Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 159-166

First online:

Matters are not so clear on the physical side

  • Olimpia LombardiAffiliated withCONICET, Universidad de Buenos Aires Email author 
  • , Mario CastagninoAffiliated withCONICET, IAFE, IFIR, Universidad de Buenos Aires

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According to ontological reductionism, molecular chemistry refers, at last, to the quantum ontology; therefore, the ontological commitments of chemistry turn out to be finally grounded on quantum mechanics. The main problem of this position is that nobody really knows what quantum ontology is. The purpose of this work is to argue that the confidence in the existence of the physical entities described by quantum mechanics does not take into account the interpretative problems of the theory: in the discussions about the relationship between chemistry and physics, difficulties are seen only on the side of chemistry, whereas matters highly controversial on the side of physics are taken for granted. For instance, it is usually supposed that the infinite mass limit in the Born-Oppenheimer approximation leads by itself to the concept of molecular framework used in molecular chemistry. We will argue that this assumption is implicitly based on an interpretative postulate for quantum mechanics, which, in turn, runs into difficulties when applied to the explanation of the simplest model of the hydrogen atom.


Molecular chemistry Quantum mechanics Born-Oppenheimer approximation Quantum ontology