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‘Lavoisier and Mendeleev on the elements’

Hendry, R.F.



Lavoisier defined an element as a chemical substance that cannot be decomposed using current analytical methods. Mendeleev saw an element as a substance composed of atoms of the same atomic weight. These `definitions' do quite different things: Lavoisier's distinguishes the elements from the compounds,so that the elements may form the basis of a compositional nomenclature; Mendeleev's offers a criterion of sameness and difference for elemental substances, while Lavoisier's does not. In this paper I explore the historical and theoretical background to each proposal. Lavoisier's and Mendeleev's explicit conceptions of elementhood differed from each other, and from the official IUPAC definitionof `element' of the 1920s. However, Lavoisier and Mendeleev both subscribed to – and employed – a deeper notion of a chemical element as the component of compound substances that (i) can survive chemical change, and (ii) explains the chemical behaviour of its compounds.


Hendry, R. (2005). ‘Lavoisier and Mendeleev on the elements’. Foundations of Chemistry, 7(1), 31-48.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2005-01
Deposit Date Apr 3, 2007
Journal Foundations of Chemistry
Print ISSN 1386-4238
Electronic ISSN 1572-8463
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 1
Pages 31-48
Keywords Lavoisier, Mendeleev, Elements, Natural kinds, Theories of reference.

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