What is an element? What is the periodic table? And what does quantum mechanics contribute to the question?

Foundations of Chemistry 14 (1):69-81 (2012)
This article considers two important traditions concerning the chemical elements. The first is the meaning of the term “element” including the distinctions between element as basic substance, as simple substance and as combined simple substance. In addition to briefly tracing the historical development of these distinctions, I make comments on the recent attempts to clarify the fundamental notion of element as basic substance for which I believe the term “element” is best reserved. This discussion has focused on the writings of Fritz Paneth which are here analyzed from a new perspective. The other tradition concerns the reduction of chemistry to quantum mechanics and an understanding of chemical elements through their microscopic components such as protons, neutrons and electrons. I claim that the use of electronic configurations has still not yet settled the question of the placement of several elements and discuss an alternative criterion based on maximizing triads of elements. I also point out another possible limitation to the reductive approach, namely the failure, up to now, to obtain a derivation of the Madelung rule. Mention is made of some recent similarity studies which could be used to clarify the nature of ‘elements’. Although it has been suggested that the notion of element as basic substance should be considered in terms of fundamental particles like protons and electrons, I resist this move and conclude that the quantum mechanical tradition has not had much impact on the question of what is an element which remains an essentially philosophical issue
Keywords Element  Basic substance  Paneth  Quantum mechanics  Periodic table  Madelung rule
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10698-011-9124-y
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
Edit this record
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Mark as duplicate
Request removal from index
Revision history
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 30,370
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
On the Continuity of Reference of the Elements: A Response to Hendry.Eric Scerri - 2006 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (2):308-321.
Response to Vollmer's Review of Minds and Molecules.Eric Scerri - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (2):391-398.
On the Rightful Place for He Within the Periodic Table.Octavio Novaro - 2008 - Foundations of Chemistry 10 (1):3-12.
Patching Physics and Chemistry Together.Robert C. Bishop - 2005 - Philosophy of Science 72 (5):710-722.
The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.John G. Cramer - 1986 - Reviews of Modern Physics 58 (3):647-687.
Lavoisier and Mendeleev on the Elements.Robin Findlay Hendry - 2004 - Foundations of Chemistry 7 (1):31-48.
Added to PP index

Total downloads
39 ( #136,319 of 2,193,785 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #291,271 of 2,193,785 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads
My notes
Sign in to use this feature