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What Is A Chemical Element?A Collection of Essays by Chemists, Philosophers, Historians, and Educators$
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Eric Scerri and Elena Ghibaudi

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190933784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190933784.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 12 June 2021

The Operational Definition of the Elements

The Operational Definition of the Elements

A Philosophical Reappraisal

Chapter:
(p.167) 9 The Operational Definition of the Elements
Source:
What Is A Chemical Element?
Author(s):

Joachim Schummer

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190933784.003.0010

The paper reappraises the operational definition of elements, adopted in the late eighteenth century, by investigating both epistemic discontinuities and continuities within the broader epistemological and cultural context. The first part points out the radical disruption that the operational definition implied for most of science, which consisted in giving up explanation, the primary goal of natural philosophy, because the new elements had to be discovered. The operational turn in chemistry is then compared to several well-discussed “revolutions,” including the Kantian, relativistic, and quantum revolutions in physics, which similarly modified our understanding of fundamental concepts of natural philosophy, such as time, space, and causation, by relating them to human capacities.

Keywords:   operational definition of elements, epistemic functions of elements, scientific revolutions, epistemic disruption, Conceptual Tensions, and Chemical Revolution

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