Theory comparison and choice in chemistry, 1766-1791

Geoffrey Blumenthal, James Ladyman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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This is the second of a pair of papers, of which the first showed how each of the main late phlogistic theories effectively reached impasses due to internal problems or included features which made them unacceptable even to other phlogistians. This paper firstly summarises the development of Lavoisier’s theory. Then a very detailed comparison is given between the main theories, with regard to various criteria for comparison. This paper briefly notes some implications for the underdetermination of theory by evidence, for pluralisms, and for methodologies in the history of science. Lavoisier and his colleagues produced a largely experimentally-based compositional structure which for the first time allowed all of existing chemistry to be comprehended organisationally. This contrasted with the previous situation in which it had been found necessary in a textbook to argue that chemistry was not a purely speculative science. Together with the problems of the late phlogistic theories, this was why over the next decade the vast majority of chemists rationally changed to using the new theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-189
Number of pages21
JournalFoundations of Chemistry
Issue number3
Early online date23 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Science and Philosophy
  • Centre_for_science_and_philosophy


  • Theory comparison
  • Theory choice
  • Phlogiston
  • Lavoisier
  • Cavendish
  • Priestley
  • Kirwan
  • Scheele
  • Gren
  • Macquer


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