Lavoisier Revolution Essay

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Historians of science often argue whether French Scientist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier's (1743-1794) systematic reforms of chemical ideas constituted a revolution in Science. Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Moros, for instance, explicitly rejected Lavoisier's "Chemical Revolution" and stated that it didn't fulfill their criteria of being recognizably modern and unique as to constitute an episode in the Scientific Revolution.l I, however, do not quite agree with their criteria. In my view, the Chemistry that emerges from the ideas has to be influential, decisive, and radically new to be termed 'revolutionary'.2In this paper I will argue that Lavoisier's Chemistry was revolutionary, in light of the criteria I mentioned above, because he managed to overthrow the 'Phlogiston' theory in favor of his own theory of oxygen, established the procedures of precise measurement and quantitative analysis and reformed the language of Chemistry.3 Footnotes: I Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Moms, Making Modern Science (United States: University ofChicago Press, 2005) 56 2Vivien Hamilton. "19th Century Chemistry," lecture for HPS211 Scientific Revolutions II (Toronto: University ofToronto, 8th Feb 2009) 3 Bowler and Morns, Making Modern Science, 70 Chemistry in the 17th and early l~th century suffered a long prehistory, mired in the legacy of Greek Philosophy. The four Aristotelian elements (air, water, earth, fire) had been slowly modified by the Early modern Alchemists, who added their own arcane language and symbolism to investigate the properties of matter.4 Amidst this mix was the theory of Phlogiston put forward by Georg Ernst stahl.s He identified Phlogiston as the principle of combustion in the production of metals from their ore. Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), a natural philosopher, established the existence of different kinds of airs depending on the amount of phlogiston they

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