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Atomism (social)

Atomism or social atomism is a sociological theory arising from the scientific notion atomic theory, coined by the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus and the Roman philosopher Lucretius. In the scientific rendering of the word, atomism refers to the notion that all matter in the universe is composed of basic indivisible components, or atoms. When placed into the field of sociology, atomism assigns the individual as the basic unit of analysis for all implications of social life. Therefore, all social values, institutions, developments and procedures evolve entirely out of the interests and actions of the individuals who inhabit any particular society. The individual is the ‘atom’ of society and therefore the only true object of concern and analysis.


Atomism (from Greek , atomon, i.e. "uncuttable", "indivisible") is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions. The atomists theorized that nature consists of two fundamental principles: atom and void. Unlike their modern scientific namesake in atomic theory, philosophical atoms come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, each indestructible, immutable and surrounded by a void where they collide with the others or hook together forming a cluster. Clusters of different shapes, arrangements, and positions give rise to the various macroscopic substances in the world.

References to the concept of atomism and its atoms are found in ancient India and ancient Greece. In the West, atomism emerged in the 5th century BCE with Leucippus and Democritus. In India the Jain, Ajivika and Carvaka schools of atomism may date back to the 4th century BCE. The Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools later developed theories on how atoms combined into more complex objects. Whether Indian culture influenced Greek or vice versa or whether both evolved independently is a matter of dispute.

The particles of chemical matter for which chemists and other natural philosophers of the early 19th century found experimental evidence were thought to be indivisible, and therefore were given the name "atom", long used by the atomist philosophy.

However, in the 20th century, the "atoms" of the chemists were found to be composed of even smaller entities: electrons, neutrons and protons, and further experiments showed that protons and neutrons are made of quarks. Although the connection to historical atomism is at best tenuous, elementary particles have thus become a modern analog of philosophical atoms, despite the misnomer in chemistry.



  1. n. (psychology) a theory that reduces all mental phenomena to simple elements (sensations and feelings) that form complex ideas by association

  2. (chemistry) any theory in which all matter is composed of tiny discrete finite indivisible indestructible particles; "the ancient Greek philosophers Democritus and Epicurus held atomic theories of the universe" [syn: atomic theory, atomist theory, atomistic theory] [ant: holism]



n. 1 (context philosophy English) The ancient Greek theory that all matter is composed of very small indestructible and indivisible particles. 2 (context philosophy English) The doctrine that society arises from individuals and that larger structures are unimportant.

The Collaborative International Dictionary


Atomism \At"om*ism\, n. [Cf. F. atomisme.] The doctrine of atoms. See Atomic philosophy, under Atomic.

Usage examples of "atomism".

Enlightenment paradigm: the holism of nature produced the atomism of the self.

In its last stages it produces social atomism, in which not only the authority of the State is combated, but even the authority of society and the family.

Its attendant phenomena grow colorless, more forced, and one by one they fade away: Equality, Democracy, Happiness, Instability, Commercialism, High Finance and its power of Money, Class War, Trade as an end in itself, Social Atomism, Parliamentarism, Liberalism, Communism, Materialism, Mass-Propaganda.

They have brought in materialism, atheism, class war, weak happiness ideals, race suicide, social atomism, racial promiscuity, decadence in the arts, erotomania, disintegration of the family, private and public dishonor, slatternly feminism, economic fluctuation and catastrophe, civil war in the family of Europe, planned degeneration of the youth through vile films and literature, and through neurotic doctrines in education.

In the sphere of Society, opposing the chaos of atomism, feminism, disintegration of home and family, race-suicide, and universal decadence, arose the idea of race-ascendancy, fertility, the preservation and integration of society, the return to social health.

THE EGO AND THE Eco We earlier noted the altogether extraordinary paradox of the Enlightenment paradigm: the holism of nature produced the atomism of the self.

It thinks that the enemy is atomism, and that the central problem is simply to be able to prove or demonstrate once and for all that the universe is a great and unified holistic System or Order or Web.

Therefore if we place ourselves in a perspective of intuition, I mean, of complete perception, the demand for reason appears second only, without being deprived, however, of its true task: it is an echo and a recollection, an appeal and a promise of profound continuity, our original anticipation and our final hope, in the bosom of the elementary atomism which characterises the transitory region of language.

Just as in the case of atomism, they seemed to prove the validity of the preconceived idea of the current.