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Of Minds and MoleculesNew Philosophical Perspectives on Chemistry$
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Nalini Bhushan and Stuart Rosenfeld

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195128345

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195128345.001.0001

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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: 16 January 2022

Realism, Reduction, and the “Intermediate Position”

Realism, Reduction, and the “Intermediate Position”

Chapter:
(p.51) 4 Realism, Reduction, and the “Intermediate Position”
Source:
Of Minds and Molecules
Author(s):

Eric R. Scerri

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195128345.003.0010

The editors of this volume have asked me to write something about reduction because I have been focusing on this issue in my research for some time. Rather than rehashing any previously published ideas, I want to consider a new aspect of this question—or at least one that is new to me. I will draw liberally on the work of my thesis grandfather, the chemist, Fritz Paneth. I use the term somewhat unusually, because Paneth was not the person who advised my own advisor Heinz Post but was, in fact, his natural father, from whom Heinz presumably developed an interest in the philosophical aspects of science. I will touch on such areas as realism, including naive realism, the nature of the periodic system, metaphysical aspects of chemistry, and, as suggested by the editors, the reduction of chemistry. Of course, nobody likes to be referred to as a naive anything, and not surprisingly, some chemists are quick to react if it is suggested that they tend to adopt a naively realistic attitude in their work. Nevertheless, I think it is true that chemists are often realists, naive or otherwise, and this may not be such a bad thing, as I will try to explain. The question hinges on the extent to which such realistic views are maintained and in what context they may or may not be appropriate. Broadly speaking, chemists are frequently accused of unwarranted realism by physicists for taking chemical models too literally. Whereas no chemist nowadays believes that tiny springs connect the atoms in a molecule, such denials of models are less prevalent when it conies to hybridization, electronic configurations, and atomic orbitals. Chemistry professors may well begin by declaring that these are approximate concepts, but they frequently fail to emphasize that, from the point of view of physics, they are strictly incorrect or, philosophically speaking, are nonreferring terms.

Keywords:   Aristotle, Periodic law, ab initio calculations, chemical arguments, elements, insight, law(s), mixtures, naive realist, orbitals

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