Access

You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:

login

Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

If you need an accessible version of this item please contact JSTOR User Support

Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake

William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe
Early Science and Medicine
Vol. 3, No. 1 (1998), pp. 32-65
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4130048
Page Count: 34
  • Read Online (Free)
  • Download ($34.00)
  • Subscribe ($19.50)
  • Cite this Item
If you need an accessible version of this item please contact JSTOR User Support
Alchemy vs. Chemistry: The Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake
Preview not available

Abstract

The parallel usage of the two terms "alchemy" and "chemistry" by seventeenth-century writers has engendered considerable confusion among historians of science. Many historians have succumbed to the temptation of assuming that the early modern term "chemistry" referred to something like the modern discipline, while supposing that "alchemy" pertained to a different set of practices and beliefs, predominantly the art of transmuting base metals into gold. This paper provides the first exhaustive analysis of the two terms and their interlinguistic cognates in the seventeenth century. It demonstrates that the intentional partition of the two terms with the restriction of alchemy to the the sense of metallic transmutation was not widely accepted until the end of the seventeenth century, if even then. The major figure in the restriction of meaning, Nicolas Lemery, built on a spurious interpretation of the Arabic definite article al, which he inherited from earlier sources in the chemical textbook tradition. In order to curtail the tradition of anachronism and distor engendered by the selective use of the terms "alchemy" and "chemistry" by historians, the authors conclude by suggesting a return to seventeenth-century terminology for discussing the different aspects of the early modern discipline "chymistry."

Page Thumbnails

  • Thumbnail: Page 
[32]
    [32]
  • Thumbnail: Page 
33
    33
  • Thumbnail: Page 
34
    34
  • Thumbnail: Page 
35
    35
  • Thumbnail: Page 
36
    36
  • Thumbnail: Page 
37
    37
  • Thumbnail: Page 
38
    38
  • Thumbnail: Page 
39
    39
  • Thumbnail: Page 
40
    40
  • Thumbnail: Page 
41
    41
  • Thumbnail: Page 
42
    42
  • Thumbnail: Page 
43
    43
  • Thumbnail: Page 
44
    44
  • Thumbnail: Page 
45
    45
  • Thumbnail: Page 
46
    46
  • Thumbnail: Page 
47
    47
  • Thumbnail: Page 
48
    48
  • Thumbnail: Page 
49
    49
  • Thumbnail: Page 
50
    50
  • Thumbnail: Page 
51
    51
  • Thumbnail: Page 
52
    52
  • Thumbnail: Page 
53
    53
  • Thumbnail: Page 
54
    54
  • Thumbnail: Page 
55
    55
  • Thumbnail: Page 
56
    56
  • Thumbnail: Page 
57
    57
  • Thumbnail: Page 
58
    58
  • Thumbnail: Page 
59
    59
  • Thumbnail: Page 
60
    60
  • Thumbnail: Page 
61
    61
  • Thumbnail: Page 
62
    62
  • Thumbnail: Page 
63
    63
  • Thumbnail: Page 
64
    64
  • Thumbnail: Page 
65
    65