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Electronegativity as a New Case for Emergence and a New Problem for Reductionism

Cairns, Monte (2023) Electronegativity as a New Case for Emergence and a New Problem for Reductionism. [Preprint]

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The potential reducibility of chemical entities to their physical bases is a matter of dispute between ontological reductionists on one hand, and emergentists on the other. However, relevant debates typically revolve around the reducibility of so-called ‘higher-level’ chemical entities, such as molecules. Perhaps surprisingly, even committed proponents of emergence for these higher-level chemical entities appear to accept that the ‘lowest-level’ chemical entities – atomic species – are reducible to their physical bases. In particular, the microstructural view of chemical elements, actively developed and defended by emergentists, appears to hold that the explanatory power of nuclear charge justifies being reductionist about atomic species. My first task in this paper is to establish that nuclear charge cannot ultimately provide explanations sufficient to justify a reductionist approach to atomic species, unless we abandon the persuasive intuition that the presence of an element in a substance ought to explain the properties of that substance. The ‘missing piece’ for explaining the properties of substances by way of their elemental constituents is the electronegativity values of participant atoms. But electronegativity is a strikingly disunified concept that appears distinctly unamenable to analysis by way of fundamental physical principles. Through evaluating the uncertain physical identity of electronegativity, as well as its widespread and indispensable epistemic utility in chemical practice, I argue that electronegativity provides compelling grounds to seriously consider emergence for atomic species.

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Item Type: Preprint
Keywords: Reductionism; Emergence; Electronegativity; Microstructuralism; Nuclear Charge; Chemical Elements
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Chemistry
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Depositing User: Mr Monte Cairns
Date Deposited: 22 Oct 2023 18:33
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2023 18:33
Item ID: 22680
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Chemistry
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Date: 2023

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