Materials in Eighteenth-Century Science: A Historical Ontology

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In the eighteenth century, chemistry was the science of materials.
Chemists treated mundane raw materials and chemical substances as multidimensional objects of inquiry that could be investigated in both practical and theoretical contexts--as useful commodities, perceptible objects of nature, and entities with hidden and imperceptible features. In this history of materials, Ursula Klein and
Wolfgang Lefèvre link chemical science with chemical technology, challenging our current understandings of objects in the history of science and the distinction between scientific and technological objects. They further show that chemists'
experimental production and understanding of materials changed over time, first in the decades around 1700 and then around 1830, when mundane materials became clearly distinguished from true chemical substances.The authors approach their subject by scrutinizing the modes of identification and classification used by chemists and learned practitioners of the period. They find that chemists' classificatory practices especially were strikingly diverse. In scientific investigations,
materials were classified either according to chemical composition or according to provenance and perceptible qualities. The authors further argue that chemists did not live in different worlds of materials before and after the Lavoisierian chemical revolution of the late eighteenth century. Their two main studies first explore the long tradition that informed Lavoisier's new nomenclature and method of classifying pure chemical substances and then describe the continuing classification of plant materials according to a pre-Lavoisierian scheme of provenance and perceptible qualities even after the chemical revolution, until a new mode of classification was accepted in the 1830s.

The MIT Press

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

"Chemistry is not just what chemists do; it is also and preeminently the science of material substances. In this important and novel book, Klein and Lefèvre explore the history of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century chemistry through three interwoven themes: what materials were ontologically, how they were classified, and how chemistry developed as the science of materials. They do all this with careful attention to language, teaching, and laboratory practice, and in the process broaden and enrich our understanding of chemistry before Lavoisier. That understanding leads in turn to a nuanced revisionist account of the chemical revolution and demonstrates the extent to which change was indebted to continuity."
Trevor Levere, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology,
University of Toronto

The MIT Press

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ursula Klein is Senior Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of
Science in Berlin. She is the author of Experiments, Models, Paper Tools:
Cultures of Organic Chemistry
and the author or editor of a number of other books.

Wolfgang Lefèvre is Senior Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He is the author or editor of several other books.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures     ix
Introduction     1
Materials in Eighteenth-Century Science: Contexts and Practices     5
Introduction to Part I     7
Commodities and Natural Objects     11
Origin from the three natural kingdoms     11
Commodities     14
Learned inquiry into materials     19
Practices of Studying Materials in Eighteenth-Century Chemistry     21
Experimental history (historia experimentalis)     22
Technological improvement     31
Experimental inquiries into the imperceptible dimension of substances     37
The many dimensions of material substances     58
Why Study Classification?     63
Selectivity     63
Ontological shifts     66
Productivity     68
Diversity     74
Representing chemical classifications     76
A World of Pure Chemical Substances     81
Introduction to Part II     83
1787: A New Nomenclature     87
The anti-phlogistic task force     88
Chemists' request for a new chemical nomenclature     91
The new nomenclature: A divide?     92
Classification in the Methode     94
The Tableau de la Nomenclature Chimique     97
Description of the Tableau     97
The formal classificatory structure of the Tableau     106
Classifying According to Chemical Composition     109
Pure chemical substances     109
Composition     112
The arduous career of the analytical method     115
Simple Substances and Paradigmatic Syntheses     127
Classification of simple substances     127
Paradigmatic syntheses     128
Operations with Pure Chemical Substances     135
Reversible operations in metallurgy     136
Reversible operations in pharmaceutical salt production     142
A chemistry of pure substances takes shape: Geoffroy's affinity table of 1718     147
Classification of Pure Chemical Substances before 1787     155
Classification of substances in affinity tables     155
The classifications of minerals before 1787     163
A Revolutionary Table?     179
Reaping the rewards of a century     179
Classification and Chemical Revolution     182
The classification's transitoriness     185
Classification and nomenclature     187
A Different World: Plant Materials      193
Introduction to Part III     195
Diverse Orders of Plant Materials     199
Commodities from the vegetable kingdom     199
Natural historical modes of identification and classification     201
Pharmaceutical and artisanal modes of classifying plant materials     205
Ultimate Principles of Plants: Plant Analysis prior to 1750     211
Separation of the ultimate chemical principles     211
Simplicia, vegetable juices, and the ultimate principles of plants     213
Meanings of "plant analysis"     216
The Epistemic Elevation of Vegetable Commodities     221
Chemists' grouping together of proximate principles of plants after 1750     221
Plants and animals as "organized" or "organic" bodies     232
A second ontological shift circa 1790: The coming into being of "organic substances"     245
The Failure of Lavoisier's Plant Chemistry     255
Lavoisier's analytical program for classifying plant and animal substances     255
Theoretical limits of Lavoisier's analytical program     266
Uncertainties     273
Ambiguities and disagreement in chemists' identification and classification     273
What were the taxonomic consequences of the Lavoisierian analytic program?      276
A Novel Mode of Classifying Organic Substances and an Ontological Shift around 1830     285
The ontological shift in the 1830s: stoichiometric substances     288
The trajectory of ontological shifts in plant chemistry     291
Conclusion: Multidimensional Objects and Materiality     295
References     307
Name Index     327
Subject Index     331
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