Lavoisier and mendeleev on the elements

Foundations of Chemistry 7 (1):31-48 (2005)
Lavoisier defined an element as a chemicalsubstance that cannot be decomposed usingcurrent analytical methods. Mendeleev saw anelement as a substance composed of atoms of thesame atomic weight. These `definitions' doquite different things: Lavoisier'sdistinguishes the elements from the compounds,so that the elements may form the basis of acompositional nomenclature; Mendeleev's offersa criterion of sameness and difference forelemental substances, while Lavoisier's doesnot. In this paper I explore the historical andtheoretical background to each proposal.Lavoisier's and Mendeleev's explicitconceptions of elementhood differed from eachother, and from the official IUPAC definitionof `element' of the 1920s. However, Lavoisierand Mendeleev both subscribed to – andemployed – a deeper notion of a chemicalelement as the component of compound substancesthat (i) can survive chemical change, and (ii)explains the chemical behaviour of itscompounds.
Keywords Philosophy   Chemistry/Food Science, general   Physical Chemistry   Philosophy of Science   History
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DOI 10.1023/B:FOCH.0000042886.65679.4e
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Eric Scerri (2006). On the Continuity of Reference of the Elements: A Response to Hendry. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (2):308-321.

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