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In order to give a clear verdict, we would need an agreed-upon quantitative measure of empirical adequacy that can give us a composite index from the variety of phenomena that a theory covers more or less well. Kuhn clearly recognizes the difficulty involved in trying to say which side was better in the Chemical Revolution.

He notes the mismatch in the problem fields handled well by the competing sides, and emphasizes that there were different standards of judgment employed by them; these and other paradigm-based differences clearly constitute an instance of methodological incommensurability, although it is more debatable whether there was any significant semantic incommensurability involved.

Though the historian can always find men — Priestley, for instance — who were unreasonable to resist as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist. But why did the majority of chemists change their minds, in the first place? If one perhaps irrationally wanted to resist that ascent to sociology, then it might seem that the only other way to go is to fall back to the strategy of finding something, anything , that is wrong with the losing side so that we can feel good about the majority going with the winning side.

This type of situation Margolis identifies as "a Kuhnian revolution: cognitively difficult though logically not so, hence best understood as turning on the presence of a barrier habit of mind. However, it does accentuate some fundamental difficulties in broadly Kuhnian explanations of revolutionary episodes. The Kuhnian framework naturally explains agreement in normal science and disagreement in extraordinary science.

So, following Kuhn, we can easily explain why disputes between competing paradigms can persist, but we have difficulty explaining why and how those disputes do get resolved and end in agreement. Those disappointed by the lack of explanations for revolutionary change have tried to get beyond Kuhn in various ways. Kuhn himself moved on to considering certain basic epistemic values shared even by scientists in different paradigms. It is possible to argue that when a revolutionary struggle in science does reach a resolution in the triumph of one paradigm over another, that agreement is generated because the winning paradigm is superior to the losing one in terms of some of these super-paradigmatic values.

Simplicity is one epistemic value that has been invoked time and again in attempts to explain the Chemical Revolution.

History and Philosophy

The crudest version of this idea says that the phlogiston theory unnecessarily complicated things by postulating the existence of an unobservable substance, phlogiston. But that is, again, to ignore the fact that Lavoisier had to postulate the existence of an equally unobservable substance, caloric. Perhaps the most sophisticated of these simplicity-based arguments comes from Andrew Pyle It could not, however, be described as a knock-down refutation.

So it makes sense that few people converted up to that point, and that Lavoisier himself did not launch an aggressive campaign. All of this changed when Lavoisier arrived at the attractive new hypothesis about the composition of water, namely that it was a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, not an element as the phlogiston theorists and everyone else had assumed.


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One problem is that Pyle only picks out rational-looking parts of the story. But even if we allow his selection of events for the moment, his argument about their rationality is very thin. Pyle notes, quite rightly, that the phlogiston theorists had to concede that while the metals lost phlogiston in the process of calcination, something else such as water or fixed air became combined with the metal to give it extra weight.

But why invent and hold on to such complicated stories, when there was a simpler story that did the job? Pyle also makes much of the fact that mainstream phlogiston theory after was of a hybrid nature, that is, acknowledging a clear chemical role for oxygen by whatever name , while maintaining the existence of phlogiston. And then, in the midst of this highly nuanced discussion, Pyle suddenly descends into a simple-minded point about simplicity:. How might such a debate be settled?

Here the factor of simplicity comes into play on the side of Lavoisier. His theory of combustion is objectively simpler than compromise theories in that it represents combustion in terms of 3 factors rather than 4. On the phlogiston side, the factors involved must be all of those, plus phlogiston. Depending on how one counts, the substance count could easily be four to three in favor of the phlogistonists. We would first need a good story about why that kind of simplicity is so important.

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Pyle ibid. But on more careful consideration this is not an argument that carries much weight. Should Scientology rationally convince Christians to give up Christianity because there are so many mutually conflicting variants of the latter? We also need to recognize that the anti-phlogistic camp was not completely united, either. There was no great and lasting unity among those who accepted oxygen and caloric for example, about whether light was a separate substance from caloric, or about whether caloric was made up of particles.

And there was considerable ontological discomfort and indecision in general about the imponderables, on which not even all Lavoisierians were in agreement. The Chemical Revolution was not a Manichean conflict between the Lavoisierians and the phlogistonists. When all these facts are taken into account, there is not much of substance left in the arguments based on simplicity or unity for the rationality of the Chemical Revolution. Musgrave argues that after a certain point the phlogiston research program ceased to be progressive, while the oxygen research program continued to be progressive.

Figure 2. Musgrave , p. Priestley declared: "I could not doubt but that the calx was actually imbibing something from the air; and from its effects in making the calx into metal, it could be no other than that to which chemists had unanimously given the name of phlogiston. But as Lakatos might have predicted from the general nature of research programs, the phlogiston program was actually not conclusively defeated at this point.

However, Musgrave argues ibid. As he puts it p. Musgrave ibid. But this is a difficult claim to sustain.

Collaborations

Were there any successful novel predictions made by Lavoisier? Iron filings immersed in water did indeed rust and hydrogen was collected. So these novel predictions do not quite qualify as crucial experiments, and I cannot see any other significant candidates for successful post novel predictions made by the Lavoisierian research program.

Meanwhile, there were some distinctly un-progressive aspects of the oxygen research program in the s and beyond, including some embarrassingly unsuccessful predictions, and some unexpected new phenomena which Lavoisier and his followers could only accommodate without the desired by-products of successful novel predictions.

History and philosophy of science | Antimatter

Lavoisierian responses to similar anomalies of prussic acid HCN, in modern terms and sulphuretted hydrogen H 2 S also had no progressive outcomes. And Lavoisierians made pretty un-progressive responses to the discovery that not only oxygen but also chlorine gas supported combustion, but no other known gases did. Faced with the kind of philosophical failure, there are a few possible reactions. First, we could just keep trying out new philosophical explanations; this would require a degree of optimism verging on the desperate.

Second, we could give up on philosophical explanations altogether, and try for social explanations. This is a tempting option, but it does not work out all that well for the Chemical Revolution[ 11 ], and I also have some general objections to the flight to the social, which I will explain in Section 4.

I would like to suggest a third option, which is based on the suspicion that perhaps we are not finding any good explanations because we are trying to explain something that did not actually happen. Imagine all the fun we could have trying to explain, say, why Germany won the First World War despite the entry of the U.

If my suspicion is corroborated by independent historiographical work, then we will have made productive use of a philosophical failure to improve historiography, as promised. The history-philosophy interaction in this process will be the subject of Section 5, but here let me just outline how it works out in the case of the Chemical Revolution.


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Here we need to resist being taken in by triumphalist declarations of a clean victory originating from Lavoisier himself, his contemporary advocates, and some posthumous glorifiers of Lavoisier[ 12 ]. The assumptions of a clean victory can be found in some quite unexpected places, too. For example, this is what Priestley himself said, in the opening sentence of his latter-day defense of the phlogiston theory issued from his exile in America in There have been few, if any, revolutions in science so great, so sudden, and so general, as the prevalence of what is now usually termed the new system of chemistry , or that of the Antiphlogistians , over the doctrine of Stahl, which was at one time thought to have been the greatest discovery that had ever been made in the science.

Maybe this was an exaggerated complaint from the loser, but strangely, the same idea can also be found in the works of some very careful historians. For example, Robert Siegfried says:. Of all the well known revolutions in the history of science, the chemical is perhaps the most dramatic […]. Few of the major conceptual shifts in the history of science rival the chemical revolution for compactness in time and consequent sense of drama.

As usually defined, the episode spanned a mere twenty years. The impression of unanimity is voiced by Larry Holmes , : "all but Priestley himself eventually came over to the side of the French chemists". And this has indeed been noted in various historical accounts, although to the hapless philosopher looking for some historical work to draw from, these scattered sources will not be easily visible. So, if nothing else, the service I want to render here is to make a convenient and useful summary of facts that are well-known to some experts here and there.

Many of the anti-anti-phlogistonists were respectable and respected men of science, not just old men driven by sheer conservatism or dogmatism. First of all, there were indeed some die-hards. Priestley tops this list, but he is only a small part of the picture. In Priestley identified the latter group as the only remaining adherents to phlogiston that he knew of, in addition to Adair Crawford, who had just died Priestley [] , p. On the German side, Karl Hufbauer , pp. And then there were people like Torbern Bergman in Sweden and James Hutton in Scotland, whose concerns were mineralogical and geological above all else.

There was also Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose idiosyncratic chemical ideas are understood by Leslie Burlingame as belonging to the natural-historical tradition of French science. To the list of French die-hards, Perrin , p. Table 1. Varieties of anti-anti-phlogistians, in the order of birth in each category. The second category of dissenters sought compromise, or deliberate neutrality. Partington and Douglas McKie, in their series of papers on the phlogiston theory , pp.

The old phlogistonist P. As discussed above, Cavendish , pp. Very suggestive in this connection is the following snippet of scientific conversation that I happened to stumble upon recently, from the year William Herschel had just detected infrared radiation coming from the sun, which he saw as caloric rays separated from light rays by means of the prism. Joseph Banks wrote to congratulate Herschel on this momentous discovery, but had one piece of advice:.

I think all my friends are of the opinion that the French system of Chemistry, on which the names lately adopted by their Chemists are founded, already totters on its base and is likely soon to be subverted. I venture therefore to suggest to you whether it will not be better for you […] to use the term Radiant Heat instead of Caloric; by the use of which latter word it should seem as if you had adopted a system of Chemistry which you have probably never examined. What did Banks have in mind when he said that the French chemistry was "tottering on its base"?

It is impossible to say for sure, but there are some clear things he might have had in mind.

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In Section 2. Thomas Thomson , p. The news reached England in the form of a long letter from Volta to Banks, who had it printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Nicholson and Carlisle would have agreed, but they added a puzzled note:. We had been led […] to expect a decomposition of the water; but it was with no little surprise that we found the hydrogen extricated at the contact with one wire, while the oxygen fixed itself in combination with the other wire at the distance of almost two inches. This new fact still remains to be explained, and seems to point at some general law of the agency of electricity in chemical operations.

This problem was noted by many others, and in the hands of young Johann Wilhelm Ritter in Germany it became a great weapon against Lavoisierian chemistry. Ritter carried out various experiments in support of his idea that electrolysis was not decomposition at all, but a pair of synthetic reactions: negative electricity comes in at one end and combines with water, and the product of that combination is hydrogen; likewise, positive electricity combines with water at the other end, and makes oxygen.

According to Ritter, water was an element after all, and hydrogen and oxygen were water-based compounds. In , we ran an academic conference , and curated an exhibition at the Royal Society. Our project will write the definitive history of the commercial and editorial practices of the Philosophical Transactions. Our project is exploring it all, including the varying stages of publication of the Philosophical Transactions, which can be roughly divided into four periods:.

Both the Society and the Philosophical Transactions survived, but such episodes enabled us to look critically at the contingent development of the processes and practices that are now taken to be essential to the operation of modern scientific research.

The literary qualities of its articles have been extensively analysed by literary and communications scholars, interested in the rhetoric of science. Its citation patterns have been studied by sociologists of science as evidence of the functioning of past communities of scientists. We are uniquely placed to do this, because we are an interdisciplinary team focusing on different periods and subjects in history, and because the available material is so vast and exciting!

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