Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 157–166 | Cite as

Atom and aether in nineteenth-century physical science

  • Alan F. ChalmersEmail author


This paper suggests that the cases made for atoms and the aether in nineteenth-century physical science were analogous, with the implication that the case for the atom was less than compelling, since there is no aether. It is argued that atoms did not play a productive role in nineteenth-century chemistry any more than the aether did in physics. Atoms and molecules did eventually find an indispensable home in chemistry but by the time that they did so they were different kinds of entities to those figuring in the speculations of those natural philosophers who were atomists. Advances in nineteenth-century chemistry were a precondition for rather than the result of the productive introduction of atoms into chemistry.


Atoms Aether Chemical formulae Scientific realism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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