Conflicting Theories Of Burning: Phlogiston And Oxidation

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This historical case study will examine theories of burning; specifically the movement away from the theory of phlogiston to that of oxidation. Williams (2007) states that; “The development of the science of chemistry from the “science” of alchemy is a striking example of the complete revolution in the attitude of observers in the field of science.” Kisby (2004) stated that alchemy preceded chemistry and was a branch of natural philosophy whose goal was to find wealth, longevity and immortality. Alchemists worked towards finding something known as the Philosophers Stone. It was believed that when this stone was heated and combined with non precious metals, it would turn them into gold. In addition to this it was believed that gold could be made into something which could prolong life indefinitely. The work of alchemists was largely based on Aristotelian principles where it was thought elements could be changed or transmuted by impressing new substances onto them. It was Robert Boyle (1626-1691), who although had a deep interest in alchemy, began the movement away from that way of working and towards a more empirical way of investigation in science through observation and experiments. However, the transition from the Alchemists way of working where a preconceived idea of how things should be was held and work was undertaken to try and prove this idea, to the chemist’s way of working, where ideas and conceptions were based on laboratory experiments, was a lengthy process. Alchemists believed that anything killed by man could also be revived by him and burning of substances such as wood, wax and oil was seen as the same as the killing process. It was believed that it was mans limitations that prevented the substance being revived to its former state. Williams (2007) states that alchemists believed that the burning of a metal such as lead, destroyed the
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