Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 55–68 | Cite as

Chemical substances and the limits of pluralism

  • Robin Findlay HendryEmail author


In this paper I investigate the relationship between vernacular kind terms and specialist scientific vocabularies. Elsewhere I have developed a defence of realism about the chemical elements as natural kinds. This defence depends on identifying the epistemic interests and theoretical conception of the elements that have suffused chemistry since the mid-eighteenth century. Because of this dependence, it is a discipline-specific defence, and would seem to entail important concessions to pluralism about natural kinds. I argue that making this kind of concession does not imply that vernacular kind terms have independent application conditions. Nor does it preclude us saying that chemists, with their particular epistemic interests, have discovered the underlying nature of water, the stuff that is named and thought about in accordance with the practical interests of everyday life. There are limits to pluralism.


Chemical substances Pluralism Limits 



I would like to thank the Durham University Institute of Advanced Study for granting me a fellowship in the academic year 2009–2010 during which I researched this paper and another one (‘Science and Everyday Life: ‘Water vs. H2O’ Insights 3 (2010)) with which it overlaps. I would also like to thank an anonymous referee and participants in the conference ‘A Philosophy of Science Adequate to Chemistry’ at The University of Sydney for helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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