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Analogy and Composition in Early Nineteenth-Century Chemistry: The Case of Aluminium

Hijmans, Sarah (2021) Analogy and Composition in Early Nineteenth-Century Chemistry: The Case of Aluminium. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Around fifteen years before the chemical substance alumina (aluminium oxide) could be decomposed in the laboratory, it was identified as a compound and predicted to contain a new element called ‘aluminium’. Using this episode from early nineteenth-century chemistry as a case study for the use of analogical reasoning in science, this paper examines how chemists relied on chemical classifications for the prediction of aluminium. I argue that chemists supplemented direct evidence of chemical decomposition with analogical inferences in order to evaluate the composition of substances. Since they were established on the basis of relevant similarities in chemical properties, classifications were taken to reflect so-called ‘chemical analogies’ between substances. In combination with the knowledge that analogous properties indicated similarities in composition, this enabled chemists to infer the composition of experimentally indecomposable substances by analogy. The trust in such analogical inferences, even if they could not be confirmed through experiment, was justified by pragmatic considerations. Whereas the possibility of decomposing a substance depended on the available laboratory techniques, chemical analogies were thought to last independently of internal composition. It was therefore more practical to keep well-established classes of substances together rather than separate them on the basis of experimental results that might evolve as new techniques were developed. Besides highlighting the links between analogical reasoning and classification, this paper also illustrates the importance of analogy in the evaluation of elementary nature in the early nineteenth century.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Hijmans, Sarahsarahnhijmans@gmail.com0000-0001-5739-5187
Keywords: History and Philosophy of Chemistry; Chemical analogy; Composition; Classification; Analogical Reasoning; Chemical element
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Chemistry
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Depositing User: Sarah N. Hijmans
Date Deposited: 27 Dec 2021 23:55
Last Modified: 27 Dec 2021 23:55
Item ID: 20047
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Chemistry
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Date: 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/20047

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