Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 149-161

First online:

On the Origin of Tetrahedral Carbon: A Case for Philosophy of Chemistry?

  • Pedro CintasAffiliated withDepartamento de Química Orgánica, Facultad de Ciencias, University of Extremadura

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This essay analyzes the historical and philosophical context that led to the basic concepts of stereochemistry proposed by Van’t Hoff and Le Bel. Although it is now well established that the key idea of tetrahedral carbon, and in general a geometric view of matter, was pioneered by other chemists, Van’t Hoff and Le Bel used this idea to solve the puzzle of optical activity, thereby establishing a direct linkage between structure and physical properties. It is also interesting to note that their proposals came without experimental verification and they were largely based on experiments conducted by others. Philosophical arguments can, however, be invoked to satisfactorily validate this deductive reasoning.