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Reactivity in chemistry: the propensity view

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Sánchez Gómez, Pedro J 


jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pWe argue for an account of chemical reactivities as chancy propensities, in accordance with the ‘complex nexus of chance’ defended by one of us in the past. Reactivities are typically quantified as proportions, and an expression such as “A + B → C” does not entail that under the right conditions some given amounts of A and B react to give the mass of C that theoretically corresponds to the stoichiometry of the reaction. Instead, what is produced is a fraction α < 1 of this theoretical amount, and the corresponding percentage is usually known as the jats:italicyield</jats:italic>, which expresses the relative preponderance of its reaction. This is then routinely tested in a laboratory against the observed actual yields for the different reactions. Thus, on our account, reactivities ambiguously refer to three quantities at once. They first refer to the underlying propensities effectively acting in the reaction mechanisms, which in ‘chemical chemistry’ (Schummer in Hyle 4:129–162, 1998) are commonly represented by means of Lewis structures. Besides, reactivities represent the probabilities that these propensities give rise to, for any amount of the reactants to combine as prescribed. This last notion is hence best understood as a single case chance and corresponds to a theoretical jats:italicstoichiometric yield.</jats:italic> Finally, reactivities represent the jats:italicactual yields</jats:italic> observed in experimental runs, which account for and provide the requisite evidence for/against both the mechanisms and single case chances ascribed.</jats:p>


Acknowledgements: We thank the audience at the ISPC conference (Lille, France, August 2022) as well as two referees for comments, and acknowledge financial support from the Spanish Agency for Research (AEI) projects PGC2018-099423-B-100 and PID2021-126416NB-I00.

Funder: Universidad Complutense de Madrid


50 Philosophy and Religious Studies, 5002 History and Philosophy Of Specific Fields

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Foundations of Chemistry

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