anima between the reported Pythagorean and Democritean notions of psychē and the consequences of a corpuscular conception of psychē for the viability of metempsychosis.

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Why is it important?

We discuss the issues regarding the authenticity of Aristotle’s report, the viability of a corpuscular notion of psychē for the theory of metempsychosis and what might have led Aristotle to understand his sources in the way he reports. This is useful for both the studies of Pythagoreanism, Democritus and reception of early Greek philosophy in classical philosophy and forward.


I like the fact that it introduces new possibilities of interpretation that does not stick to the traditional “Democritus says the soul is tiny little ball of fire”, which seems oversimplified and effectively incorrect. It also gives room for non-self-centered perspective of Pythagorean metempsychosis (or the early Greek notion in general, even in Empedocles). This would require further investigation, but it seems to me an interesting path to explore.

Gustavo Laet Gomes
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

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This page is a summary of: Was Democritus a Pythagorean? The Case of psychē, Méthexis, March 2021, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/24680974-03301001.
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