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# Dalton's Particulate view of matter VS Plato & Aristotle's Elementalism

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This is a topic that I've been thinking about, but before I ask my question, I just want to give some background info.:

In 1804, John Dalton published his law of multiple proportions, which states:  When two elements (call them A and B) form two different compounds the masses of element B that combine with 1 gram of element A can be expressed as a ratio of small whole numbers.
So, carbon monoxide, CO, has a ratio of 1.33 when we divide the mass of Oxygen with 1 gram of Carbon (Carbon equalling 12.01 g or 12.01 amu in 1g of Carbon).
And, carbon dioxide, CO2 has a ratio of 2.66 when we divide the mass of Oxygen with 1 gram of Carbon (again, Carbon equalling 12.01 g or 12.01 amu in 1g of Carbon).
The ratio of these two...ratios?...will give a small, whole number: 2.66 / 1.33 = 2

Dalton was able to overcome a 2000-year-old perspective (elementalism) and push his view that matter is particulate instead of elemental by using the weights of samples of matter, and by demonstrating that matter pairs up in ratios.

Elementalism implies that, basically, matter of one nature or type is different than that of another...so, think: air, fire, water, earth... That sort of thing (not really sure how to explain it).

My thinking is this... carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are two different gases. From an elemental perspective, they are different in nature (one is more poisonous than the other), though they are both gases. And, even though they are different than each other, they are still gases...and they are still of an "air" element or type.

So, here is the question... Why is it that comparing 1g of an element to another unknown amount, is a determinant for whether or not matter is particulate in nature instead of elemental?
I mean, if you take 1g of whatever, and then keep adding more and more of another type of whatever, won't it be just a whole lot of whatevers trying to bond with each other?

What if you take 1g Carbon and then oversaturate it with Oxygen? Different types of gases will form, won't they? If different types of gases continue to form, how is that not indicative of the elemental view of matter?

The way I see it...Dalton just published a paper about how elements combine in ratios, and that that is more than enough proof that matter is particulate instead of elemental. But, the way I see it, we're just observing different kinds of matter in the sense that, when we look at gases we're observing some different type of gas but of an air element, or when we look at minerals or salts or metals we're just looking at different earth-like elements...

And I really don't understand the significance of ratios here. I mean, how does a ratio prove something like the nature of a substance, and furthermore, how does it prove that matter is not elemental?

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13 minutes ago, tmx3 said:

But, the way I see it, we're just observing different kinds of matter in the sense that, when we look at gases we're observing some different type of gas but of an air element, or when we look at minerals or salts or metals we're just looking at different earth-like elements.

I am having trouble making any sense out of this. Could you explain what specifically you mean by air element or earth-like element? Because to me it sounds like you're just renaming basic states of matter (solid, gas, liquid). Do you disagree with atomic theory?

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@hypervalent_iodine I'm talking about Aristotle's elementalism.

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I'm not a historian, but I think you might be confused here. Dalton did not disprove Aristotle per say, since scientists of Dalton's time had already moved well past the views of the ancient Greeks. It was actually Robert Boyle in the mid 1600's who first proposed that there may be more than the 3 or 5 element system of Aristotle's time. This is from wiki:

Quote

In 1661, Robert Boyle proposed his theory of corpuscularism which favoured the analysis of matter as constituted by irreducible units of matter (atoms) and, choosing to side with neither Aristotle's view of the four elements nor Paracelsus' view of three fundamental elements, left open the question of the number of elements.[32] The first modern list of chemical elements was given in Antoine Lavoisier's 1789 Elements of Chemistry, which contained thirty-three elements, including light and caloric.[33] By 1818, Jöns Jakob Berzelius had determined atomic weights for forty-five of the forty-nine then-accepted elements. Dmitri Mendeleev had sixty-six elements in his periodic table of 1869.

From Boyle until the early 20th century, an element was defined as a pure substance that could not be decomposed into any simpler substance. Put another way, a chemical element cannot be transformed into other chemical elements by chemical processes. Elements during this time were generally distinguished by their atomic weights, a property measurable with fair accuracy by available analytical techniques.

The elements as per Aristotle (air, earth, wind, water, and aether) are not really comparable how we look at modern chemical elements, except in the very basic definition of an element (that is, a building block of matter). This is why I asked you if you disagree with atomic theory.

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@hypervalent_iodine I see. But my question is, why is matter considered particulate rather than elemental? And how does ratios of matter disprove elementalism, if matter is of that element?

For example... CO is gas, a type of air. That (being gaseous)  is its element (air). How does comparing the ratio of oxygen to carbon in first carbon monoxide and then carbon dioxide, and then making a ratio out of those two ratios, support the idea of the particulate nature of matter versus the elemental nature of it? What does that have to do with elementalism? Isn't matter both particulate and elemental?

I'm asking from a philosophical perspective. Why can we no longer say that matter is elemental? Why do we have to agree with a "particulate" or particle-nature view of matter?

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2 hours ago, tmx3 said:

How does comparing the ratio of oxygen to carbon in first carbon monoxide and then carbon dioxide, and then making a ratio out of those two ratios, support the idea of the particulate nature of matter versus the elemental nature of it?

I genuinely cannot understand your question. Dalton looked at the ratio of masses of products of defined reactions that were known to give rise to multiple products, and used that to deduce what was essentially chemical formulae. It formed part of the basis of atomic theory, which I assume is what you mean by particulate nature of matter? What it helped to show, building from work by Lavoisier and Proust and along with many other things such as the conservation of mass, was that matter is made up of discrete, indivisible units (i.e. atoms). He did that by showing, as you have described, that "if the same two elements can be combined to form a number of different compounds, then the ratios of the masses of the two elements in their various compounds will be represented by small whole numbers." (from here). The key part being that the ratios were always whole numbers. His work has its limitations, but I do not understand how you would interpret it as being in support of Aristotelian elements, or why that would be a useful interpretation to begin with. The two concepts are not really related.

2 hours ago, tmx3 said:

For example... CO is gas, a type of air. That (being gaseous)  is its element (air).

What about when CO isn't a gas? What about when it is a liquid or a solid?

We moved away from this because it is simply not a useful (nor scientific) way of thinking about or categorising matter.

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Can I suggest you get hold of a  copy of

Chasing the Molecule

by John Buckingham.

ISBN 0-7509-3345-3    2004

The modern book  is a history of  the development and philosophy of exactly this topic by a professional Chemist.

Although rigourous it is emminently readable, more so than so many dry histories of the Science.

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17 hours ago, tmx3 said:

But my question is, why is matter considered particulate rather than elemental? And how does ratios of matter disprove elementalism, if matter is of that element?

I think there are two slightly different factors here. Firstly, we know that CO, CO2 (or water or table salt) are not elemental because they can be broken down into, or synthesized from, their constituent parts. (We also know that their constituent parts are elemental, because they cannot be broken down or synthesized from other atoms).

The other important point is that the component parts only combine in simple integer ratios. This tells us two things: that the compounds are not just simple mixtures of carbon and oxygen. There isn't a mixture that is half way between CO and CO2, with intermediate properties, for example.

Also, just mixing C and O in those proportions does not lead to the compound. There needs to be a reaction (with the release, or absorption, of energy). A mixture of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen is not water, it is just a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.

I guess one could (with effort) come up with an explanation of these facts based on an assumption that carbon and oxygen are continuous elemental substances that are infinitely divisible, but still always combine in constant ratios (and with a minimum quantity). But it is much simpler to explain it in terms of them being made up of particles that can only combine with a fixed number of other particles.

In Dalton's time, you could perhaps argue that this atomic theory was just a hypothesis. But then the model was developed further (with valence electrons to explain the number of other atoms that an atom can combine with, and so on) and now we able to manipulate and image individual atoms. (And even split them, despite their "atomic" or elemental nature.)

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@Strange @studiot thanks I'll see if it helps

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