Philosophy of chemistry in chemical education: Recent trends and future directions

S Erduran, E. Mugaloglu

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In this chapter, we review recent trends in the philosophy of chemistry and its applications in chemical education. Chemistry has maintained quite a peripheral existence in the philosophy of science for a long time, thus evading focused attention and critical analysis. However since the 1990s an increasing number of books, journals, conferences, and associations focused on philosophy of chemistry highlighting the contributions of chemistry to philosophy of science (Bhushan & Rosenfeld, 2000; Hendry, 2012; McIntyre & Scerri, 1997; Scerri & McIntyre, 1997; Schummer, 2006; van Brakel, 2010, 1997; Woody, 2000). The uptake of this new domain in the context of chemical education research and practice has been minimal despite some earlier acknowledgment of the potential significance of this field for chemical education (Erduran, 2001; Gilbert et al., 2003). The special editions of the Science & Education journal on “Philosophy, Chemistry and Education: An Introduction” (Erduran, 2013) is the first collection where the work on the applications of philosophy of chemistry in chemical education has been collated. The paper will begin with an overview of some of the key and example debates in philosophy of chemistry. These examples will include themes such as reductionism (e.g. Scerri, 1991) and supervenience (e.g. Papineau, 1995) as well as aspects of chemical knowledge such as laws (e.g. Christie & Christie, 2000), models (e.g. Woody, 2013) and explanations (e.g. Hendry, 2010). Second, the implications of these themes for chemical education research and practice will be explored. The central argument is that to develop an understanding of how chemistry is conceptualized and how chemistry is learned, chemical education research has to be informed by the debates about the epistemology and ontology of chemistry. The discussion will be contextualised in the area of Nature of Science (NOS) that has been one of the highly studied areas of research in science education (Chang, Chang & Tseng, 2010). Contributions of how philosophy of chemistry can contribute to the characterisation of NOS by nuanced perspectives on the nature of chemistry will be discussed. Theoretical perspectives and empirical studies on NOS have tended to focus on domain-general aspects of scientific knowledge with limited understanding of domain-specific ways of thinking. NOS literature can be further developed both theoretically and empirically, thereby contributing more to HPS studies in science education. Third, some applications of philosophy of chemistry in chemical education will be revised in more detail. For example, in October, 1999, an elective course on the philosophy of chemistry was opened to undergraduates at the University of Exeter. Jones and Jacob (2003) published a brief report about the course. Proposed work for secondary chemical education, including the context of the teaching of periodic law through argumentation will also be visited (e.g. Erduran, 2007). Fourth, the chapter will argue that developing potential for reciprocal interplay between philosophy of chemistry and chemical education. While philosophy of chemistry has the potential to influence chemistry education, chemistry education in turn influences philosophy of chemistry, particularly in relation to empirical foundations of chemical reasoning. The paper will conclude with some recommendations on the future directions of research in chemical education that is informed by philosophy of chemistry.
Translated title of the contributionPhilosophy of chemistry in chemical education
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Research on History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science
EditorsMichael Matthews
Publication statusIn preparation - 2013


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