Home » Publications » Farzad Mahootian, “Paneth’s epistemology of chemical elements in light of Kant’s Opus postumum”

Farzad Mahootian, “Paneth’s epistemology of chemical elements in light of Kant’s Opus postumum”

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Farzad Mahootian’s “Paneth’s epistemology of chemical elements in light of Kant’s Opus postumum” was recently published in Foundations in Chemistry (Springer). Mahootian begins with Immanuel Kant’s attempt to revoke, in light of developments in the science of chemistry at the end of the 18th century, the transcendental-empirical distinction that he had established in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781). Mahootian then turns to the 20th century, and the still-reigning definition of chemical element, due to Fritz Paneth and officially adopted in 1923, which is only partly founded on early quantum theory; the experimental chemistry of the 19th century played an equally important part. By re-conceiving Kant’s transcendental-empirical distinction, Paneth maintained a dual definition of element that resisted the reduction of empirical and theoretical aspects. Paneth’s concept of element treats the opposites as complementary frames of explanation and proposes the necessity of deliberate shifts between them. Mahootian proposes that that the dynamic epistemology of chemistry is strongly suggestive of some interesting structural and functional features of metaphor, and vice versa. He argues that chemistry’s ongoing negotiation between two or more possible approaches is necessitated by the fact that its subject doesn’t already exist: it must literally synthesize the subject matter it investigates.

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