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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Robin Hendry

Hendry, R.F. (2016). Structure as abstraction. Philosophy of Science 83(5): 1070-1081.

Author(s) from Durham


In this article I argue that structure in chemistry is a creature of abstraction: attending selectively to structural similarities, we neglect differences. There are different ways to abstract, so abstraction is interest dependent. So is structure. First, there are two different and mutually irreducible notions of structure in chemistry: bond structure and geometrical structure. Second, structure is relative to scale (of energy, time, and length): the same substance has different structures at different scales, and relationships of structural sameness and difference vary across the scales. However, these facts have no tendency to undermine structure’s claim to reality, or its metaphysical seriousness.