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College Chemistry: how a textbook can reveal the values embedded in


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Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
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Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
Université Paris X, France

College Chemistry: how a textbook can

reveal the values embedded in chemistry

Endeavor, 267, 2008, 1-5.

In the booming field of Science Studies, only a few publications focus on the educational component
of scientific activity.1 However pedagogy and training are central for understanding scientific practices
as well as change and stability. Without the acquisition of knowledge and skills, research would not be
possible. As Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi emphasized, science students need to practice the
tools and skills needed for engaging into research and advancing collective knowledge.2
Among the few historical studies of teaching practices, textbooks are favorite sources, because they
are the most common material traces of teaching activities, and more accessible than students’
notebooks or pedagogical instruments. Textbooks have also attracted philosophical attention because
they exemplify the divorce between science in action and expository science. More precisely they
testify that the advancement of science requires the mediation of dogmatic expositions of science.
Thomas Kuhn for instance convincingly argued that textbooks are meant for the perpetuation of the
paradigm, for teaching students “standard ways to solve selected problems” raised within the
paradigm rather than inventing new problems. 3 Textbooks assume their conservative function through
various ways. They present only established and incontrovertible knowledge, the stable results of past
revolutions. They regularly occult revolutions either by eliminating history or by presenting today
knowledge as the end product of a linear accumulation of data. As training tools and rituals of
introduction in a community, they are powerful precisely because they deny scientific changes. They
no more reflect science in action because they disguise the actual procedures of discovery and
The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard also stressed that physics textbooks are repetitive and under
strict control. In his view, they are a mixture of scientific data and social conventions. They supply a
“socialized and fixed science that could pass for natural only because of unchanging school

Kaiser, David ed. (2005) Pedagogy and the Practice of Science. Historical Contemproray Perspectives
Kuhn, Thomas
Structure of Scientific Revolution (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Idem
(1977) The Essential Tension (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Polani, Michael (1958) Personal
Knowledge (New York, Routledge & Kegan Paul). Idem (1967) The Tacit Dimension (New York, Anchor).
Kuhn, Thomas (1977), p. xix.

syllabuses”.4 Bachelard also pointed out that they are not descriptive but prescriptive, not really meant
for transmitting science but commandments.
It is the normative power of chemistry textbooks that will be explored in this paper. What kind of
norms, values and ethical attitudes has been attached to chemistry through the textbooks tradition? The
ambition of this paper is just to provide directions for further research on the “moral economy” of
chemistry through a case study. Linus Pauling’s College Chemistry has been selected for various
reasons. Pauling’s textbooks strike as a landmark in a long tradition. They have been extremely
popular and influential in the mid-twentieth century. Just as Lavoisier claimed to make chemistry
teaching easier and more systematic on the basis of his oxygen theory, Pauling claimed that the
chemical bond allowed teaching chemistry in a more systematic way. His General Chemistry written
while he was responsible for the freshman chemistry course at Caltech and first published in 1941
became a best-seller, a classic and a model for many textbook writers all over the world.5 Mary Jo Nye
pointed out many ways in which Pauling departed from standard introductions to chemistry: the
preliminary notions were about atoms and molecules, he broke with the laws of thermodynamics, he
favored images of atomic and molecular structures rtaher than mathematical solutions, and he sought
to include the most recent results of chemical research.6 College Chemistry written in 1950 was not
only updating the classic General Chemistry but also attempting to provide an easier access to
elementary chemistry.7 While presenting chemistry in a broad systematic way, as he did in his General
Chemistry, Pauling included more exercices and problems sets in order to train students in the basic
practices of chemistry. In thus combining two goals – enlightening and disciplining students - Pauling
clearly expressed his epistemic and didactic choices. This textbook thus provides an ideal case for
trying to disentangle the core of epistemic norms and ethical principles that shapes the “moral
economy” of chemistry.
The “moral economy” of chemistry
The assumption that scientific communities are based on a number of moral values is not new. In a
classical paper written in 1942, Robert Karl Merton clearly recognized that men of science were bound
by moral values, which are indispensable to guarantee the validity of scientific results.8 Merton
characterized the “ethos of science” as a combination of four fundamental imperatives: universalism,
communalism, disinterestedness and organized skepticism. Such imperatives are thus intrinsically

Bachelard, Gaston (1938) La formation de l’esprit scientifique (1938) Vrin, Paris, 1972, p. 24-28
Pauling, Linus (1941) General Chemistry, Pasadena: California Institute of Technology. 2nd ed. (1947) General
Chemistry: An Introduction to Descriptive Chemistry and Modern Chemical Theory, San Francisco: William H.
Nye, Mary Jo (2000) “From student to teacher. Linus Pauling and the reformulation of the principles of
chemistry in the 1930s” in Lundgren, A., Bensaude-Vincent, B., eds, Communicating Chemistry. Textbooks and
their Audiences, Canton, Mass.: Science History Publications, pp. 397-414.
Pauling, Linus (1950) College Chemistry: An Introductory textbook of General Chemistry, San Francisco:
William H. Freeman. Quoted from the third edition 1964.
Robert Karl Merton, 1942 « The ethos of science » in On Social Structure of Science ed by P. Sztompka,
Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 267-76.;

epistemic and ethical. They are transmitted by examples and practical exercises and should be
internalized by scientists. A good practice of science is secured by sanctions even exclusion from the
scientific community.
However Merton’s ethos of science being extremely general does not account for the peculiar norms
and values that rule good practices in a local discipline such as chemistry. Lorraine’s Daston notion of
“moral economy of science” provides a more efficient conceptual tool. She coined this phrase to
characterize her historical studies of such values as empiricism and objectivity.
“A moral economy is a balanced system of emotional forces with equilibrium points and
constraints. Although it is contingent and malleable thing of no necessity, a moral economy has
certain logic to its composition and operations. Not all conceivable combinations of affects and
values are in fact possible. Much of the stability and integrity of a moral economy derives from
its ties to activities, such as precision, measurement or collaborative empiricism, which anchor
and entrench but do not determine it”. 9
Two striking features are to be outlined in this definition. First the moral economy of science is more
than constraints and self-discipline. It includes affects and emotions. Not only they do not distort
science, but also they condition scientific practice. Second, the moral economy is a consistent network
of values derived from practices in a specific historical context. Science is not immune to social and
cultural values. Scientific norms are rather defined in response to ambient social values.
Applying this notion of moral economy to twentieth-century chemistry may be a new and indirect way
to clarify its intellectual and social status as a science tightly dependent on quantum mechanics and
practice-oriented. In order to refine the analysis of norms and standards ruling twentieth-century
chemistry, one needs further distinctions between norms. Three types of norms can be distinguished.
First I will consider the pedagogical prescriptions meant to secure “good practices” of chemistry. The
following sections will be structured along another conceptual distinction forged by Isabelle Stengers
between requirements (exigencies) and obligations. 10 Natural scientists conform their experimental
practices to two different types of norms. Requirements are general widely accepted rules, including
the canons of the so-called scientific method as well as a number of disciplinary rules that textbooks
try to inculcate in college students. Conforming to such criteria provides certainty and allows drawing
a demarcation line between scientific practices and other practices generally held to be non-scientific
or at least less scientific. By contrast, obligations are more elusive and largely tacit norms adopted by
active scientists in specific contexts, in order to learn something from their investigations. Obligations
are not necessarily formulated as prescriptions and may be transmitted as descriptions of what
chemists do or did and how they deal with nature. Whereas requirements provide self-confidence,
obligations often express doubts and hesitations.

Daston, L (1995) “The moral economy of science” Osiris, 10, 3-24, on p. 4
Stengers (2006), p. 67-70.

Both requirements and obligations will be approached through the eyes of the chemistry teacher, who
himself has to conform to didactic rules including and to accommodate what he knows about chemical
research for an audience of non-specialists. However I assume that pedagogical requirements and
obligations should not be separated from those of science in action as they equally contribute to shape
the moral economy of a discipline.
Practical Rules
The first category of norms includes prescriptions formulated as rules or procedures in order to secure
what Pauling named “good practices” of chemistry. There is no ethical meaning in “good practice”.
“Good” means either “convenient” or “secure”. The emphasis is on their practicality rather than good.
These presciptions range from general rules to simple advices or even rules of thumb. They are helpful
for facilitating solving problems and avoiding errors. They are usually accompanied by exercices
included in the chapter because they are meant to become routine practices, real habitus that will be
incorporated as tacit knowledge in more advanced courses or textbooks. For instance:
“It is a good practice to check every chemical equation that you write, to be sure it agrees with the law
of the conservation of atoms of every element.” (p. 94) Pauling’s emphasis on the principle of
conservation shows that this rule is based on a natural law. This is also the case in the writing of
electronic structures, which should be guided by the octet rule.
“In the study of descriptive chemistry it is a good practice to write electronic structures for all
the new substances encountered, and to see whether they fit into the simples scheme with all
atoms having noble-gas structures, or whether they constitute exceptions”. (p. 288)
Interestingly in Pauling’s textbook, most practical rules are related to writing: chemical reactions,
formulas, etc. Apprentice chemists have first and foremost to become familiar with a code. But this
code is not entirely arbitrary. It is not more than a convention, although the linguistic symbols are not
supposed to mirror the outside reality. The rules for writing have an ambiguous status. Consider, for
instance, the principle of electroneutrality:
“A useful principle in writing electronic structures for substances is the electroneutrality
principle. This principle is that stable molecules and crystals have electronic structures such that
the electric charge of each atom is close to zero.” (p. 285-86)
This principle is presented as a useful writing habit although it is refered to the stability of molecular
structures. Whereas this principles appears as a reasonable, if rough, approximation of what happens
in chemical bonds, other practical rules are presented as mere artefacts applicable only in very specific
“The usage of the word acid is variable. For many purposes it is convenient to say that an acid is
a hydrogen-containing substance that dissociates on solution in water to produce hydrogen-
ions…A base is a substance containing the hydroxide ion OH-, or the hydroxide group, OH, that
can dissociate in aqueous solution as the hydroside ion, OH-.” (p. 244)

This rule suggests that chemists have to make use of “as if” statements, or quasi definitions in order to
save phenomena. The overall impression given by Pauling’s College Chemistry is that apprentice
chemists will learn how to handle chemical facts through writing chemical formulas and reactions.
Strikingly Pauling does not include experimental protocols. For him elementary chemistry is above all
a discourse about molecules. Indeed his choice of a discursive approach is constrained by the textbook
genre. Nevertheless many textbook writers make all possible efforts to convey the experimental
dimension of chemistry either through vague narratives of famous experiments or detailed protocols
of experiments to be performed in practical classes. For Pauling, by contrast, chemistry is an
intellectual practice rather than a manual work.
Generic Requirements
The prescriptions under the label “requirements” are omnipresent Pauling’s College Chemistry.
Chapter 1 includes two full paragraphs devoted to “the scientific method” (1-9) and “How to study
chemistry” (1-10). Here you find explicit requirements such as:
“Part of the scientific method is the requirement that the investigator be willing to accept all the
facts. He must not be prejudiced; prejudice might keep him from giving proper consideration to
some of the facts or to some of the logical arguments involved in applying the scientific method,
and in this way keep him from getting the right answer. If you were to say ‘I have made up my
mind, don’t confuse me with lots of facts,’ you would not be applying the scientific method.
The remaining part of the scientific method consists of logical argument.” (p. 20)
This generic prescription, characterizing all natural sciences, promotes the values attached to
empiricism. Facts are given an absolute priority. Interestingly, however, Pauling is less attentive to
their power of falsification than to their power of information or confirmation. Although in chapter 2
he acknowledges that one single fact suffices to prove that a substance is a compound rather than an
elementary substance (in a Popperian manner), he rather urges to accumulate facts and data. His
assumption is that chemistry requires that inumerable facts be collected and stabilized. Chemistry is
first and foremost a descriptive science, that later became a theoretical science. This dual face of
chemistry stated in the preface implies a specific regime of mental faculties.
A good balance of faculties
Chemistry requires a good balance between imagination, memory, and understanding. Imagination is
certainly needed for great discoveries but it is not part of what is ordinary called ‘the scientific
“Curiosity and an active imagination are great assets to a scientists…but scientists also work by
applying common sense, reliable methods of reasoning, to the problems that they are attacking,
and the procedure that they follow, which is called the scientific method, can be learned” (p.
Science is seldom the product of flash of genius. Pauling’s argument relies on the assumption that
scientific method is teachable, whereas there is no education of imagination (“no one knows the

method for having brilliant ideas”). A similar contrast was made by Immanuel Kant in The Critic of
the Faculty of Judgement (§§46-47). Although Pauling presumably ignored this passage he clearly
assumed like Kant that learning is the main pillar of science. Chemistry requires hard study and
learning. Even though Pauling admitted that college students would have to select and memorize only
the category of facts that best suit their purpose, he insisted that professional chemists could not
dispense with the painstaking task of learning and memorizing lots of facts about inumerable
individual substances.
“You should learn some of these facts by studying them, and by frequently referring to them
and renewing your knowledge of them. You should also learn as much about chemistry as
possible from your own experience in the laboratory and from your observations of chemical
substances and chemical reactions in everyday life.” (p. 6)
Here again it may be noticed that Pauling does not value laboratory work as a major way of learning.
He puts on equal footing the knowledge acquired in the laboratory and the knowledge acquired
through everyday life, even putting more emphasis on experience than experimentation. This empirical
inclination singularizes Pauling’s chemistry in a period when, following relativity theory and quantum
mechanics, most teachers and popularizers claimed that there was a divorce between science and
common sense. Far for admitting an increasing gap between natural science and everyday life, Pauling
insisted that chemistry a lot of chemistry lies in our environment (general reading, comic-papers, street
signs). Chemistry is part of citizens life, culture and worldview. “By studying chemistry you can make
the understanding that you have of the nature of the universe more precise, and you can add greatly to
it.” (p. 21)
While memorizing is required by the descriptive face of chemistry, understanding is required by its
theoretical and more recent face.
“In applying a theoretical principle in the solution of a problem you should make use of the
following procedure. First, decide on the applicable principle and get it clearly in mind. Then
apply it in a straightforward manner. Do not guess: if you ar not sure of the proper step, think
about the matter further, until you are sure”. (p. 21)
Such requirements are clearly formulated in imperative tense. The same presciption is made time and
again: “Analyze each problem. Do not memorize” (p. 106)
These imperatives grounded on Pauling’s conviction that theory simplifies chemistry. If theories bring
a new light on chemical facts, then students should understand rather than blindly applying rules or
painstainkingly learning by heart.
Theories as pedagogical tools
“The presentation of general chemistry to the students of the present generation can be made in a more
simple, straightforward, and logical way than formerly” (preface to the 1st edition). This requirement
organizes the present volume and is addressed to teachers and textbook writers. The prescription is:
start from the notions of atoms and molecules in order to describe the chemical properties in terms of

structures. Thus two introductory general sections (about one third of the volume) provide keys for the
next four descriptive sections dealing with various groups of chemical substances and various
branches of chemistry. Theory is the organizing principle of chemical knowledge and provides the key
to understanding the properties of individual substances.
Understanding theories, this major requirement does not rest on the conviction that theories have any
ontological impact, that they tell the sudents how moleucles look like. Pauling’s main message is
simplification through theories. They simplify chemistry and make it easier for students to learn it.
Just as Lavoisier in his Elements of Chemistry published in 1789 claimed that the new nomenclature
and his oxygen theory made chemistry easier and easily accessible to beginners, Pauling claimed that
simplication was brought about by recent theories. Only recently chemical science ceased to be a
patchwork of descriptions concepts and theories to become a consistent corpus of knowledge. If theory
is an imperative for college students it is because of its advantages for learning. In Kant’s terminology
one could say that it is a heteronomous rather than an autonomous moral principle.
Pauling not only denied ontological priority to atomic and quantum theories, he also resisted the
temptation of bestowing them with logical priority. He never claimed that chemistry could be deduced
from them. He presented them as helps for students in chemistry. Statistical mechanics provides tools
for puzzle solving. The covalent bond theory “makes it easier to understand and memorize chemical
facts” (p. 253). Thus the first chapters of the textbook can be read as providing apprentice chemists
with a tool-kit of notions and principles. They will travel with this theoretical equipment through the
labyrinth of chemical substances in the next sections.
Quantification and Precision
Calculating, measuring and mathematizing are also major imperatives for chemists. However, unlike
theorizing they have no intrinsic value. Calculus is viewed as a blind process that can work against
“ In working problems you must be sure that you understand the theoretical principle that you
are using before you make calculations. It is important to keep track of the physical units that
are involved in the problem” (p. 21).
Precision is not highly praised except for determining atomic weights, where a high degree of
accuracy is required.
“Slide-rule accuracy is usually sufficient for chemical problems. This is not so for atomic
wieght problems, which contain data given to five or six significant figures; for these problems
five-place or seven-place logarithms or some equivalent method of calculation must be used, the
atmic weights should be calculated to five or six significant figures.”(p. 144)
It seems that for Pauling mathematization and quantification are not fundamental requirements for
chemists. Numbers and figures would rather belong to the category of “good practices”.
Here points a paradox in Pauling’s moral economy of chemistry. Various types of prescriptions are
needed and should be inculcated in students’ minds but they do not work well together. Rules are

indispensable for good practices of chemistry but they occasionally turn into pedagogical obstacles to
the understanding of chemistry. For instance in chapter 5, when Pauling exposed calculations for
determining atomic weights he warned the reader “Analyze each problem that you meet; do not
memorize rules for solving these problems.” (p. 105)
Chemical Obligations
The tension between the two major requirements – memorizing and understanding – creates a typical
obligation for the chemist. Unlike practical rules and general requirements obligations are not
necessarily formulated as as prescriptions (you must or you should never). Some of them are conveyed
by way of historical accounts. Pauling included lots of historical sketches in his textbook. Surprisngly
there are more historical narratives than experimental narratives in this textbook. Although Pauling did
not include any comments about the role and benefits of history in science teaching he may have been
influenced by the campaign for introducing history in science teaching launched by James B. Conant
in the 1950s.
However this supposition is undermined by the contrast between their uses of history. Whereas Conant
recommended historical case studies drawing lessons from the investigation of a specific episode,
Pauling is usually content with mentioning who invented a word, who discovered an element, who
“recognized” that for instance oxygen is an element. The historical events mentioned are always
success stories, they bring about the solution of a problem, which is itself abstracted from all contexts.
Pauling obviously relied on secondary sources. Most of his historical accounts are only approximate
and occasionnally incorrect. And yet these brief historical introductions to the issue under scrutiny
play important roles in the volume.
Some of them are explicitly told to deliver important messages and values. For instance the vignette
about the discovery of argon is meant to illustrate the “importance of the attention to minor
discrepancies in the results of scientific investigations.” (p. 195).
However most historical sketches do not deliver lessons. They rather suggest that questions about
chemical phenomena are not easily or immediately solved. For instance, the chapter on atomic
structure is introduced by three pages of epistemological and historical considerations outlining a
development in three characteristic stages: pure speculation, then useful hypothesis, and finally
certainty. Democritus instantiates stage 1: “The atomic theory of Democritus was pure speculation,
and much too general to be useful.” (p. 25) Dalton’s atom was “a hypothesis that explained many facts
in a simple and reasonable way” (p. 25); and “the rapid progress of our science” during the 20th
century brought “a precise knowledge of the structure and properties of atoms and molecules. Atoms
and molecules can no longer be considered imaginary.” (p. 25) Although this is a typical positivistic
account of atomism, Pauling is not saying that modern atomic theory explains all chemical
phenomena. Rather the message implicit both in the structure of his texbook and in the details of his

exposition seem to be: chemists are bound to make lots of detours and use various mediations in order
to account for the most familiar chemical facts. 11

Descriptive interludes
Since Pauling assumed that theories simplify chemical facts he chose to present first the basic
theoretical principles in order to use them in the more descriptive review of chemical substances.
Hence two introductory sections: I)An Introduction to modern chemistry, II) Some aspects of chemical
theory. However the sequence theoretical chemistry -> descriptive chemistry is sometimes interrupted.
In the middle of the theoretical premisses, after five chapters devoted to general topics such as basic
concepts and theories, Pauling interposed a descriptive chapter on Hydrogen and Oxygen before
presenting the periodic table. This descriptive interlude was an excuse to introduce generalities such as
the gas laws and the kinetic theory of gases. Still it is striking that Pauling never sought to deduce the
periodic law from atom theory and did not begin with a general chart that would reflect the
dependence of chemical elements upon atom theory and quantum theory. In this respect, he followed
the example of Mendeleyev in his Principles of Chemistry. Mendeleyev introduced the periodic law
only after a number of descriptive chapters dealing with hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and a more
conceptual chapter on molecules and atoms; remarkably he kept this organization in the various
editions of his Principles of Chemistry published from 1871 until his death in 1907 as though he
wanted to preserve the original context of discovery of the periodic law. Pauling did not want to
convey the view of a general law presiding over all chemical properties and providing the grammar of
chemistry. He first describes the periodic law from the standpoint of the properties chemical and
physical properties of the groups of elements, with only the data available to Mendeleyev when he
discovered the periodic law. Significantly he pointed to the limitations of the periodic law even before
he formulated it:
“The facts of chemistry cannot be completely coordinated by a unifying theory. Nevertheless, the
developmentt of chemical theories has now proceeded far enough to be of great aid to the student,
who can simplify his task of learning about the properties and reactions of substances by correlating

Significantly, the first issue, raised on the very first page concerned the mystery of chemical reactions and
echoed the puzzle formulated many centuries ago by Aristotle about the emergence of new properties properties
in combinations (that Aristotle named true mixts). How is it that the properties of the compound are not the
addition of the propoerties of the ingredients? Where are the constituents when their properties disappear from
the compound? Chemists and philosophers such as Pierre Duhem, Emile Meyerson referred to this vexing puzzle
to point to the limitations inherent in the interpretation of chemical combinations in terms of nature and
proportion of constituents or even in terms of molecular structure. Pauling took Meyerson’s standard example of
ordinary salt to formulate the problem:
“That the substance salt is composed of a metal (sodium) and a corrosive gas (chlorine) with properties quite
different from its own properties is one of the many surprising facts about the nature of substances that chemists
have discovered” (p. 4).
Pauling never provides a molecular interpretation of this “surprising fact” as the solution of the chemical puzzle.

the information with theories, such as the theory of atomic structure, which has been discussed in the
preceding chapters, and the periodic law, which we shall now consider” (p. 186)

From macroscopic properties to microscopic structure

It is a major requirement for a chemistry textbook writer to smooth the way from macroscopic
observable properties to the steucture of microscopic entities. Therefore the introductory section 1
carefully paves the way from questions about macroscopic substances (chapter 1) to the atomic
strcture of matter (ch 2) and the structure of atoms (ch 3). Cf chart on p. 12. However chemists and
teachers of chemistry are obliged to make lots of detours through various branches of physics and
mathematics. Although he claims that theoretical luggage would simplify the voyage through
chemistry, Pauling prescribed the readers to go further and work hard on the mediations.
“ The foregoing discussions of quantum theory and statistical mechanics and the later discussions in
this book are superficial and inadequate. A scientist who strives to attain a deep understanding of the
nature of the world must have detailed knowledge of quantum theory, statistical mechanics, and
thermodynamics. I hope you are planning to study these subjects, and that in the meantime you are
obtaining the knowledge of mathematics that is needed for their mastery”. (p. 137-38).
Similarly the chemist is dependent on physical methods to guarantee the most basic concepts,
elements and compounds. After reviewing the chemical tests for the compound nature of a substance
Pauling felt obliged to add: “ until the new physical methods, especially the x-ray method, were
developed, there was no way of rigorously proving a substance to be an element….It was not until the
present century, when powerful methods of studying atoms were discovered, that scientists could be
sure that the forms of matter which they called elements were all really elements, and that some were
not compounds” (p. 96-97).
The definitions of substances and element do not precisely confirm the claim that modern theories
simplify chemistry.
In ch 1 the student learns that “a substance is a homogeneous material with definite chemical
composition” (p. 9). The student also discovers that “a substance is characterized by its properties, the
physical properties being those properties of a substance that can be observed without changing the
substance into other susbtances” (p. 13). This criteria is immediately qualified by the mention of two
counter-examples: water is the same substance as ice and vapor despite having different properties;
and a sepcimen containing crystals of rock and crystals of table salt is called a mixture although it is
one single subtance, sodium chloride. This difficulties point to another the definition of substances by
the nature and proportion of their constituents which characterizes what is known as the compositional
The compositional paradigm is behind the definitions of elements. In chapter 1 “a substance that
cannot be decomposed is an elementary substance (or element)” (p. 11); and in chapter 2

an elementary substance is “a substance that is composed of atoms of one element only” (p. 86).
Is this circular definition a real improvement upon definition 1? Despite his efforts to smooth the way
from macroscopic properties to atomic structure, Pauling acknowledges a number of difficulties. He
ends the chapter on a historical paragraph dealing with radioactivity and the transmutation of elements
(p. 97-98). Pauling describes the successive attempts at redefining the notion of element from “an
element cannot be converted into another one by artificial means) to “an element cannot be converted
into another one by ordinary chemical means” in the 1930. Obviously new phenomena do not always
clarify the basic notions. Pauling admits that they sometimes bring new confusions regarding the
validity of our basic notions although they increase our knowledge of structures and properties.12

To conclude I would like to stress that textbooks such as Pauling’s elementary textbook played a key
role in building the moral economy of chemistry. The prescriptions already outlined by Bachelard, and
the general imperatives outlined by Kuhn are essential for training future chemists. However this
textbook also prescribes a number of more specific norms attached to chemistry that intimately
combine epistemic and moral aspects.

Significantly, the first issue, raised on the very first page concerned the mystery of chemical reactions and
echoed the puzzle formulated many centuries ago by Aristotle about the emergence of new properties properties
in combinations (that Aristotle named true mixts). How is it that the properties of the compound are not the
addition of the propoerties of the ingredients? Where are the constituents when their properties disappear from
the compound? Chemists and philosophers such as Pierre Duhem, Emile Meyerson referred to this vexing puzzle
to point to the limitations inherent in the interpretation of chemical combinations in terms of nature and
proportion of constituents or even in terms of molecular structure. Pauling took Meyerson’s standard example of
ordinary salt to formulate the problem:
“That the substance salt is composed of a metal (sodium) and a corrosive gas (chlorine) with properties quite
different from its own properties is one of the many surprising facts about the nature of substances that chemists
have discovered” (p. 4).
Pauling never provides a molecular interpretation of this “surprising fact” as the solution of the chemical puzzle.


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