The role of idealisations in describing an isolated molecule

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The investigation of the relation between chemistry and quantum mechanics includes examining how the two theories each describe an isolated molecule. This paper focuses on one particular characteristic of chemistry’s and quantum mechanics’ descriptions of an isolated molecule; namely on the assumptions made by each description that an isolated molecule is stable and has structure. The paper argues that these assumptions are an idealisation. First, this is because stability and structure are partially determined by factors that concern the context in which a molecule is considered (i.e. thermodynamic conditions, time-range of experiment, environment, etc.). Secondly, the stability and structure of a molecule can only be empirically identified with reference to those factors. This paper examines these assumptions in the context of the philosophical literature on idealisations. This examination is a novel contribution that raises interesting questions about the relation between the two theories, the nature of stability and structure, and the function of these assumptions in the two theories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-29
Number of pages15
JournalFoundations of Chemistry
Early online date24 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Provisional acceptance date added, based on publication date. The research for this paper has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's (EU) Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No 771509.

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Science and Philosophy


  • idealisations
  • relation between chemistry and quantum mechanics
  • stability
  • molecular structure


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