Re: CCL:Auguste Comte on Mathematical Methods in Chemistry



On Fri, 2004-01-09 at 03:24, Konrad Hinsen wrote:
 > On Thursday 08 January 2004 13:39, Jens Spanget-Larsen wrote:
 >
 > > I got it several years ago from an Internet page, without any
 > > details. Does anybody know this text? A. Comte must be the
 > > philosopher Auguste Comte, and the year 1830 may indicate his
 > > work "Cours de philosophie positive" which was published in
 > > this and the following years. But what can he have meant? Any
 > > comments?
 >
 > I have seen that quote with the explicit attribution to the "Cours de
 > philosophie positive" by Auguste Comte, but I never verified it. A
 large part
 > of that book deals with the philosophy of science, so it would fit in
 there.
 > I suppose he refers to the potential contradiction between the empirical
 > approach of science (including chemistry) and the deductive approach of
 > mathematics, but that's just a guess.
 Well, I decided to walk to the library to clear my head and picked up
 "The Positive Philosophy" of Auguste Comte.  And, a little reading,
 there it was:
         Every attempt to refer chemical questions to mathematical
         doctrines must be considered, now and always, profoundly
         irrational, as being contrary to the nature of the phenomena.
         In the case of physics, the mischief would be, as we have seen,
         merely from the misuse of an instrument which, properly
         directed, may be of admirable efficacy; but if the employment of
         mathematical analysis should ever become so preponderant in
         chemistry (an aberration which is happily almost impossible) it
         would occasion vast and rapid retrogradation, by substituting
         vague conceptions for positive ideas, and an easy algebraic
         verbiage for a laborious investigation of facts.
 These two sentences (yes, two!) are interesting, and more philosophy
 follows.  Namely, Comte believed the order of the sciences was:
 Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, Social Physics
 This led to the comment:
         ...(I)t is only by having always before their eyes such an
         exemplification of the true spirit of natural philosophy, that
         chemists can rightly estimate the inanity of the metaphysical
         explanations which vitiate their doctrine, and can acquire an
         adequate sense of the true character, conditions, and destiny of
         chemical science.  Under this point of view, astronomy is more
         useful to chemists than even physics, in proportion to the
         superiority of its method.
 I guess I need to go tell my college that astronomy should have been a
 prerequisite for chemistry.  Of course, it was always full, so maybe
 that should have told me something.
 Now I'm going to have to read this a bit more.  Just to see what he says
 about astronomy v. physics v. chemistry...when I have time.
 Matt
 --
 I am a theoretical chemist.  Fear me!
  Matt Thompson -- http://ucsub.colorado.edu/~thompsma/
  440 UCB, Boulder, CO  80309-0440
  JILA A510, 303-492-4662