Philosophy of Chemistry

Much of my current research in philosophy of chemistry concerns the nature of the chemical bond. Specifically, I am developing an account which treats the structural conception of bonding as an idealized model. I argue that experimental data and advances in quantum chemistry show that chemical bonds do not exist in the way that most laboratory chemists think they do. In one paper, I consider the myriad and semi-contradictory models of the chemical bond currently found in the literature, arguing that the common feature of these models is that covalent bonds are treated as energetic, not structural, phenomena. is leads to the thesis, which I am currently developing, that nothing in the ballpark of classical conceptions of covalent bonds are referring theoretical descriptions. In other words, by realist criteria, chemical bonds are not real.

While I believe that the structural conception of the covalent bond does not refer, this conception is still extraordinarily useful; it figures prominently in almost every discussion of chemical synthesis and analysis. I thus argue that the best account of the chemical bond is as an idealized model, and I try to show that this gives us a sufficient account of its utility for chemical practice. In an upcoming talk at the European Philosophy of Science Association, I will argue that even quantum chemists’ bond concept has
its roots in experiment. When quantum mechanics confronts the empirical conception of the bond, we see a true scientific standoff as quantum mechanics is extremely well-confirmed and the empirical reasons for accepting the bond involve multiple, independent lines of evidence. ere may be no spoils for the victor in this case.

Much of my earlier research on Philosophy of Chemistry was concerned with the nature of chemical substances, and the connection between these conceptions and contemporary philosophical theories. In one paper, I argue that the simple identification of natural kind terms in ordinary language with chemical kinds is a very complex matter. Philosophers have traditionally assumed that kind terms like ‘water’ can be directly identified with chemical structures such as the molecular formula H2O. I argued against this assumption, showing that the kind terms employed by chemists cannot be neatly mapped to ordinary language.