Evolution of chemistry as a discipline of dual nature

Rein Vihalemm’s1 account of science was inspired by chemistry, which was his first subject at university, and by Thomas Kuhn’s historically and practically informed understanding of science2. In contrast to the then broadly practiced philosophy of science that leaned mainly on physics as the epitome of science, Vihalemm found in chemistry two aspects, only one of which resembled physics3. Thus, he discerns methodologically distinct sciences: exact sciences, resembling physics, that he called ϕ-sciences, and natural sciences, stemming from natural history, that he called non-ϕ-sciences. Exact sciences’ methodology is constructive-hypothetico-deductive: they construct their subject matter theoretically(-mathematically) and materially (in experiments and quasi-experiments or observations), formulate mathematical hypotheses about yet unobserved phenomena or situations, and deduce laws or conditions of observations from existing mathematically formulated laws. They only consider as their domain that part/aspects of reality that can be submitted to mathematical treatment, thence their obvious limitations. Natural sciences are historical-descriptive-classifying: they describe their subject matter in detail, including historical detail, and their systematisation procedure is classifying the objects on the basis of those details.

Social science and the humanities, according to Vihalemm, should not be called sciences but study, studies or critique. Their aim – social engineering via critical analyses of basic concepts and ideas – is no less important (Vihalemm himself was an active social democrat); thereby the basic concepts and ideas could lose their relevance to what is really at stake in the socio-political sphere, were they to be subdued to mathematical formalism. Thus, all sciences have their own aims and use, and their methods must serve those aims. Hence the view of physics as the epitome of science, as the only kind of science deserving of that name as an honorary name, is not justified.

So chemistry has an exact-scientific aspect that includes the numerically determined periodic system and stoichiometric equations, and a natural scientific aspect, concerning the millions of chemical substances found and created, and the multifarious chemical and physical properties thereof, cognition of whom requires detailed studies and various methods.

Not all is so simple and clear though. Scientific disciplines evolve. Scientists find out new things about the world, base new technologies and methods of study thereupon, refine and alter theories or create new ones. Due to the development of computers, for instance, the new powerful tool of experiments in silico, or computer simulations, is an entrenched method also in chemistry. Properties of chemical substances are being predicted in those without any previous in vitro experiments. This presupposes mathematisation of chemical knowledge to render it computer-ready. Hence chemistry is becoming more exact-scientific.

But let us look into chemistry’s history instead and see how its exact-scientific core evolved. Firstly, the most important prerequisite for exactness is exact measurement–that enables to apply mathematics to matter and formulate mathematical laws of nature. In chemistry, weight and its measurement became “weighty” in the end of the 18th century with Lavoisier’s work (1743-1794). That is, weight of substances in chemical processes, most importantly in reactions.

First of all, what goes in, must come out – reactants and results of reactions must have the same weight. The studies including weight measurements unveiled the proportions in which substances react with each other to form certain other substances, namely in definite proportions reducible to simple fractions. No other fractions would be possible or count as chemical phenomena, e.g. mere mixtures. This was, however, no unanimous verdict: Berthollet (1748-1822) found the proportions wildly varying in what he considered as chemical compositions (Vihalemm 2019/1981). This conclusion presumes the primacy of the concept of weight too, but would make it difficult to settle upon precise determinations of concrete compounds and the main valencies (affinities) of substances, which became one of the crucial properties for defining periodicity.

Acceptance of fixed proportions, in opposition to the volatile spectrum of chemical identities, allowed for the birth of the concepts of equivalent weight, and later on atomic weight with the atomic hypothesis. The weights of substances were compared to H as the unit ‘1’. Such fixity, firstly, was necessary for the chemical similarities to be noticed: that certain qualitatively similar elements formed certain kinds of qualitatively similar compounds in the same proportions, that is – also quantitatively similar; and secondly, for those groups of similar elements to be noted for the arithmetic relations between their accepted equivalent weights, for instance, that the equivalent (or atomic) weight of sodium is an arithmetic average of those of lithium and potassium, and analogously for other threesomes. Born was the notion of a triad, that later was expanded to n-ads. However, also here we find opposition to the elegant mathematics: Berzelius (1779-1848), who was very precise in determining atomic weights of substances, firmly opposed this “numerology”, believing that as the atomic weights would be determined ever more precisely, the triads (or n-ads) would decay4.

But the hopeful belief in the numericity and proportionality persisted in chemists, even in the face of grave difficulties in determining atomic weights, necessary round-offs in measurement results to get the expected integers, (ad hoc) hypotheses about the primary matter, all the while the ‘atom’ itself was suspiciously metaphysical for the empirically inclined chemists. There was the guiding idea of numerical-mathematical beauty and order, not least with Mendeleev (1834-1907) whose formulation of the periodic system became most well-known. He believed in order in all fields of knowledge and aspects of the world, and had to defy many empirically known difficulties to fit the then known bulk of elements into a system5.

I listed only a few moments in the evolution of chemistry where there was potential hindrance to its developing a firm and elegant mathematical core, and hence the discipline could have evolved differently than it did. As Vihalemm (2019/1981) noted: sometimes ideas are not ripe enough to be pursued in the time of their emergence, or the general situation is not ready to allow them to become fruitful. The mathematical methods had to be worked out on simpler cases to be later applied to more complex ones, such as compositions with varying proportions and those thence be cordially included in chemistry’s repertoire. The roles of the exact-scientific and natural scientific aspects of chemistry are changing, but its total reduction to physics is not foreseeable in any near future.

 

Dr. Ave Mets

Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics

University of Tartu

 

1Rein Vihalemm (1938-2015) was an Estonian philosopher of science at the University of Tartu, the most influential philosopher of science of the Baltics, internationally known for his concepts ’ ϕ-science’ and ‘practical realism’. His main fields were history and philosophy of chemistry, history of Estonian philosophy of science, and the reception of Thomas Kuhn. He was a co-founder of the International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry (1997). See more about his life, work, and philosophy.

2Vihalemm, Rein (2019/1981). A story of a science: on the evolution of chemistry, is a nice example of that.

3See e.g. Vihalemm, Rein (2016). Science, φ-Science, and the Dual Character of Chemistry. In: Scerri, E. and Fisher, G. (Ed.). Essays in Philosophy of Chemistry (352−379). New York: Oxford University Press.

4Venable, Francis Preston (1896). The Development of the Periodic Law. Easton, PA.: Chemical Publishing Co.

5Gordin, Michael D. (2004). A well-ordered thing. Dmitrii Mendeleev and the shadow of the periodic table. New York: Basic Books.

Last updated: 10.10.2019

Comments

good [url=https://xn--72czpbab2b6atm0c2aa5c9czczgudybzh.com/]เว็บดูหนังฟรีออนไลน์[/url]

goodjob Joker ข่าวฟุตบอล

Cure for Herpes Virus I am here to give my testimony about Dr Musa Ibrahim who helped me cure my Herpes Virus. I visited different hospital but they gave me list of drugs like Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex which are very expensive and never cured me. Two months ago a friend suggested that I try Herbal Medicine from a very powerful Herbal Doctor called Dr Musa Ibrahim. I looked up his blog on the internet site and indeed he have had immense success with his product. There were lot of persons posting their testimony about how he cured them from different diseases, when I contacted him he gave me hope and told me what I need to do and avoid during the treatment after that, he sent his Herbal Medicine to me which I took and it seriously worked for me, I discovered that the sores on my private part was cured and I no longer have night fever and headaches after concluding Dr. Musa Herbal medicine I went for test and my result Herpes result was negative. My doctor was shocked how I got cured, I referred him to the doctor who cured me. I advice those with the virus to please contact him and get cured with Herbal medicine. Remember your health is precious, you can reach him on his official email address; drmusaibrahim20@gmail.com or Call/whatsApp +2348064460510..

Hoito herpesvirukselle Olen täällä todistaessani tohtori Musa Ibrahimista, joka auttoi minua parantamaan Herpes-virustani. Kävin eri sairaalassa, mutta he antoivat minulle luettelon lääkkeistä, kuten Famvir, Zovirax ja Valtrex, jotka ovat erittäin kalliita eivätkä koskaan paranneet minua. Kaksi kuukautta sitten ystävä ehdotti, että kokelisin kasviperäisiä lääkkeitä erittäin tehokkaalta rohdoslääkäriltä nimeltä tohtori Musa Ibrahim. Katsoin hänen blogiaan verkkosivustolla, ja hänellä on todellakin ollut menestys tuotteensa kanssa. Oli paljon ihmisiä, jotka lähettivät todistuksensa siitä, kuinka hän paransi heitä eri sairauksista. Kun otin yhteyttä häneen, hän antoi minulle toivoa ja kertoi minulle, mitä minun on tehtävä ja vältettävä hoidon aikana sen jälkeen, hän lähetti rohdosvalmisteensa minulle, jonka minä otin ja se vaikutti minuun vakavasti, huomasin, että haavasi yksityisellä puolellani paranivat ja minulla ei enää ole yökuumeta ja päänsärkyä päätyttyäsi tohtori Musan kasviperäiseen lääketieteeseen menin kokeeseen ja Herpes-tulos oli negatiivinen. Lääkärini oli järkyttynyt siitä, kuinka paransin, lähetin hänet lääkärille, joka paransi minut. Kehotan viruksen saaneita ottamaan yhteyttä häneen ja parantamaan kasviperäisillä lääkkeillä. Muista, että terveytesi on arvokas, voit tavoittaa hänet hänen virallisella sähköpostiosoitteella; drmusaibrahim20@gmail.com tai Soita / whatsApp +2348064460510 ..

EFFECTIVE AND POWERFUL LOVE SPELL,LOTTERY SPELL,MONEY SPELL CASTER DR GBOJIE  +2349066410185 What a miracle to have my ex back  and i need to share this great testimony... I just want to say thanks Dr gbojie for taking time to help me cast the spell that {now my husband},who suddenly lost interest in me after six month of engagement,but today we are married and we are more happier than never before, I am really short of words and joyful, and i don't know how much to my appreciation to you doctor gbojie you are a God sent to restore broken relationship.he deeply enjoy helping people achieve their desires, find true love,getting their ex lovers back,stop abusive relationships,find success,attract happiness,find soul mates and more,contact him today. and let him show you the wonders and amazement of his Love Spell System. He deliver results at his best in real spell casting,email him for help on gbojiespiritualtemple@gmail.com or gbojiespiritualtemple@yahoo.com you can also call him on +2349066410185  website : http://gbojiespiritualtemple.website2.me/  

Add new comment