Some presuppositions in the metaphysics of chemical reactions

Foundations of Chemistry 10 (1):19-38 (2008)
Abstract
The project of chemistry to classify substances and develop techniques for their transformation into other substances rests on assumptions about the means by which compounds are constituted and reconstituted. Robert Boyle not only proposed empirical tests for a metaphysics of material corpuscules, but also a principle for designing experimental procedures in line with that metaphysics. Later chemists added activity concepts to the repertoire. The logic of activity explanations in modern times involves hierarchies of activity concepts, transitions between levels through non-dispositional groundings. Such hierarchies terminate in powerful particulars, such as elementary charged particles. Do these have a fundamental place in the most recent accounts of molecular architecture, stabilities and transformations? However, a close study of the contemporary chemistry of substances transforming reactions discloses a hybrid metaphysics, making use of both the Boylean corpuscles and Faradayan fields. This is illustrated by an analysis of the metaphysics inherent in John Polanyi’s use of “chemoluminescence” to follow the formation of products in chemical reactions. A brief sketch of a resolution of the tension between the two metaphysical schemes is drawn from Niels Bohr’s radical metaphysics extended from the quantum realm proper to chemistry (and perhaps beyond).
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