Article ID: CBB001421612

Stabilizing Chemical Reality: The Analytic-Synthetic Ideal of Chemical Species (2014)


Chemistry is a science of analysis and synthesis. This simple statement characterizes chemistry as an art that breaks down the `nature out there' and puts it back together in a form convenient to our use. It hides the fact that chemical substances are products of the analytic and synthetic methods invented at particular places and times in history. Objects of chemical inquiry are not a random collection of natural and artificial substances but are constituted by the stable laboratory procedures that shape chemical worlds. Recent concession to the historical contingency of chemical theories falls short of acknowledging this material contingency of chemical realities. To the latter end, this paper highlights how French chemists consolidated the analytic-synthetic ideal of chemical species by making their evolving analytic methods compatible to each other through a series of theoretical moments and thereby stabilized their objects of inquiry, theory domains (composition, affinity, and constitution) and disciplinary terrain. Stabilizing chemical substances has always required normalizing the methods of identifying them and a comprehensive classification that naturalizes them. Keywords: historical ontology, historical epistemology, analysis-synthesis, chemical species, 18th- and 19th-century French chemistry.

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Authors & Contributors
Fortino, Mirella
Nekrašas, Evaldas
Calemi, Francesco

Wells, Aaron
Winter, Maximilien
Revue de Synthèse
Llull: Revista de la Sociedad Española de Historia de las Ciencias y de las Técnicas
Journal of the Association for History and Computing
British Journal for the History of Science
Biology and Philosophy
Oxford University Press
Harvard University Press
Central European University Press
Philosophy of science
Philosophers of science, modern
Duhem, Pierre
Poincaré, Jules Henri
Bertin, Pierre
Almeida, Joseph-Charles d'
Winter, Maximilien
Wolff, Christian von
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
18th century
20th century, early
17th century
Société française de physique
School of Milan
Université de France
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
École Normale Supérieure, Paris

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