Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 125–148 | Cite as

The Ontological Autonomy Of The Chemical World

  • Olimpia LombardiEmail author
  • Martín Labarca


In the problem of the relationship between chemistry and physics, many authors take for granted the ontological reduction of the chemical world to the world of physics. The autonomy of chemistry is usually defended on the basis of the failure of epistemological reduction: not all chemical concepts and laws can be derived from the theoretical framework of physics. The main aim of this paper is to argue that this line of argumentation is not strong enough for eliminate the idea of a hierarchical dependence of chemistry with respect to physics. The rejection of the secondary position of chemistry and the defense of the legitimacy of the philosophy of chemistry require a radically different philosophical perspective that denies not only epistemological reduction but also ontological reduction. Only on the basis of a philosophically grounded ontological pluralism it is possible to accept the ontological autonomy of the chemical world and, with this, to reverse the traditional idea of the ‘superiority’ of physics in the context of natural sciences.


Physical Chemistry Natural Science Philosophical Perspective Traditional Idea Chemical Concept 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Atmanspacher, H. 2002Determinism is Ontic, Determinability is EpistemicAtmanspacher, H.Bishop, R. eds. Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on DeterminismImprint-AcademicThorverton, England4974Google Scholar
  2. H. Atmanspacher and F. Kronz. Many Realisms. In G. Farre and T. Oksala (Eds.), Acta Polytechnica Scandinavica 91: 31–43, 1998.Google Scholar
  3. Batterman, R. 2002The Devil in the Details, Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction, and EmergenceOxford University PressOxfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Benfey, T. 2000Reflections on the Philosophy of Chemistry and a Rallying Call for Our DisciplineFoundations of Chemistry2195205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Castagnino, M., Lombardi, O. 2004Self-Induced Decoherence: A New ApproachStudies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics3573107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dirac, P. A. M. 1929Quantum Mechanics of Many-Electron SystemsProceedings of the Royal Society A338714733Google Scholar
  7. Kemeny, J. G., Oppenheim, P. 1956On ReductionPhilosophical Studies7619Google Scholar
  8. Lombardi, O. 2002Determinism, Internalism and ObjectivityAtmanspacher, H.Bishop, R. eds. Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on DeterminismImprint-AcademicThorverton, England7587Google Scholar
  9. Luisi, P. L. 2002Emergence in Chemistry: Chemistry as the Embodiment of EmergenceFoundations of Chemistry4183200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Nagel, E. 1961The Structure of ScienceHarcourt, Brace & WorldNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Pérez Ransanz, A. R. 1999Kuhn y el Cambio CientíficoFondo de Cultura EconomicaMexicoGoogle Scholar
  12. Primas, H. 1983Chemistry, Quantum Mechanics and ReductionismSpringerBerlinGoogle Scholar
  13. H. Primas. Emergence in Exact Natural Sciences. In G. Farre and T. Oksala (Eds.), Acta Polytechnica Scandinavica 91: 83–98, 1998.Google Scholar
  14. Putnam, H. 1981Reason, Truth and HistoryCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  15. Ramsey, J. 1997Molecular Shape, Reduction, Explanation and Approximate ConceptsSynthese111233251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Rohrlich, F. 1988Pluralistic Ontology and Theory Reduction in the Physical SciencesBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science39295312Google Scholar
  17. Rohrlich, F. 1990There is Good Physics in Theory ReductionFoundations of Physics2013991412CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  18. Scerri, E. 1991Electronic Configurations, Quantum Mechanics and ReductionBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science42309325Google Scholar
  19. Scerri, E. 2000aThe Failure of Reduction and How to Resist Disunity of the Sciences in the Context of Chemical EducationScience & Education9405425Google Scholar
  20. Scerri, E. 2000Realism, Reduction and the ‘Intermediate Position’Bhushan, N.Rosenfeld, S. eds. Of Minds and Molecules. New Philosophical Perspectives on ChemistryOxford University PressNew York5172Google Scholar
  21. Scerri, E., McIntyre, L. 1997The Case for the Philosophy of ChemistrySynthese111213232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Scheibe, E. 1973The Logical Analysis of Quantum MechanicsPergamon PressOxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. Brakel, J. 1997Chemistry as the Science of the Transformation of SubstancesSynthese111253282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Brakel, J. 2000aPhilosophy of Chemistry. Between the Manifest and the Scientific ImageLeuven University PressLeuvenGoogle Scholar
  25. Brakel, J. 2000bThe Nature of Chemical SubstancesBhushan, N.Rosenfeld, S. eds. Of Minds and Molecules. New Philosophical Perspectives on ChemistryOxford University PressNew York162184Google Scholar
  26. Vemulapalli, G.K., Byerly, H. 1999Remnants of ReductionismFoundations of Chemistry11741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wilson, M. 1989John Earman’s: A Primer on DeterminismPhilosophy of Science56502532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Woolley, R. 1982Natural Optical Activity and the Molecular HypothesisStructure and Bonding52135Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CONICET – Universidad Nacional de QuilmesUniversidad Autónoma de MadridUSA
  2. 2.Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Universidad Nacional de San MartínUSA

Personalised recommendations