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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Antoine Lavoisier and scientific language


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Louis Jean Desire Delaistre


Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) was a French chemist often regarded as the 'father of modern chemistry'. Science historian I. Bernard Cohen said,


"One of the most fundamental principles of Lavoisier's chemistry was the use of numbers, notably in relation to what we often call today the principle of conservation of mass... This rule led to quantitative experiments. Lavoisier was not the first person to use numbers in chemistry but he was a pioneer in using such numerical measurements as the basis of his system of chemistry." (The Triumph of Number: How Counting Shaped Modern Life, 2005)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Lavoisier.




"As ideas are preserved and communicated by means of words, it necessarily follows that we cannot improve the language of any science without at the same time improving the science itself; neither can we, on the other hand improve a science without improving the language or nomenclature which belongs to it." (Elements of Chemistry, 1790)


"It is impossible to disassociate language from science or science from language, because every natural science always involves three things: the sequence of phenomena on which the science is based; the abstract concepts which call these phenomena to mind; and the words in which the concepts are expressed." (Traite Elementarie de Chimie, 1789)


"Thus, while I thought myself employed only in forming a Nomenclature, and while I proposed to myself nothing more than to improve the chemical language, my work transformed itself by degrees, without my being able to prevent it, into a treatise upon the Elements of Chemistry." (Elements of Chemisty, 1790)




"The art of concluding from experience and observation consists in evaluating probabilities, in estimating if they are high or numerous enough to constitute proof. This type of calculation is more complicated and more difficult than one might think." (Rapport des commissaires charges par le roi de l'examen du magnetisme animal, 1784)


"We must trust to nothing but facts: These are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation." (Elements of Chemisty, 1790)