Chemical Affinity in the 19th Century and Newtonianism

  • W. Hornix
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 123)


Newton’s influence on the development of chemistry did not originate in his chemical work. It is mainly the general impact of the “mechanical philosophy” of the Principia, and the specific mechanical explanation of the chemical displacement-reaction, given in the “Queries” of the Opticks that resonates in the theories of the chemists of the post-Newton era. For the eighteenth century this is set out in detail by Metzger, Schofield and Thackray. There are only fragmentary studies on Newtonianism in modern chemistry (since Lavoisier).1 Particularly, two subjects are important: atomic theory and chemical affinity. For this Paper I choose the theory of affinity and I will concentrate on the contribution of three researchers: Faraday, Joule, and Helmholtz. This choice is suggested by the undervaluation of their influence on nineteenth century affinity theory. In the discussions of the history of this subject, which covers the time between Berthollet’s law of mass action of 1801 and that of Guldberg and Waage as formulated in 1879, one usually forgets to mention the electrochemical affinity theory which dominated that period.2 Thermochemistry, although not neglected, is historically closely related to electrochemistry, as I hope to show. Chemical thermodynamics started its triumphal career with the solution of electro-chemical problems.


Heat Effect Electromotive Force Electrolytic Cell Chemical Affinity Chemical Heat 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Hornix
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NijmegenThe Netherlands

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