Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 181–192 | Cite as

Linking chemistry with physics: arguments and counterarguments

  • Olimpia Lombardi


The many-faced relationship between chemistry and physics is one of the most discussed topics in the philosophy of chemistry. In his recent book Reducing Chemistry to Physics. Limits, Models, Consequences, Hinne Hettema (Reducing chemistry to physics. Limits, models, consequences, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Groningen, 2012) conceives this relationship as a reduction link, and devotes his work to defend this position on the basis of a “naturalized” concept of reduction. In the present paper I critically review three kinds of issues stemming from Hettema’s argumentation: philosophical, scientific and methodological.


Ontological reduction Quantum mechanics Quantum chemistry Molecular shape Unity of science 



I want to thank all the participants of the Summer Symposium 2013 of the International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry, held in Montevideo, Uruguay, for the stimulating discussions, and in particular to Lucía Lewowicz, the organizer of the event, for bringing the philosophy of chemistry to the Rio de la Plata. I want also express my special acknowledgement to Hinne Hettema for his good disposition in the debate, and his kind help in the language review of my text.


  1. Alexander, S.: Space, Time and Deity. Macmillan, London (1920)Google Scholar
  2. Ballentine, L.: Quantum Mechanics: A Modern Development. World Scientific, Singapore (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Balzer, W., Moulines, C.U., Sneed, J.D.: An Architectonic for Science. The Structuralist Program. Reidel, Dordrecht (1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Broad, C.D.: The Mind and its Place in Nature. Kegan Paul, New York (1925)Google Scholar
  5. Cartwright, N.: The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chang, H.: Is Water H2O? Evidence, Pluralism and Realism, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Springer, Dordrecht (2012)Google Scholar
  7. Cunningham, B.: The reemergence of ‘emergence’. Philos. Sci. 68, S62–S75 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Darden, L., Maull, N.: Interfield theories. Philos. Sci. 44, 43–64 (1977)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. El-Hani, C.N.: On the reality of emergents. Principia 6, 51–87 (2002)Google Scholar
  10. Emmeche, C.: Autopoietic systems, replicators, and the search for a meaningful biologic definition of life. Ult. Real. Mean. 20, 244–264 (1997)Google Scholar
  11. Hacking, I.: Historical Ontology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (2002)Google Scholar
  12. Hempel, C.: The theoretician’s dilemma. In: Feigl, H., Scriven, M., Maxwell, G. (eds.) Concepts, Theories, and the Mind-Body Problem, Volume 2 of Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis (1958)Google Scholar
  13. Hendry, R.F.: The physicists, the chemists, and the pragmatics of explanation. Philos. Sci. 71, 1048–1059 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hendry, R.F.: Two conceptions of the chemical bond. Philos. Sci. 75, 909–920 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hendry, R.F.: Ontological reduction and molecular structure. Stud. Hist. Philos. Mod. Phys. 41, 183–191 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hettema, H.: Reducing Chemistry to Physics. Limits, Models, Consequences. Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Groningen (2012)Google Scholar
  17. Hughes, R.I.G.: The Structure and Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (1989)Google Scholar
  18. Kim, J.: Making sense of emergence. Philos. Stud. 95, 3–36 (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kochen, S., Specker, E.: The problem of hidden variables in quantum mechanics. J. Math. Mech. 17, 59–87 (1967)Google Scholar
  20. Labarca, M., Lombardi, O.: Why orbitals do not exist? Found. Chem. 12, 147–157 (2010)Google Scholar
  21. Ladyman, J., Ross, D., Spurrett, D., Collier, J.: Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lakatos, I.: The methodology of scientific research programmes. In: Lakatos, I., Musgrave, A. (eds.) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1970)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Langton, R.: Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves. Clarendon Press, Oxford (1998)Google Scholar
  24. Lastiri, M.: Una Reconstrucción Estructuralista de la Mecánica Cuántica. Doctoral Dissertation. Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, Buenos Aires (2011)Google Scholar
  25. Lastiri, M.: Aplicaciones intencionales de la mecánica cuántica. Agora. Papeles de Filosofía 31, 271–285 (2012)Google Scholar
  26. LePoidevin, R.: Missing elements and missing premises: a combinatorial argument for the reduction of chemistry. British J. Philos. Sci. 56, 117–134 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lloyd Morgan, C.: Emergent Evolution. Williams and Norgate, London (1923)Google Scholar
  28. Lombardi, O., Castagnino, M.: A modal-Hamiltonian interpretation of quantum mechanics. Stud. Hist. Philos. Mod. Phys. 39, 380–443 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lombardi, O., Castagnino, M.: Matters are not so clear on the physical side. Found. Chem. 12, 159–166 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lombardi, O., Castagnino, M., Ardenghi, J.S.: The modal-Hamiltonian interpretation and the Galilean covariance of quantum mechanics. Stud. Hist. Philos. Mod. Phys. 41, 93–103 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lombardi, O., Dieks, D.: Modal interpretations of quantum mechanics. In: Zalta, E.N. (ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition). (2012)
  32. Lombardi, O., Labarca, M.: The ontological autonomy of the chemical world. Found. Chem. 7, 125–148 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lombardi, O., Labarca, M.: The ontological autonomy of the chemical world: a response to Needham. Found. Chem. 8, 81–92 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nagel, E.: The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London (1961)Google Scholar
  35. Needham, P.: Ontological reduction: a comment on Lombardi and Labarca. Found. Chem. 8, 73–80 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Needham, P.: Nagel’s analysis of reduction: comments in defense as well as critique. Stud. Hist. Philos. Mod. Phys. 41, 163–170 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Philström, S.: The re-emergence of the emergence debate. Principia 6, 133–181 (2002)Google Scholar
  38. Primas, H.: Chemistry, Quantum Mechanics and Reductionism. Springer, Berlin (1981)Google Scholar
  39. Putnam, H.: Reason, Truth and History. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1981)Google Scholar
  40. Ruthenberg, K.: Paneth, Kant, and the philosophy of chemistry. Found. Chem. 11, 79–91 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ruthenberg, K.: Das Kant’sche Echo in Paneths Philosophie der Chemie. Kant-Studien 101, 465–479 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schaffer, J.: Truth and fundamentality: on Merricks’s truth and ontology. Philos. Books 49, 302–316 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Strevens, M.: Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (2008)Google Scholar
  44. Torretti, R.: Scientific realism and scientific practice. In: Agazzi, E., Pauri, M. (eds.) The Reality of the Unobservable: Observability, Unobservability and their Impact on the Issue of Scientific Realism. Kluwer, Dordrecht (2000)Google Scholar
  45. Wimsatt, W.C.: Re-engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations To Reality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (2007)Google Scholar
  46. Wolley, R.G.: Quantum theory and molecular structure. Adv. Phys. 25, 27–52 (1976)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wolley, R.G.: Must a molecule have a shape? J. Am. Chem. Soc. 100, 1073–1078 (1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wolley, R.G.: Is there a quantum definition of a molecule? J. Math. Chem. 23, 3–12 (1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CONICET, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y NaturalesUniversidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina

Personalised recommendations