principle (chemistry)



Principle, in chemistry, refers to an historical concept of the constituents of a substance, specifically those that produce a certain quality or effect in the substance, such as a ''bitter principle'', which is any one of the numerous compounds having a bitter taste. The idea of chemical principles developed out of the
classical elements Classical elements typically refer to earth, water, air, fire, and (later) aether which were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances. Ancient cultures in Greece, Tibet, and India had simil ...
Paracelsus Paracelsus (; ; 1493 – 24 September 1541), born Theophrastus von Hohenheim (full name Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), was a Swiss physician, alchemist, lay theologian, and philosopher of the German Renaissance. H ...
identified the ''tria prima'' as principles in his approach to medicine.
Georg Ernst Stahl Georg Ernst Stahl (22 October 1659 – 24 May 1734) was a German chemist, physician and philosopher. He was a supporter of vitalism, and until the late 18th century his works on phlogiston were accepted as an explanation for chemical processes. ...
published ''Philosophical Principles of Universal Chemistry'' in 1730 as an early effort to distinguish between
mixture In chemistry, a mixture is a material made up of two or more different chemical substances which are not chemically bonded. A mixture is the physical combination of two or more substances in which the identities are retained and are mixed in the ...
s and compounds. He writes, "the ''simple'' are ''Principles'', or the first material causes of ''Mixts'';..."
Georg Ernst Stahl Georg Ernst Stahl (22 October 1659 – 24 May 1734) was a German chemist, physician and philosopher. He was a supporter of vitalism, and until the late 18th century his works on phlogiston were accepted as an explanation for chemical processes. ...
Philosophical Principles of Universal Chemistry
Peter Shaw translator, from
Open Library Open Library is an online project intended to create "one web page for every book ever published". Created by Aaron Swartz, Brewster Kahle, Alexis Rossi, Anand Chitipothu, and Rebecca Malamud, Open Library is a project of the Internet Archive, ...
To define a Principle, he wrote :A Principle is defined, ''à priori'', that in a mix’d matter, which ''first existed''; and ''a posteriori'', that into which it is at ''last resolved''. (...) ''chemical Principles'' are called ''Salt, Sulfur'' and ''Mercury'' (...) or ''Salt'', ''Oil'', and ''Spirit''. Stahl recounts theories of chemical principles according to Helmont and J. J. Becher. He says Helmont took ''Water'' to be the "first and only material Principle of all things." According to Becher, ''Water'' and ''Earth'' are principles, where Earth is distinguished into three kinds. Stahl also ascribes to Earth the "principle of ''rest'' and ''aggregation''." Historians have described how early analysts used Principles to classify substances: :The classification of substances varies from one author to the next, but it generally relied on tests to which materials could be submitted or procedures that could be applied to them. "Test" must be understood here in a double sense, experimental and moral: gold was considered noble because it resisted fire, humidity, and being buried underground. Camphor, like sulfur, arsenic, mercury, and ammonia, belonged to the "spirits" because it was volatile. Glass belonged among the metals because, like them, it could be melted. And since the seven known metals – gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead, and mercury – were characterized by their capacity to be melted, what made a metal a metal was defined by reference to the only metal that was liquid at room temperature, mercury or quicksilver. But "common" mercury differed from the mercuric principle, which was cold and wet. Like all other metals, it involved another "principle", which was hot and dry, sulfur.Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent &
Isabelle Stengers Isabelle Stengers (; ; born 1949) is a Belgian philosopher, noted for her work in the philosophy of science. Trained as a chemist, she has collaborated with Russian-Belgian chemist Ilya Prigogine and French philosopher/sociologist Bruno Latour am ...
(1996) ''A History of Chemistry'', Deborah van Dam translator, Harvard University Press,
Guillaume-François Rouelle "attributed two functions to principles: that of forming mixts and that of being an agent or instrument of chemical principles." :Thus the four principles, earth, air, fire, and water, were principles both of the chemist's operations and of the mixts they operated upon. As instruments they were, unlike specific chemical reagents, "natural and general," always at work in every chemical operation. As constituent elements, they did not contradict the chemistry of displacement but transcended it: the chemist could never isolate or characterize an element as he characterized a body; an element was not isolable, for it could not be separated from a mixt without re-creating a new mixt in the process. In his book The Sceptical Chymist of 1661,
Robert Boyle Robert Boyle (; 25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, alchemist and inventor. Boyle is largely regarded today as the first modern chemist, and therefore one of the founders of ...
criticized the traditional understanding of the composition of materials and initiated the modern understanding of
chemical element A chemical element is a species of atoms that have a given number of protons in their nuclei, including the pure substance consisting only of that species. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elements cannot be broken down into simpler subs ...

See also

* Sulfur-mercury theory of metals


{{Reflist History of chemistry Alchemical substances