The philosophy of chemistry considers the methodology and underlying assumptions of the science of chemistry. It is explored by philosophers, chemists, and philosopher-chemist teams. For much of its history, philosophy of science has been dominated by the philosophy of physics, but the philosophical questions that arise from chemistry have received increasing attention since the latter part of the 20th century.
Major philosophical questions arise as soon as one attempts to define chemistry and what it studies. Atoms and molecules are often assumed to be the fundamental units of chemical theory, but traditional descriptions of molecular structure and chemical bonding fail to account for the properties of many substances, including metals and metal complexes and aromaticity.
Additionally, chemists frequently use non-existent chemical entities like resonance structures to explain the structure and reactions of different substances; these explanatory tools use the language and graphical representations of molecules to describe the behavior of chemicals and chemical reactions that in reality do not behave as straightforward molecules.
Some chemists and philosophers of chemistry prefer to think of substances, rather than microstructures, as the fundamental units of study in chemistry. There is not always a one-to-one correspondence between the two methods of classifying substances. For example, many rocks exist as mineral complexes composed of multiple ions that do not occur in fixed proportions or spatial relationships to one another.
A related philosophical problem is whether chemistry is the study of substances or reactions. Atoms, even in a solid, are in perpetual motion and under the right conditions many chemicals react spontaneously to form new products. A variety of environmental variables contribute to a substance's properties, including temperature and pressure, proximity to other molecules and the presence of a magnetic field. As Schummer puts it, "Substance philosophers define a chemical reaction by the change of certain substances, whereas process philosophers define a substance by its characteristic chemical reactions."
Philosophers of chemistry discuss issues of symmetry and chirality in nature. Organic (i.e., carbon-based) molecules are those most often chiral. Amino acids, nucleic acids and sugars, all of which are found exclusively as a single enantiomer in organisms, are the basic chemical units of life. Chemists, biochemists, and biologists alike debate the origins of this homochirality. Philosophers debate facts regarding the origin of this phenomenon, namely whether it emerged contingently, amid a lifeless racemic environment or if other processes were at play. Some speculate that answers can only be found in comparison to extraterrestrial life, if it is ever found. Other philosophers question whether there exists a bias toward assumptions of nature as symmetrical, thereby causing resistance to any evidence to the contrary.
One of the most topical issues is determining to what extent physics, specifically, quantum mechanics, explains chemical phenomena. Can chemistry, in fact, be reduced to physics as has been assumed by many, or are there inexplicable gaps? Some authors, for example, Roald Hoffmann, have recently suggested that a number of difficulties exist in the reductionist program with concepts like aromaticity, pH, reactivity, nucleophilicity, for example. The noted philosopher of science, Karl Popper, among others, predicted as much.
Several philosophers and scientists have focused on the philosophy of chemistry in recent years, notably, the Dutch philosopher Jaap van Brakel, who wrote The Philosophy of Chemistry in 2000, and the Maltese philosopher-chemist Eric Scerri, editor of the journal "Foundations of Chemistry" and author of Normative and Descriptive Philosophy of Science and the Role of Chemistry in Philosophy of Chemistry, 2004, among other articles. Scerri is especially interested in the philosophical foundations of the periodic table, and how physics and chemistry intersect in relation to it, which he contends is not merely a matter for science, but for philosophy.
Although in other fields of science students of the method are generally not practitioners in the field, in chemistry (particularly in synthetic organic chemistry) intellectual method and philosophical foundations are often explored by investigators with active research programmes. Elias James Corey developed the concept of "retrosynthesis" published a seminal work "The logic of chemical synthesis" which deconstructs these thought processes and speculates on computer-assisted synthesis. Other chemists such as K. C. Nicolaou (co-author of Classics in Total Synthesis) have followed in his lead.
Alchemy has had a long-standing relationship with art, seen both in alchemical texts and in mainstream entertainment. Literary alchemy appears throughout the history of English literature from Shakespeare to modern Fantasy authors. Here, characters or plot structure follow an alchemical magnum opus. In the fourteenth century, Chaucer began a trend of alchemical satire that can still be seen in recent fantasy works like those of Terry Pratchett.
Visual artists had a similar relationship with alchemy. While some of them used alchemy as a source of satire, others worked with the alchemists themselves or integrated alchemical thought or symbols in their work. Music was also present in the works of alchemists and continues to influence popular performers. In the last hundred years, alchemists have been portrayed in a magical and spagyric role in fantasy fiction, film, television, comics and video games.Aurora consurgens
The Aurora consurgens is an alchemical treatise of the 15th century famous for the rich illuminations that accompany it in some manuscripts. While in the last century, the text has been more commonly referred to as "Pseudo-Aquinas", there are as well arguments in favour of Thomas Aquinas, to whom it has originally been attributed in some manuscripts.Chemophobia
Chemophobia (or chemphobia or chemonoia) is an aversion to or prejudice against chemicals or chemistry. The phenomenon has been ascribed both to a reasonable concern over the potential adverse effects of synthetic chemicals, and to an irrational fear of these substances because of misconceptions about their potential for harm, particularly the possibility of certain exposures to some synthetic chemicals elevating an individual's risk of cancer. Consumer products with labels such as "natural" and "chemical-free" (the latter being an oxymoron if taken literally, since all matter is made up of chemicals) appeal to chemophobic sentiments by offering consumers what appears to be a safer alternative (see appeal to nature).Eric Scerri
Eric R. Scerri is a chemist, writer and philosopher of science, of Maltese origin. He is a lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the founder and editor-in-chief of Foundations of Chemistry, an international peer reviewed journal covering the history and philosophy of chemistry, and chemical education.He is a world authority on the history and philosophy of the periodic table and is the author and editor of several books in this and related fields. Dr. Scerri was a participant in the 2014 PBS documentary film, The Mystery of Matter.
Eric Scerri attended Walpole Grammar School in Ealing. He received his BSc from Westfield College (University of London), his Certificate in Postgraduate Study from the University of Cambridge, his MPhil from the University of Southampton, and his PhD from King's College London.Fanny Rysan Mulford Hitchcock
Fanny Rysan Mulford Hitchcock (February 7, 1851 - 1936) was one of only 13 women to receive their doctorates in chemistry in the 1800s, and the first woman to receive a doctorate in Philosophy of Chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. She made contributions to entomology, fish osteology, and plant pathology. She began her studies at Columbia University publishing several papers, and then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. She worked at many colleges including University of Berlin and University of Pennsylvania. She worked at the University of Pennsylvania for nineteen years and devoted her life to helping women pursuing an education at the university.Foundations of Chemistry
Foundations of Chemistry is a triannual peer-reviewed academic journal covering conceptual and fundamental issues related to chemistry, including philosophy and history of chemistry, and chemistry education. The founding and current editor-in-chief is Eric Scerri. According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2014 impact factor of 1.361.Hasok Chang
Hasok Chang (Hangul: 장하석; Hanja: 張夏碩; born March 26, 1967) is a Korean-born American historian and philosopher of science currently serving as the Hans Rausing Professor at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and a board member of the Philosophy of Science Association. He previously served as president of the British Society for the History of Science from 2012 to 2014.His areas of interest include the history and philosophy of chemistry and physics, the philosophy of scientific practice, measurement in quantum mechanics, realism, scientific evidence, pluralism and pragmatism.Index of philosophy of science articles
An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.Laboratory
A laboratory (UK: , US: ; colloquially lab) is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological research, experiments, and measurement may be performed.Lee C. McIntyre
Lee C. McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. He holds a B.A. in philosophy of social science from Wesleyan University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His dissertation was on the status of law-like explanations in the social sciences.He has taught philosophy at Colgate University, Boston University, Tufts Experimental College, Simmons College, and Harvard Extension School. At Colgate he won the Fraternity and Sorority Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching Philosophy and at Harvard he received the Dean's Letter of Commendation for Distinguished Teaching. He was Executive Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University and has served as a policy advisor to the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and as an Associate Editor in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
McIntyre is the author of Laws and Explanation in the Social Sciences (Westview Press, 1996; revised edition 1998), Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior (MIT Press, 2006), and Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age (Routledge, 2015). He is the co-editor of three anthologies: Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science (MIT Press, 1994), Philosophy of Chemistry (Springer, 2006), and Philosophy of Chemistry, 2nd edition (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of numerous philosophical essays that have appeared in Synthese, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Teaching Philosophy, Perspectives on Science, Biology and Philosophy, Critica, and Theory and Decision, as well as articles that have appeared in The New York Times,The Times Higher Education Supplement, The Humanist, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Regional Review. He has been a leading spokesman for the Duncanian position that there is no fundamental demarcation between the natural sciences and the social sciences either in their nature or their appropriate methodologies.
McIntyre is also a novelist, who writes idea-driven suspense fiction in the thriller genre.List of important publications in philosophy
This is a list of important publications in philosophy, organized by field. The publications on this list are regarded as important because they have served or are serving as one or more of the following roles:
Foundation – A publication whose ideas would go on to be the foundation of a topic or field within philosophy.
Breakthrough – A publication that changed or added to philosophical knowledge significantly.
Influence – A publication that has had a significant impact on the academic study of philosophy or the world.Mathematical chemistry
Mathematical chemistry is the area of research engaged in novel applications of mathematics to chemistry; it concerns itself principally with the mathematical modeling of chemical phenomena. Mathematical chemistry has also sometimes been called computer chemistry, but should not be confused with computational chemistry.
Major areas of research in mathematical chemistry include chemical graph theory, which deals with topology such as the mathematical study of isomerism and the development of topological descriptors or indices which find application in quantitative structure-property relationships; and chemical aspects of group theory, which finds applications in stereochemistry and quantum chemistry.
The history of the approach may be traced back to the 19th century. Georg Helm published a treatise titled "The Principles of Mathematical Chemistry: The Energetics of Chemical Phenomena" in 1894. Some of the more contemporary periodical publications specializing in the field are MATCH Communications in Mathematical and in Computer Chemistry, first published in 1975, and the Journal of Mathematical Chemistry, first published in 1987. In 1986 a series of annual conferences MATH/CHEM/COMP taking place in Dubrovnik was
initiated by the late Ante Graovac.
The basic models for mathematical chemistry are molecular graph and topological index.
In 2005 the International Academy of Mathematical Chemistry (IAMC) was founded in Dubrovnik (Croatia) by Milan Randić. The Academy has 82 members (2009) from all over the world, including six scientists awarded with a Nobel Prize.Nanotechnology in fiction
The use of nanotechnology in fiction has attracted scholarly attention. The first use of the distinguishing concepts of nanotechnology was "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom", a talk given by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959. K. Eric Drexler's 1986 book Engines of Creation introduced the general public to the concept of nanotechnology. Since then, nanotechnology has been used frequently in a diverse range of fiction, often as a justification for unusual or far-fetched occurrences featured in speculative fiction.Outline of academic disciplines
An academic discipline or field of study is a branch of knowledge, taught and researched as part of higher education. A scholar's discipline is commonly defined by the university faculties and learned societies to which they belong and the academic journals in which they publish research.
Disciplines vary between well-established ones that exist in almost all universities and have well-defined rosters of journals and conferences and nascent ones supported by only a few universities and publications. A discipline may have branches, and these are often called sub-disciplines.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to academic disciplines.Philosophy of science
Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.
There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all. In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.
While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivism movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements' meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a "paradigm," the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period. Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology.
Subsequently, the coherentist approach to science, in which a theory is validated if it makes sense of observations as part of a coherent whole, became prominent due to W.V. Quine and others. Some thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould seek to ground science in axiomatic assumptions, such as the uniformity of nature. A vocal minority of philosophers, and Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) in particular, argue that there is no such thing as the "scientific method", so all approaches to science should be allowed, including explicitly supernatural ones. Another approach to thinking about science involves studying how knowledge is created from a sociological perspective, an approach represented by scholars like David Bloor and Barry Barnes. Finally, a tradition in continental philosophy approaches science from the perspective of a rigorous analysis of human experience.
Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein's general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.Polywater
Polywater was a hypothesized polymerized form of water that was the subject of much scientific controversy during the late 1960s. By 1969 the popular press had taken notice and sparked fears of a "polywater gap" in the US.
Increased press attention also brought with it increased scientific attention, and as early as 1970 doubts about its authenticity were being circulated. By 1973 it was found to be illusory, being just water with any number of common organic compounds contaminating it.Today, polywater is best known as an example of pathological science.Protoscience
In philosophy of science, there are several definitions of protoscience.
Its simplest meaning (most closely reflecting its roots of proto- + science) involves the earliest eras of the history of science, when the scientific method was still nascent. Thus, in the late 17th century and early 18th century, Isaac Newton contributed to the dawning sciences of chemistry and physics, even though he was also an alchemist who sought chrysopoeia in various ways including some that were unscientific.
Another meaning extends this idea into the present, with protoscience being an emerging field of study which is still not completely scientific, but later becomes a proper science. An example of it would the general theory of relativity, which started being a protoscience (a theoretical work which had not been tested), but later was experimentally verified and became fully scientitific. Protoscience in this sense is distinguished from pseudoscience by a genuine willingness to be changed through new evidence, as opposed to having a theory that can always find a way to rationalize a predetermined belief.
Philosopher of chemistry Jaap Brakel defines protoscience as "the study of normative criteria for the use of experimental technology in science."Thomas Kuhn said that protosciences "generate testable conclusions but ... nevertheless resemble philosophy and the arts rather than the established sciences in their developmental patterns. I think, for example, of fields like chemistry and electricity before the mid-18th century, of the study of heredity and phylogeny before the mid-nineteenth, or of many of the social sciences today." While noting that they meet the demarcation criteria of falsifiability from Popper, he questions whether the discussion in protoscience fields "result[s] in clear-cut progress". Kuhn concluded that protoscience, "like the arts and philosophy, lack some element which, in the mature sciences, permits the more obvious forms of progress. It is not, however, anything that a methodological prescription can provide. ... I claim no therapy to assist the transformation of a proto-science to a science, nor do I suppose anything of this sort is to be had".The term prescientific means at root "relating to an era before science existed". For example, traditional medicine existed for thousands of years before medical science did, and thus many aspects of it can be described as prescientific. In a related but somewhat different sense, protoscientific topics (such as the alchemy of Newton's day) can be called prescientific, in which case the proto- and pre- labels can function more or less synonymously (the latter focusing more sharply on the idea that nothing but science is science).
Compare fringe science, which is considered highly speculative or even strongly refuted. Some protosciences go on to become an accepted part of mainstream science.The central science
Chemistry is often called the central science because of its role in connecting the physical sciences, which include chemistry, with the life sciences and applied sciences such as medicine and engineering. The nature of this relationship is one of the main topics in the philosophy of chemistry and in scientometrics. The phrase was popularized by its use in a textbook by Theodore L. Brown and H. Eugene LeMay, titled Chemistry: The Central Science, which was first published in 1977, with a thirteenth edition published in 2014.The central role of chemistry can be seen in the systematic and hierarchical classification of the sciences by Auguste Comte in which each discipline provides a more general framework for the area it precedes (mathematics → astronomy → physics → chemistry → physiology and medicine → social sciences). Balaban and Klein have more recently proposed a diagram showing partial ordering of sciences in which chemistry may be argued is “the central science” since it provides a significant degree of branching. In forming these connections the lower field cannot be fully reduced to the higher ones. It is recognized that the lower fields possess emergent ideas and concepts that do not exist in the higher fields of science.
Thus chemistry is built on an understanding of laws of physics that govern particles such as atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, thermodynamics, etc. although it has been shown that it has not been “fully 'reduced' to quantum mechanics”. Concepts such as the periodicity of the elements and chemical bonds in chemistry are emergent in that they are more than the underlying forces that are defined by physics.
In the same way, biology cannot be fully reduced to chemistry despite the fact that the machinery that is responsible for life is composed of molecules. For instance, the machinery of evolution may be described in terms of chemistry by the understanding that it is a mutation in the order of genetic base pairs in the DNA of an organism. However, chemistry cannot fully describe the process since it does not contain concepts such as natural selection that are responsible for driving evolution. Chemistry is fundamental to biology since it provides a methodology for studying and understanding the molecules that compose cells.
Connections made by chemistry are formed through various sub-disciplines that utilize concepts from multiple scientific disciplines. Chemistry and physics are both needed in the areas of physical chemistry, nuclear chemistry, and theoretical chemistry. Chemistry and biology intersect in the areas of biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, chemical biology, molecular genetics, and immunochemistry. Chemistry and the earth sciences intersect in areas like geochemistry and hydrology.Women in chemistry
This is a list of women chemists. It should include those who have been important to the development or practice of chemistry. Their research or application has made significant contributions in the area of basic or applied chemistry.
Branches of chemistry