Title page for ETD etd-07252006-231659

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Sides, Jonathan David
URN etd-07252006-231659
Title Scientific Realism and the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements
Degree Master of Arts
Department Philosophy
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Burian, Richard M. Committee Chair
Perini, Laura Committee Member
Pitt, Joseph C. Committee Member
  • Philosophy of science
  • scientific theories
  • scientific realism
  • periodic table
Date of Defense 2006-07-13
Availability restricted
The periodic table poses a difficulty for both scientific realists and anti-realists. The antirealist

has difficulty accounting for the success of the table during a period in chemistry

when many theories and concepts changed; the spatial relations of current tables in use do

not show fundamental changes from the original tables proposed by Mendeleev. Yet,

most versions of scientific realism are based upon the understanding that theories are

some collection of written propositions or equations. The table as an image successfully

functions very much like a theory: it is an organization of known facts, has been used to

make predictions, and is plastic enough to accommodate unforeseen novel facts.

Assuming the truth of the representational relations between the table and the world

poses interesting issues for the realist. Ian Hacking's entity realism and the structural

realism of several philosophers are both possible versions of scientific realism that fail to

account for the table. Hacking's version fails in this case because the role of

representation is central to understanding the history of the table; structural realism fails

because it diminishes to much the role that first order properties have as they relate to the

formulation of the second order relationships that comprise the table. Philip Kitcher of

Science, Truth, and Democracy leaves himself open to two interpretations about the

metaphysics of pluralism. One of these is indefensible; the other is quite well supported

by the plurality of successful periodic tables.

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