, Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 331–364 | Cite as

A Structural Analysis of the Phlogiston Case

Original Article


The incommensurability thesis, as introduced by T.S. Kuhn and P.K. Feyerabend, states that incommensurable theories are conceptually incompatible theories which share a common domain of application. Such claim has often been regarded as incoherent, since it has been understood that the determination of a common domain of application at least requires a certain degree of conceptual compatibility between the theories. The purpose of this work is to contribute to the defense of the notion of local or gradual incommensurability, as proposed by late Kuhn. The application of this notion would allow to render the incommensurability thesis coherent. To support this view, a typical example of incommensurability will be formally analyzed by applying the structuralist metatheory developed, among others by W. Balzer, C.U. Moulines and J.D. Sneed. The structural reconstruction of the relation between the phlogiston theory and the oxygen theory offered here will reveal that they are locally incommensurable, and will even make possible to determine the ontological reduction relation that they also exemplify.


  1. Balzer, W., Moulines, C. U., & Sneed, J. D. (1987). An architectonic for science. The structuralist program. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  2. Brock, W. H. (1992). The Fontana history of chemistry. London: Fontana Press.Google Scholar
  3. Cohen, I. B. (1985). Revolution in science. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Conant, J. B. (1948). The overthrow of the Phlogiston theory. In Harvard case histories in experimental science (pp. 67–115). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Díez, J. A., & Moulines, C. U. (1999). Fundamentos de Filosofía de la Ciencia. Barcelona: Ariel.Google Scholar
  6. Feyerabend, P. K. (1962/1981). Explanation, reduction, and empiricism. Reprinted in Realism, rationalism and scientific method. Philosophical papers (Vol. I, pp. 44–96). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Feyerabend, P. K. (1977). Changing patterns of reconstruction. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 28, 351–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kamlah, A. (1984). A logical investigation of the Phlogiston case. In W. Balzer, et al. (Eds.), Reduction in science (pp. 217–238). Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  9. Kuhn, T. S. (1962/1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Kuhn, T. S. (1976). Theory change as structure-change: Comments on the Sneed formalism. Erkenntnis, 10, 179–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kuhn, T. S. (1983). Commensurability, comparability, communicability. Philosophy of Science Association, II, 669–688.Google Scholar
  12. Laudan, L. (1977). Progress and its problems. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. Mayr, D. (1976). Investigations of the concept of reduction I. Erkenntnis, 10, 275–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Moulines, C. U. (1984). Ontological reduction in the natural sciences. In W. Balzer, et al. (Eds.), Reduction in science (pp. 51–70). Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  15. Moulines, C. U. (1991). Pluralidad y recursión. Estudios epistemológicos (p. 266). Madrid: Alianza.Google Scholar
  16. Moulines, C. U. (2000). Is there genuinely scientific progress? In A. Jonkisz & L. Koj (Eds.), On comparing and evaluating scientific theories, Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, 72, pp. 173–197.Google Scholar
  17. Niiniluoto, I. (1980). Scientific progress. Synthese, 45, 427–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Partington, J. R. (1962). A history of chemistry (Vol. III). London: Macmillan and Company Limited.Google Scholar
  19. Spector, M. (1978). Concepts of reduction in physical science. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Stegmüller, W. (1976). The structure and dynamics of theories. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  21. Thagard, T. (1992). Conceptual revolutions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de FilosofíaFacultad de Filosofía y LetrasValladolidSpain

Personalised recommendations