Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 149–161 | Cite as

On the Origin of Tetrahedral Carbon: A Case for Philosophy of Chemistry?

  • Pedro Cintas


This essay analyzes the historical and philosophical context that led to the basic concepts of stereochemistry proposed by Van’t Hoff and Le Bel. Although it is now well established that the key idea of tetrahedral carbon, and in general a geometric view of matter, was pioneered by other chemists, Van’t Hoff and Le Bel used this idea to solve the puzzle of optical activity, thereby establishing a direct linkage between structure and physical properties. It is also interesting to note that their proposals came without experimental verification and they were largely based on experiments conducted by others. Philosophical arguments can, however, be invoked to satisfactorily validate this deductive reasoning.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. M.P. Crosland. Historical Studies in the Language of Chemistry, Chapter 3. New York: Dover Publications, 1978.Google Scholar
  2. E.L. Eliel and S.H. Wilen. Stereochemistry of Organic Compounds, pp. 2–6, 15– 20, 58–62. New York: Wiley, 1994.Google Scholar
  3. P.K. Feyerabend. Against Method. London: New Left Books, 1975.Google Scholar
  4. A. Kekulé. Bull. Soc. Chim. Fr. 3: 98–110, 1865.Google Scholar
  5. A. Kekulé. J. Liebigs Ann. Chem. 137: 129–196, 1866.Google Scholar
  6. T.S. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  7. J.A. Le Bel. Bull. Soc. Chim. Fr. 22: 337–347, 1874.Google Scholar
  8. J.R. Partington. A History of Chemistry, Vol. 4, pp. 532–565. New York: Macmillan, 1964.Google Scholar
  9. E. Paternò. Giornale Scienze Nat. Econom. 5: 117–122, 1869.Google Scholar
  10. K.R. Popper. The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1st edn., pp. 36–37, 53. London: Hutchinson, 1959.Google Scholar
  11. B. Pullman. The Atom in the History of Human Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.Google Scholar
  12. P.J. Ramberg. Bull. Hist. Chem. 15/16: 45–53, 1994.Google Scholar
  13. P.J. Ramberg. HYLE – Int. J. Phil. Chem. 6: 35–61, 2000.Google Scholar
  14. O.B. Ramsay (Ed.). Van't Hoff-Le Bel Centennial, ACS Symposium Series 12, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1975.Google Scholar
  15. O.B. Ramsay. Stereochemistry, pp. 56–68. London: Heyden, 1981.Google Scholar
  16. O.B. Ramsay. Stereochemistry, pp. 78–80. London: Heyden, 1981.Google Scholar
  17. O.B. Ramsay. Stereochemistry, pp. 92–97, London: Heyden, 1981.Google Scholar
  18. A.J. Rocke. Chemical Atomism in the Nineteenth Century: From Dalton to Cannizzaro. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  19. A.M. Rouhi. Chem. Eng. News 77(36): 28–32, 1999.Google Scholar
  20. C.A. Russell. The History of Valency. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1971.Google Scholar
  21. A. Thackray. Atoms and Powers: An Essay on Newtonian Matter – Theory and the Development of Chemistry. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  22. A. Thackray. John Dalton: Critical Assessments of His Life and Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  23. S. Toulmin. Human Understanding, Vol. I. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  24. J.H. Van't Hoff. Arch. Neerl. Sci. Exact. Nat. 9: 445–454, 1874.Google Scholar
  25. A. Werner. Z. Anorg. Chem. 3: 267–330, 1893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. J. Wislicenus. Ber. Deutsch. Chem. Ges. 21: 581–585, 1888.Google Scholar
  27. J. Worrall. In A. O'Hear (Ed.), Philosophy and Problems, pp. 75–102. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro Cintas
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Química Orgánica, Facultad de CienciasUniversity of ExtremaduraBadajozSpain

Personalised recommendations