Incompatible models in chemistry: the case of electronegativity

  • Hernán Lucas AccorintiEmail author


During the second half of the nineteenth century, electronegativity (EN) has been one of the most relevant chemical concepts to explain the relationships between chemical substances and their possible reactions. Specifically, EN is a property of the substances that allows them to attract external electrons in bonding situations. The problem arises because EN cannot be measured directly. Indeed, the only way to measure it is through different properties that do can be directly measured, for instance enthalpy, ionization energies or electron affinities. What is particularly troubling about this case in quantum chemistry is that the different models used to describe and quantify EN are incompatible but, in a certain sense, equivalent because the same EN scale results in all of them. By analyzing Linus Pauling’s and Robert Mulliken’s models of EN, it will be argued that, if we remain cling to a traditional representative conception of models, we cannot understand the meaning of the information provided by those models. Indeed, if we do not want to adopt an instrumentalist point of view concerning chemical knowledge, we should reconsider by virtue of what a model represents the system, or, in other words, which the factors that determine the representative power of a model are. I will propose a new perspective that incorporates the role of experimental techniques in the very notion of representation; this perspective allows us to understand how supposedly incompatible models of the same target system can be both simultaneously representative.


Electronegativity Scientific representation Incompatible models Mulliken’s models Pauling’s models 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.FONCYT-Universidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina

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