Phlogiston theory - and Joseph Wright of Derby

I gave a tour of the National Gallery to my Elderhostel group - we did the development of perspective in the Sainsbury Wing, then, Ovid's Metamorphosis and Titian, Holbein in England, and ended with a look at Science and Enlightenment painters.

In front of Joseph Wright's Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump I mentioned the Phlogiston theory suggested that phlogiston was the name given to what we now know as Oxygen. One of my group mentioned that in fact Phlogiston was the the theory before oxygen, and we had a fascinating discussion of the works of Thomas Kuhn in the history of science and his idea of the paradigm shift.

As an example, it was thought that we things burnt they gave out phlogiston (from the Ancient Greek phlogios: "fiery"), and went out when the phlogiston was used up - while we now know that this is wrong, when things burnt they used up oxygen in the air.

The change from one theory to other illustrates Kuhn's paradigm shift.

What I am not sure of is how phlogiston relates to life running out in the absence of air.

Phlogiston theory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas Kuhn


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