, Volume 180, Issue 2, pp 87–101 | Cite as

Structural realism versus standard scientific realism: the case of phlogiston and dephlogisticated air



The aim of this paper is to revisit the phlogiston theory to see what can be learned from it about the relationship between scientific realism, approximate truth and successful reference. It is argued that phlogiston theory did to some extent correctly describe the causal or nomological structure of the world, and that some of its central terms can be regarded as referring. However, it is concluded that the issue of whether or not theoretical terms successfully refer is not the key to formulating the appropriate form of scientific realism in response to arguments from theory change, and that the case of phlogiston theory is shown to be readily accommodated by ontic structural realism.


Structural realism Phlogiston Scientific realism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bergman, T. A. (1785). Dissertation on elective attractions (trans: Beddoes, T.). London. (First published in Latin as Dissertatio de attractionibus electives, 231–234 (1775).Google Scholar
  2. Bird A. (2000) Thomas Kuhn. Acumen., ChesumGoogle Scholar
  3. Carrier M. (2004) Experimental success and the revelation of reality: The miracle argument for scientific realism. In: Carrier M. (eds) et al Knowledge and the world: Challenges beyond the science wars. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 137–161Google Scholar
  4. Carrier, M. (this volume).Google Scholar
  5. Chang H. (2003) Preservative realism and its discontents: Revisiting caloric. Philosophy of Science 70: 902–912CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dennett D. (1991) Real patterns. Journal of Philosophy 88: 27–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Elsamahi M. (2005) A critique of localised realism. Philosophy of Science 72: 1350–1360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fahrbach, L. (this volume).Google Scholar
  9. Field H. (1973) Theory change and the indeterminacy of reference. Journal of Philosophy 70: 462–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gale G. (1968) Phlogiston revisited: Explanatory models and conceptual change. Chemistry 41: 16–20Google Scholar
  11. Grandy R. (1973) Reference, meaning and belief. Journal of Philosophy 70: 439–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hardin C. L., Rosenberg A. (1982) In defence of convergent realism. Philosophy of Science 49: 604–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hoyningen-Huene P. (2008) Thomas Kuhn and the chemical revolution. Foundations of Chemistry 10: 101–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kitcher P. (1993) The advancement of science. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Koertege, N. (1969). The general correspondence principle: A study of relations between scientific theories. Doctoral Thesis, University of London.Google Scholar
  16. Kuhn T. S. (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  17. Ladyman J. (1998) What is structural realism?. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29: 409–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ladyman J. (1998) What is structural realism?. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29: 409–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ladyman J. (2002) Understanding philosophy of science. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Ladyman, J. (2007). Structural realism. In E.N. Zalta (Eds.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  21. Ladyman J., Ross D. (2007) Every thing must go: Metaphysics naturalized. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lange M. (2002) Baseball, pessimistic inductions and the turnover fallacy. Analysis 62: 281–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Laudan, L. (1981). A confutation of convergent realism. Philosophy of Science, 48, 19–49. (Reprinted in D. Papineau (Ed.), The philosophy of science (pp. 107–138). Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  24. Laudan L. (1984) Realism without the real. Philosophy of Science 51: 156–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lewis D. (1970) How to define theoretical terms. Journal of Philosophy 67: 17–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lewis P. (2001) Why the pessimistic induction is a fallacy. Synthese 129: 371–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lyons T. D. (2006) Scientific realism and the Stratagema de Divide et Impera. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57: 537–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Magnus P. D., Callender C. (2004) Realist ennui and the base rate fallacy. Philosophy of Science 71: 320–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McLeish C. (2005) Scientific realism bit by bit: Part I. Kitcher on reference. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 36: 667–685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McLeish C. (2006) Realism bit by bit: Part II. Disjunctive partial reference. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 37: 171–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Musgrave A. (1976) Why did oxygen supplant phlogiston? Research programmes in the chemical revolution. In: Howson C. (eds) Method and appraisal in the physical sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 181–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Penrose R. (2004) The road to reality: A complete guide to the laws of the universe. Jonathan Cape, LondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Post H. (1971) Correspodence, invariance and heuristics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 2: 213–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Psillos S. (1999) Scientific realism: How science tracks truth. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. Putnam H. (1978) Meaning and the moral sciences. Routledge and Kegan Paul, LondonGoogle Scholar
  36. Pyle A. (2000) The rationality of the chemical revolution. In: Nola R., Sankey H. (eds) After Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp 99–124Google Scholar
  37. Schurz, G. (this volume).Google Scholar
  38. Schurz G. (2009) When empirical success implies theoretical reference: A structural correspondence theorem. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60: 101–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stanford P. K. (2003a) No refuge for realism: Selective confirmation and the history of science. Philosophy of Science 70: 913–925CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stanford P. K. (2003b) Pyrrhic victories for scientific realism. Journal of Philosophy 11: 551–572Google Scholar
  41. Whewell W. (1837) The history of the inductive sciences (Vol. 3). John W Parker, LondonGoogle Scholar
  42. White J. H. (1932) The history of the phlogiston theory. Edward Arnold, LondonGoogle Scholar
  43. Worrall, J. (1989). Structural realism: The best of both worlds? Dialectica, 43, 99–124. (Reprinted in D. Papineau (Ed.), The philosophy of science (pp. 139–165). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BristolBristolUK

Personalised recommendations