The term materialism, derived from the Latin word materia (timber, matter), was coined about 1670 by the British physicist Robert Boyle (1627–1691). Its French equivalent, materialisme, was used probably for the first time by Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), although it was not yet listed in his famous Dictionnaire historique et critique (1697). The German term Materialismus seems to have been introduced around 1700 by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716). Since then it has been employed to denote any theory that considers all events in the universe to be sufficiently accounted for by the existence and nature of matter.
Historians of philosophy often distinguish between different versions of such theories: theoretical materialism, the philosophical doctrine according to which, in contrast to idealism, matter is the only substratum of all existence and all mental or spiritual phenomena are merely functions of it; psychological materialism, which claims that the soul or spirit of living organisms consists only of matter or is a function of physical processes; physiological materialism, according to which mental activities can be explained as biological processes; and dialectical materialism, or its variant historical materialism, which regards all important historical events as result of the economic developments of the human society. Finally, the term materialism is also used in the disapprobatory sense of denoting excessive desire for material goods and wealth.
Ancient Greek materialism
Following Friedrich Albert Lange’s influential History of Materialism (1865), which opens with the statement that “materialism is as old as philosophy, but not older” (p. 7) many historians identify the beginning of materialism with the birth of Greek philosophy in the sixth century b.c.e. They regard Thales of Miletus, who is generally credited with having been the founder of Greek science, mathematics, and philosophy, as the first proponent of materialism. They.