Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Chemistry historiography...the not so swift transition, as believed, from the phlogiston theory to Lavoisier’s theory
Historians often feel that standard philosophical doctrines about the nature and development of science are not adequate for representing the real history of science. However, when philosophers of science fail to make sense of certain historical events, it is also possible that there is something wrong with the standard historical descriptions of those events, precluding any sensible explanation. If so, philosophical failure can be useful as a guide for improving historiography, and this constitutes a significant mode of productive interaction between the history and the philosophy of science. I illustrate this methodological claim through the case of the Chemical Revolution. I argue that no standard philosophical theory of scientific method can explain why European chemists made a sudden and nearly unanimous switch of allegiance from the phlogiston theory to Lavoisier’s theory. A careful re-examination of the history reveals that the shift was neither so quick nor so unanimous as imagined even by many historians. In closing I offer brief reflections on how best to explain the general drift toward Lavoisier’s theory that did take place.
"The Hidden History of Phlogiston" by Hasok Chang