Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 91–102 | Cite as

Chemistry and the problem of pluralism in science: an analysis concerning philosophical and scientific disagreements

  • Rein VihalemmEmail author


Chemistry, especially its historical practice, has in the philosophy of science in recent decades attracted more and more attention, influencing the turn from the vision of science as a timeless logic-centred system of statements towards the history- and practice-centred approach. The problem of pluralism in science has become a popular topic in that context. Hasok Chang’s “active normative epistemic pluralism” manifested in his book (2012) Is water H2O? Evidence, realism and pluralism, pursuing an integrated study of history and philosophy of science, has provoked quite a widespread debate. It provides a good opportunity to discuss the topical philosophical issue of the nature of disagreements. The differences among disagreements in different domains have been pointed out in the disagreement literature. It has been noticed that in mathematics and science consensus is established more clearly than in philosophy where it remains largely unachievable (Kornblith in Disagreement, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 29–52, 2010). However, this conclusion is derived in the context of traditional logic-centred view of science. The aim of this paper is to consider the different nature of disagreements in science and in philosophy in the context of the history- and practice-centred approach. The analysis is focused on the critique of the received view of the Chemical Revolution which played quite a central role in Chang’s becoming a pluralist about science. Unlike Chang, however, a modified Kuhnian paradigm-conception of science and scientific revolutions is defended.


Chemical Revolution Disagreements Epistemic pluralism Hasok Chang Paradigm-conception of science Thomas Kuhn 


  1. Bensaude-Vincent, B., Simon, J.: Chemistry—the impure science. Imperial College Press, London (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bird, A.: Kuhn’s wrong turning. Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. 33, 443–463 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chalmers, A.: Review of Hasok Chang: is water H2O? Evidence, realism and pluralism. Sci. Educ. 22, 913–920 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chang, H.: The persistence of epistemic objects through scientific change. Erkenntnis 75, 413–429 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chang, H.: Is water H2O? evidence, realism and pluralism. Springer, Dordrecht (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chang, H.: Incommensurability: revisiting the Chemical Revolution. In: Kindi, V., Arabatzis, T. (eds.) Kuhn’s the structure of scientific revolutions revisited, pp. 153–176 (2012b)Google Scholar
  7. Chang, H.: The Chemical Revolution revisited. Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. 49, 91–98 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chang, H., Nordman, A., Bensaude-Vincent, B., Simon, J.: Ask not what philosophy can do for chemistry, but what chemistry can do for philosophy. Metascience 19, 373–383 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davies, A.: Kuhn on incommensurability and theory choice. Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. 44, 571–579 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Feyerabend, P.K.: Consolations for the specialist. In: Lakatos, I., Musgrave, A. (eds.) Criticism and the growth of knowledge, pp. 197–230. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gordin, M.D.: The Tory interpretetion of history (review of H. Chang, Is water H2O?). Hist. Stud. Nat. Sci. 44, 413–423 (2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Heidegger, M.: The age of the world picture. In: The question concerning technology and other essays (trans. William Lovitt). Harper and Row, New York (1977)Google Scholar
  13. Hoyningen-Huene, P.: Thomas Kuhn and the Chemical Revolution. Found. Chem. 10, 101–115 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Klein, U.: A revolution that never happened. Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. 49, 80–90 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kornblith, H.: Belief in the face of controversy. In: Feldman, R., Warfield, T.A. (eds.) Disagreement, pp. 29–52. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kuhn, T.S.: The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edn. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1970a)Google Scholar
  17. Kuhn, T.S.: Reflections on my critics. In: Lakatos, I., Musgrave, A. (eds.) Criticism and the growth of knowledge, pp. 231–278. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1970b)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kuhn, T.S.: The essential tension: selected studies in scientific tradition and change. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1977)Google Scholar
  19. Kusch, M.: Scientific pluralism and the Chemical Revolution. Stud. Hist. Philos. Sci. 49, 69–79 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maxwell, N.: From knowledge to wisdom: a revolution for science and the humanities, 2nd edn. Pentire Press, London (2007)Google Scholar
  21. Needham, P.: Questioning the justification of past science. Int. Stud. Philos. Sci. 27(1), 85–93 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Popper, K.R.: Normal science and its dangers. In: Lakatos, I., Musgrave, A. (eds.) Criticism and the growth of knowledge, pp. 51–58. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Popper, K.R.: The logic of scientific discovery, 5th (revised) edn. Hutchimson & Co., London (1968)Google Scholar
  24. Rouse, J.: Science as practice: two readings of Thomas Kuhn, chapter 2. In: Knowledge and power: toward a political philosophy of science. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London (1987)Google Scholar
  25. Rouse, J.: How scientific practices matter: reclaiming philosophical naturalism. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (2002)Google Scholar
  26. Rouse, J.: Kuhn’s philosophy of scientific practice, In: Nickles, T. (ed.) Thomas Kuhn, pp. 101–121. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2003)Google Scholar
  27. Schindler, S.: The Kuhnian mode of HPS. Synthese 190, 4137–4154 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Stepin, V.: Theoretical knowledge. Springer, Dordrect (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. van Brakel, J.: Philosophy of chemistry: between the manifest and the scientific image. Leuven University Press, Leuven (2000)Google Scholar
  30. Vihalemm, R.: The history of formation of a science: on the development of chemistry. Valgus, Tallinn (1981). (in Estonian) Google Scholar
  31. Vihalemm, R.: The Kuhn-loss thesis and the case of phlogiston theory. Sci. Stud. (Helsinki) 13(1), 68–78 (2000)Google Scholar
  32. Vihalemm, R.: The problem of the unity of science and chemistry. In: Sobczynska, D., Zeidler, P., Zielonacka-Lis, E. (eds.) Chemistry in the philosophical melting pot, pp. 39–58. Peter Lang Verlag, Frankfurt am Main (2004)Google Scholar
  33. Vihalemm, R.: Philosophy of chemistry and the image of science. Found. Sci. 12(3), 223–234 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vihalemm, R.: Towards a practical realist philosophy of science. Balt. J. Eur. Stud. 1(9), 46–60 (2011)Google Scholar
  35. Vihalemm, R.: Practical realism: against standard scientific realism and anti-realism. Stud. Philos. Estonica 5(2), 7–22 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Vihalemm, R.: What is a scientific concept: some considerations concerning chemistry in practical realist philosophy of science. In: Llored, J.-P. (ed.) The philosophy of chemistry: practices methodologies and concepts, pp. 364–384. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge (2013)Google Scholar
  37. Vihalemm, R.: Philosophy of chemistry against standard scientific realism and anti-realism. Philos. Sci. 19(1) (2015a) (in press)Google Scholar
  38. Vihalemm, R.: Science, φ-science, and the dual character of chemistry. In: Scerri, E., Fischer, G. (eds.) Chapters in the Philosophy of Chemistry. Oxford University Press, New York (2015)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tartu UniversityTartuEstonia

Personalised recommendations