Why water is not H2O, and other critiques of essentialist ontology from the philosophy of chemistry

Philosophy of Science 74 (5):906-919 (2007)
Abstract
Ellis argues that certain essential properties of objects in the world not only determine the nature of these objects but also how they will behave in any situation. In this paper I will critique Ellis's essentialism from the perspective of the philosophy of chemistry, arguing that our current knowledge of chemistry in fact does not lend itself to essentialist interpretations and that this seriously undercuts Ellis's project. In particular I will criticize two key distinctions Ellis draws between internal vs. external properties and essential vs. accidental properties, showing that at the chemical level such distinctions are insupportable. If essential properties only exist at the level of sub-atomic physics, then Ellis's hopes that essentialism will provide a theoretical basis for a philosophy of chemistry are at best hopes for a very distant future, since the argument that chemical structure and dynamics can be explained at the quantum level derived is purely from analogy to much simpler systems than those chemists actually study. This suggests that we have very little scientific evidence that scientific essentialism is a viable ontology. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556; e-mail: hvandewa@nd.edu.
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    D. M. Armstrong (1999). A Naturalist Program: Epistemology and Ontology. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 73 (2):77 - 89.
    John W. Carroll, Laws of Nature. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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