Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 3–13 | Cite as

Lavoisier’s “Reflections on phlogiston” II: on the nature of heat

  • Nicholas W. BestEmail author


Having refuted the phlogiston theory, Lavoisier uses this second portion of his essay to expound his new theory of combustion, based on the oxygen principle. He gives a mechanistic account of thermodynamic phenomena in terms of a subtle fluid (not yet named “caloric”) and its ability to penetrate porous bodies. He uses this hypothetical fluid to explain volume changes, heat capacity and latent heat. Beyond the three types of combustion that he distinguishes and defines, Lavoisier also explains other chemical sources of heat, such as the heat of solution.


Chemical revolution Caloric theory Thermodynamics 



The translator would like to thank Florence Greffe, chief archivist at the Académie des Sciences of Paris, and her staff for allowing him to consult handwritten drafts of Lavoisier’s paper. He is also grateful to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University for the award of a Richard S. Westfall Fellowship, which enabled him to take that trip. Parts of this work were completed while on short-term fellowships from the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science (now the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine). He thanks both these organisations for their financial support, for access to many pertinent documents and for sharing the expertise of their library staff (particularly Jim Voelkel of the CHF). Cindy Elbaz and Bill Newman provided invaluable advice on various aspects of this translation but the translator takes full responsibility for any mistakes that may remain.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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