Discoveries of Oxygen and the “Chemical Revolution” in the Context of European Scientific Networks



The so-called Chemical Revolution in the late 18th century often related chemistry to Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen. It is argued that modern chemistry, and its rise as a scientific discipline, which began maybe from the 17th century but reached a kind of maturity with Lavoisier, or later, with Dalton, needs a more thorough analysis of its scientific and epistemic networks. Though a lot of detailed work devoted to the discoveries of “oxygen” has done, a more thorough understanding of the Chemical Revolution needs a deeper understanding of the following crucial issues: I) The interrelatedness of seemingly unconnected disciplines such as historiography of chemistry, philosophy of chemistry and sociology of science; II) The merits of different concepts of phlogiston theories as well as the rise of Lavoisier’s chemical theories were transmitted and transformed in scientific networks. Analyses of how the inner circle of Lavoisierians—as a scientific community—exchanged ideas as well as adherents of phlogiston theories, such as Scheele and Priestley, lead us to the conclusion: Rejecting phlogiston theory as a whole is as irrational and fruitless as asserting that Lavoisier’s oxygen theory is—in plain and simple terms—correct. III) We agree that in a very specific notion we are justified to label the changing chemical paradigms from 1770s to 1790s a chemical revolution. We will argue that Lavoisier, as the head of a scientific research group, was part of a chemical revolution for several reasons: a) revolution of vocational training for chemists, b) growing and intensified importance of manifold communication, c) chemical theory with unifying and explanatory power as a “package deal”, and d) a special version of rationalism that was very much influenced by social factors and shaped a style of chemical reasoning.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophisches SeminarUniversität SiegenSiegenGermany

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