Foundations of Chemistry

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 137–160 | Cite as

Would Introductory Chemistry Courses Work Better with a New Philosophical Basis?

  • Joseph E. Earley


One of the main functions that introductory chemistry courses havefulfilled during the past century has been to provide evidence for the generalvalidity of 'the atomic hypothesis.' A second function has been to demonstratethat an analytical approach has wide applicability in rationalizing many kindsof phenomena. Following R.G. Collingwood, these two functions can be recognizedas related to a philosophical 'cosmology' (worldview, weltanshauung) thatbecame dominant in the late Renaissance. Recent developments in many areasof science, and in chemistry, have emphasized the central importance of understandingsynthetic, developmental, and evolutionary aspects of nature. This paperargues that these scientific developments, and changes in other aspects of culture,amount to a widespread shift to an alternative cosmology, a quite different generalworldview. To the extent that this is the case, introductory chemistry coursesought to be changed in fundamental ways. Rather than having a main focus onanalysis to microscopic components, introductory chemistry instruction shouldemphasize current scientific understanding of the (synthetic) evolutionary originsof the present world. This altered approach would provide good preparation forfuture professional work, while also making better contact with the perceivedconcerns of students.

chemical education cosmology dynamic systems evolution metaphor process 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph E. Earley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ChemistryGeorgetwon UniversityWashington, DCUSA. E-mail

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