Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 55-68

First online:

Chemical substances and the limits of pluralism

  • Robin Findlay HendryAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Durham University Email author 

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In this paper I investigate the relationship between vernacular kind terms and specialist scientific vocabularies. Elsewhere I have developed a defence of realism about the chemical elements as natural kinds. This defence depends on identifying the epistemic interests and theoretical conception of the elements that have suffused chemistry since the mid-eighteenth century. Because of this dependence, it is a discipline-specific defence, and would seem to entail important concessions to pluralism about natural kinds. I argue that making this kind of concession does not imply that vernacular kind terms have independent application conditions. Nor does it preclude us saying that chemists, with their particular epistemic interests, have discovered the underlying nature of water, the stuff that is named and thought about in accordance with the practical interests of everyday life. There are limits to pluralism.


Chemical substances Pluralism Limits