Reflections on the Philosophy of Chemistry and a Rallying Call for Our Discipline*


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Abstract

Biology in the popular mind remains tied to the doctrines of the struggle for survival and the survival of the fittest. Physics is linked to the heat death of the universe – the inexorable march towards greater disorder, increasing entropy. Our field, on the other hand, focuses on ordered structures, molecules and crystals, and their aggregates, and what holds them together. The philosophy of chemistry is centered on affinity, cohesion, the architecture of the very small, attraction, harmony, and, if you permit, beauty. Our discipline is the voice of the twenty-first century, a message, a clarion call of life, of hope. This paper addresses failures of reductionist and deterministic claims in the face of the cussedness of chemical facts. It will examine uncertainty principles, Edmund Whitaker's postulates of impotence, Gerald Holton's themata, Isaiah Berlin's warning – and the wisdom of the Chinese. We can teach the world the need for humility in the face of the wonder and mystery of our world.

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