What Can the Discovery of Boron Tell Us About the Scientific Realism Debate?

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This chapter examines the work in chemistry that led to the discovery of boron and explores the implications of this episode for the scientific realism debate. This episode begins with Lavoisier’s oxygen theory of acidity and his prediction that boracic acid contains oxygen and a hypothetical, combustible substance that he called the boracic radical. The episode culminates in the work of Davy, Gay-Lussac, and Thénard, who used potassium to extract oxygen from boracic acid and thereby discovered boron. This chapter shows that Lavoisier’s theory of acidity, which was not even approximately true, exhibited novel predictive success. Selective realists attempt to accommodate such false-but-successful theories by showing that their success is due to the fact that they have approximately true parts. However, this chapter argues that this episode poses a strong challenge to selective realism because the parts of Lavoisier’s theory that are responsible for its success are not even approximately true.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationContemporary Scientific Realism: The Challenge from the History of Science
EditorsTimothy D. Lyons, Peter Vickers
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9780190946814
StatePublished - 2021


  • history of chemistry
  • boron
  • scientific realism
  • selective realism
  • novel predictive success


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